How Do Cardless ATMs Work?

Quick Answer

Cardless ATMs, also called contactless ATMs, allow you to make ATM transactions like withdrawals without using a physical debit card. You’ll hold your digital wallet or mobile banking app to the ATM’s contactless symbol, then choose your transaction type and enter your PIN as usual.

A casually dressed young woman using an ATM in a metro station in Barcelona to withdraw her money.

Cardless ATMs, also called contactless ATMs, work similarly to contactless payment terminals at the grocery store or pharmacy. To withdraw cash or perform another transaction at the ATM, hold your digital wallet, mobile banking app or contactless-enabled card up to the payment terminal and authorize the transaction.

Many major banks operate cardless ATMs, so it's likely you've come across them. Here's what to know about their capabilities and security measures, and how to use them.

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How Do Cardless ATMs Work?

Cardless ATMs allow you to make transactions at an ATM without having to use your debit card. When you make a transaction at a cardless ATM, you'll hold up your phone—or other wearable device with a digital wallet—to the contactless symbol on the ATM. The contactless symbol looks like four curved lines that grow larger from left to right. You'll also see this symbol on your debit card if it has contactless capabilities.

Then you'll choose your transaction and enter your PIN, using the ATM as you traditionally would. In addition to using your mobile banking app or a digital wallet to access a cardless ATM, you can tap your debit card instead of inserting it. This isn't a "cardless" option, but can be a speedier process.

How to Use a Cardless ATM

Here are three ways to complete a cardless ATM transaction, step by step:

Use Your Mobile Banking App

If you have your bank's mobile app, this can be a quick and easy process.

  1. First, log in to your mobile bank account on your phone and request a withdrawal or ATM access.
  2. Next, scan the QR code displayed on the ATM or enter the one-time access code that appears on your phone. You may have to enter your PIN as well.
  3. Authorize the withdrawal with your phone, and get your cash from the ATM.

Scan the Debit Card Saved to Your Digital Wallet

  1. First, add your debit card to your phone or wearable device's digital wallet, such as Apple Pay or Google Pay. Smartphones, smartwatches and fitness trackers may all have digital wallet capabilities.
  2. Open your digital wallet and select your debit card.
  3. Hold your phone up to the cardless icon on the ATM.
  4. From there, use the ATM as you normally would and authorize the transaction by entering your PIN.

Tap Your Debit Card

This isn't a cardless method, but you don't have to insert your card. Instead, tap your contactless-enabled debit card near the ATM's contactless symbol and enter your PIN to make a transaction.

Learn more >> What to Do if Your Contactless Card Doesn't Work

Are Cardless ATMs Safe?

Cardless ATM transactions are just as safe as traditional ATM transactions. They could even be safer if you use your physical debit card less frequently, which means fewer opportunities for it to get left behind, lost or stolen.

Contactless ATMs are less prone to card skimming or shimming, when a physical device installed inside the ATM steals data from your card's magnetic stripe or EMV chip. While it's possible thieves can still deploy scanners to steal information from a contactless card, it's likely difficult unless they are very close to your card.

If you use a digital wallet, your card information isn't stored directly on your phone, and encryption technology makes it more difficult for fraudsters to access your personal data. But since using a cardless ATM means using your phone or digital wallet more often, it is crucial to strengthen your passwords for mobile banking apps, digital wallets and your phone itself. That will make it harder for potential fraudsters to gather sensitive information if they access your phone.

Learn more >> How to Use a Contactless Debit Card Safely

Pros and Cons of Cardless ATMs

Here are the top pros and cons of using a cardless ATM.

Pros of Cardless ATMs

  • Quick transactions
  • No need to carry your physical debit card with you
  • Less potential for falling victim to skimming or shimming scams at ATMs

Cons of Cardless ATMs

  • More reliance on your smartphone or wearable device
  • Increased need for mobile security, such as strong app and digital wallet passwords
  • You may have to install a particular app—like a digital wallet or your bank's app—to use it

Can I Do Cardless Cash at Any ATM?

Not all ATMs are cardless. You'll see the contactless symbol on the ATM if it offers cardless withdrawals. Many large banks and credit unions offer cardless ATMs, including Bank of America, Capital One, Wells Fargo and Chase. Make sure that your debit card is a contactless-enabled one before using it at the ATM or adding it to your digital wallet.

The Bottom Line

Cardless or contactless ATMs can allow for quicker and easier withdrawals and other ATM transactions. You can also avoid carrying around your debit card, potentially preventing it from getting lost or stolen.

While it can be safer to use a digital wallet or banking app to access the ATM, make sure to protect your bank account from fraud and prevent identity theft by using unique passwords and securing your phone or other wearable device with a passcode.