Are ATM receipts just paper placebos?
July 27, 2010 1:23 PM   Subscribe

You know those receipts that people get out of ATMs/Cash machines? In what situation would one of those receipts actually be useful?

In the UK, whenever I go near a cash machine/ATM there's loads of those receipts everywhere, on the floor or stuffed into bins. I've begun to suspect that they're just paper placebos - originally intended to make people feel more comfortable about getting money out of a machine, back 20 years ago when it was a new thing.

So - in what scenario could one of those receipts be useful to someone? What sort of series of technical faults would be necessary before the paper receipt became useful evidence of anything?
posted by memebake to Work & Money (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
I once used them to give proof to the bank that because my available balance on date X and time Y was Z, the overdraft fee I was charged was unjust.
posted by mkb at 1:25 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


To prove that an amount was deposited in case it was ever disputed.
posted by inturnaround at 1:25 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know about anyone else, but I save them in my wallet and use them to update my check register later.
posted by stennieville at 1:26 PM on July 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


I've always looked at them as similar to receipts that you'd get for electronic voting. So mostly placebo, but useful if there was a discrepancy between what the machine said happened and what actually happened. So like you say "I asked for $200 and the machine said I got $200 but there was $180 in the slot." There would probably be other mechanisms that would take precedence over the receipt as far as evidence goes, but that would be one piece of data. Also I've always thought they'd be useful for establishing an alibi.
posted by jessamyn at 1:26 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


To prove that an amount was deposited in case it was ever disputed.
posted by inturnaround at 4:25 PM on July 27 [+] [!]


The receipt is not proof of the deposit. It's just proof of what you said the deposit was (except in situations where there is "envelope-free" deposit and images of the checks appear on the receipt).
posted by The Bellman at 1:27 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I use them to check my current balance. I usually have a pretty good idea of how much I should have but by checking the balance once a week when I go to the ATM I can tell if this week's paycheck has been deposited or if my monthly automatic transfer into our household account has been completed.

I used to keep them to update Quicken with later, but it's been many years since I did anything that responsible.

Also useful as bookmarks or emergency toothpicks.
posted by bondcliff at 1:31 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]




This answers the letter if not the spirit of your question.

A year or two ago some gossip website (Gawker, NYMag, one of those) ran a post on how one of the hot new trends in the Hamptons (elitist resort/summer holiday area in New York) was writing down your phone number to give to girls at parties on the back of an ATM receipt - the one you just happened to stuff into your wallet - that just happened to show your account balance. Supposedly there was an issue with guys stealing trash bags from banks and combing through the receipts to find the ones with the highest acct balances and putting them in their wallets as pick-up artist ammo.

True? Maybe. Plausible? Certainly. A use for the ATM receipt.

Just not mine, unless you want to use it to drive away prospective dates by showing off your account balance of $38.50
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 1:31 PM on July 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


Like stennieville, I save them until I can get home and update my checkbook.
posted by tdismukes at 1:31 PM on July 27, 2010


I use them the same as I use other receipts - so when I get home, I deduct them from my check register. When I used to just let online banking take care of it, I ended up bouncing quite a few things because I would forget about things I bought or outstanding checks I had.

Also, about 1/2 of the ATMs in the U.S. will show your available balance on the bottom of the receipt which is useful.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:33 PM on July 27, 2010


At the end of the day, you record them back into your check register (or Quicken). Then at the end of the month, when you get your bank statement, you reconcile each transaction including the ATM withdrawals to the statement to double-check that your bank didn't have an error.
posted by smackfu at 1:34 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I use them to determine my current balance, because my bank makes it surprisingly hard to check balances from an ATM (eg: reenter the PIN again, click "other transactions" then click "current balance" then pick which account, then tell it if I want a printed receipt or not).

With the receipt, all I have to do is look. If I deposited more money, my balance is there. If I withdrew money, my balance is there. I don't have to do anything else to see my balance, whereas with no receipt I have to execute five additional steps.
posted by aramaic at 1:36 PM on July 27, 2010


Back in the day, the University of California allowed you to use ATM receipts to document your presence in the state of California for purposes of establishing residency for in-state tuition.
posted by jonp72 at 1:38 PM on July 27, 2010


Basically, it sounds like the answer is you use them if you don't use online banking. I used to use them that way a long time ago, but I set my ATM preferences to not print them anymore since I just download all my transactions. Similarly, it used to be the best way to get a snapshot of your balance, but again that's easier elsewhere now.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:40 PM on July 27, 2010


I actually have used it as a proof of deposit before. For some reason no deposit at all showed up for that day for me, but when I showed them that I was definitely at the ATM at that time, they tracked through their records until they found my money. I always keep deposit slips for large amounts until they clear now.
posted by wending my way at 1:42 PM on July 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wait, wait, apart from one or two of you, you're all telling me how you use them, but thats not really what I asked.

What I want to know is - in case of a technical failure (e.g. the ATM seizes up, or gives up the wrong amount) .. how bad would the failure have to be before the receipt meant anything? Doesn't it just show that you stood there and asked for a certain amount? In which case, there must be an electronic record of that too, rendering the receipt redundant.
posted by memebake at 1:53 PM on July 27, 2010


(perhaps I should have phrased my question more carefully.... sorry...)
posted by memebake at 1:59 PM on July 27, 2010


Oh hey, I have a somewhat relevant story.

I was in a bar in San Francisco. Low on money, I used the ATM. I put in my card, it asked for my PIN and then spun for a bit. Suddenly, the machine says "ERROR" and spits out a receipt. The receipt says I withdrew $40 and also said that there had been a machine error. The thing is, it wasnt clear whether the machine thought it had given me the $40 or not. It hadn't.

I went to the bar owner and told him what happened, that I may have lost $40, and that he might want to have his machine checked out. He kinda rolled his eyes, probably thinking I was trying to scam him somehow.

I remembered the receipt and showed it to him and then his attitude changed. He told me nicely that, yes, he would get the machine checked out and that if I was missing $40 from my bank, he'd try and help me recover it. Just like that.

The bank balance and everything was fine. But, a receipt, at least in that case, gave me a bit of credibility.
posted by vacapinta at 2:01 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Doesn't it just show that you stood there and asked for a certain amount? In which case, there must be an electronic record of that too, rendering the receipt redundant.

True. But the paper receipt is short-hand toward getting the bank to take your concern seriously and to know where and what to check for verification. (ie: here's a bit of paper with your bank's name on it and a specific time and date) . I've definitely used one in this regard myself.
posted by philip-random at 2:03 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I want to know is - in case of a technical failure (e.g. the ATM seizes up, or gives up the wrong amount) .. how bad would the failure have to be before the receipt meant anything? Doesn't it just show that you stood there and asked for a certain amount? In which case, there must be an electronic record of that too, rendering the receipt redundant.

Couldn't the same be said of any receipt? I suspect folks who keep them do so for the same reason they keep any proof-of-sale documentation. Everyone tracks their financial records in their own way.

(I'm a receipt-keeper. It helps to balance the books.)
posted by geekchic at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmmm... I don't know about failure and whether your receipt would mean anything but it's pretty surprising how often we utilize something that actually means nothing to indicate that something happened or is legit.

For example, on the back of my charge cards it says "Please check ID" in the spot where your signature should be. Back when this was less common, I'd often have retailers argue with me about this and try to insist that I sign it right then. But, see, that proves nothing. I could easily be a thief and my version of this person's signature is now "legit" in the eyes of the store clerk. What I want them to do is look at my name, look at my driver's license and match my photo to me.

To call up your bank and say, "I have this receipt for this day for this amount -- what happened?" would probably get you farther than saying you have nothing. Also, the receipt has a code that indicates which ATM and also time and date. They can then pinpoint your transaction and review their records or their security video.

Having said all that, for a typical low-stakes transaction say, pulling out $20? I decline a receipt. And I would *never* leave my receipt in the garbage next to the ATM. Probably a thief with more smarts that me can do something with them.
posted by amanda at 2:09 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I guess I was thinking too concretely about it ... what these last few answers are saying is that the receipt is like a bargaining chip to get people to take you seriously when there's a problem.
posted by memebake at 2:12 PM on July 27, 2010


What I want to know is - in case of a technical failure (e.g. the ATM seizes up, or gives up the wrong amount) .. how bad would the failure have to be before the receipt meant anything? Doesn't it just show that you stood there and asked for a certain amount? In which case, there must be an electronic record of that too, rendering the receipt redundant.

Inside the ATM there is a journal which records every transaction. On the majority of ATMs this is a physical printer, printing onto a long roll of paper which can be retrieved by a technician. Some newer ATMs use electronic journalling instead, where a log file is uploaded to a central server. Often banks prefer physical journals in addition to electronic journalling.

Given the existence of the journal, I'm not really sure what purpose receipts serve for the bank. I guess customers are just used to them and would complain if they went away.
posted by matthewr at 2:20 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Memebake, I think you would have to limit your question to, "What do people in the UK do with the ATM receipts?" to get an accurate response to what you're after.

I live in the USA and recently traveled to London. I always get a receipt from an ATM in America because it tells me the available balance in my checking account. This is very useful and I suspect why most people in America would get a receipt.

In London, however, when I used an ATM for the first time and got a receipt, my reaction was exactly what you, memebake, feel. Namely, "Why the hell do I need a receipt to tell me how much money I took out? This isn't useful at all."

I still got a receipt each time, though.
posted by 3FLryan at 2:21 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


(important piece of info left out in my post above: receipts in the UK did not tell me my available balance)
posted by 3FLryan at 2:26 PM on July 27, 2010


matthewr: Given the existence of the journal, I'm not really sure what purpose receipts serve for the bank. I guess customers are just used to them and would complain if they went away.

Thats what I suspected - that customers just felt better getting receipts - but then this thread has made me realise that even if they're technically a bit redundant, they shift the balance of complaining-power to the customer a little bit, so I guess that makes sense.

Its always bugged the hell out of me when I see people ask for a receipt from a cash machine and then throw it straight in the bin without looking at it. But some of these answers have helped me see that there is a rational basis to that ... So thanks metafilter : )
posted by memebake at 2:27 PM on July 27, 2010


Are you sure they don't look at them? I get receipts from the bank machine and throw them in the bin after having only glanced at them briefly, because they contain my bank balance. If I want the machine to tell me my bank balance, I have to go through another transaction vs. just hitting yes instead of no when asked if I want a receipt.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I use them to check my bank balance.

You might say: "But you could do that online or at your bank!" Yes, but...

(1) The very fact that there's an option to look at the receipt reminds me to check the balance then and there. Since that's how I'm reminded, that's the way I'm going to check the balance.

(2) I'm not always online. But I always have my wallet with me. I keep my latest ATM receipt in my wallet so I can always see what my balance was as of the last time I withdrew money from an ATM. And since I'm only interested in looking at the latest one (since any older ones are outdated), I'll generally throw out the old one when I replace it with the new one if I notice the old one still in my wallet as I'm putting the new one in my wallet. So, just because you see a discarded ATM receipt doesn't mean it wasn't useful to someone.

Wait, wait, apart from one or two of you, you're all telling me how you use them, but thats not really what I asked.

You asked: "So - in what scenario could one of those receipts be useful to someone?" I still don't understand how we're failing to answer to your question. People tend to phrase things in terms of "I do this" because they're drawing on their firsthand experience. That is literally an answer to your question about what "someone" does with them. And if you meant to only ask about things that are useful to yourself, you can still apply people's first-person answers to yourself.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:14 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


jacquilynne: They wouldn't look at them for that reason because, as we've already established, they don't show balances in the UK. It does seem that, under those circumstances, taking them then throwing them away is just a waste of paper.
posted by turkeyphant at 4:16 PM on July 27, 2010


Jaltcoh: yeah I did ask that, but then I asked a more detailed question underneath - I should have structured it better, sorry.
posted by memebake at 4:19 PM on July 27, 2010


I would hate it if ATMs didn't give receipts, and I am always kind of baffled when a clerk asks me "Do you want a receipt?" when I make a debit card purchase. Of course I want a receipt.

Like posters above, I use the receipts to maintain my check register. With every debit card (or atm) transaction, I put the receipt in my wallet. Every couple of days I enter them into my check register, at which point I throw them away or file them, depending on what they are. Then I reconcile my check register with online banking.

I actually don't use quicken, or have a use for a monthly statement.

It's a system that has worked well for me for years.
posted by teatime at 4:53 PM on July 27, 2010


I don't know about anyone else, but I save them in my wallet and use them to update my check register later.

We don't tend to balance our checkbooks in the UK - in fact I'm not quite sure how this works. Do you kind of book-keep your bank account yourselves? How does this work better than checking a bank statement? I always think of people filling out chequebook stubs when I hear this phrase which doesn't make sense. It might just be that we call it by another name...

(important piece of info left out in my post above: receipts in the UK did not tell me my available balance)

Mine does - it's the only reason I'd get a receipt really, and internet banking has negated the need for this. I don't know of any banks I've been with that didn't print the available balance on the receipt. I have had a cash machine that didn't dispense and I was glad it gave out an automatic receipt that time! My parents had a similar situation with an over-the-counter deposit so I always keep those receipts.
posted by mippy at 5:12 PM on July 27, 2010


Once I withdrew 20 quid (2 x 10 pounds) and ended up with 40 (2x 20). I had to check the receipt to confirmed I hadn't made a mistake, and they had loaded the ATM with the wrong notes.

The bank rang everyone the next week to ask if we'd noticed it.

These days, the ATMs I use ask me if I want a receipt, as well as, displays the remaining balance on the screen. I generally push No.
posted by lundman at 6:53 PM on July 27, 2010


I used to save my receipts. They weren't useful to me, so I stopped having them printed out.
posted by Invisible_Jam at 7:53 PM on July 27, 2010


Pickman's Next Top Model, that's been part of Tom Leykis's "Leykis 101" advice for years.

As for the original question, I don't use the ATM much, only for deposits. I check my balance online, generally. But when I make a deposit, I like to get the receipt just to make sure everything went down correctly and for my records. I can't imagine I'd get into a dispute with the bank; after all, I have verifiable records of the checks I deposit (I never deposit anything else). I only keep them until the money clears.
posted by asciident at 8:38 PM on July 27, 2010


Not too long ago, I withdrew a couple hundred bucks from a bank ATM, and it shorted me by $60 (the last four twenties were fives). My first thought was, "Phew! at least I got a receipt!"

But when I called the bank to report it the next morning, no one cared about my receipt. They just credited me back the $60 and that was the end of it.

So after that, I stopped bothering with receipts from large bank ATMs (unless I am making a deposit with a check image). I still get receipts from private ATMs, though.
posted by everybody polka at 9:03 PM on July 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I usually don't get the receipt, but the one time I did it ended up being useful. I was arguing with my bank over a hold they put on a cheque. They were trying to get rid of me with some bullshit story about how it was my fault for depositing it at a different bank.

The rush of triumph when I slapped that receipt on the counter was pretty sweet.
posted by Freyja at 8:09 AM on July 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


important piece of info left out in my post above: receipts in the UK did not tell me my available balance)
posted by 3FLryan at 10:26 PM on July 27 [+] [!]


I'm in the UK with a British bank account, and my ATM receipts always show my available balance. I suspect it didn't show your balance because the ATM can't calculate an exchange rate for the balance or may not have been able to get the balance information from an American bank.
posted by sascha at 1:22 PM on July 28, 2010


Incidentally, I've seen balance information on foreign ATM receipts. If the exchange rate is high and the country uses the dollar sign, it's very impressive.
posted by smackfu at 1:59 PM on July 28, 2010


We don't tend to balance our checkbooks in the UK - in fact I'm not quite sure how this works. Do you kind of book-keep your bank account yourselves? How does this work better than checking a bank statement?

I get my statement monthly. I get paid bi-monthly. I pay bills and spend money almost daily. In order to know how much money I'm spending vs. how much I've got left, I prefer to balance my check register myself, and reconcile it monthly with the bank's statement. Years of overdraft charges led me (at long last) to this behavior. I also don't trust the bank to do my accounting for me.
posted by stennieville at 2:32 PM on July 28, 2010


The main benefit of keeping your own balance is that you can record outstanding payments that have not yet hit your account, with the main cause of that being checks. If you don't have a lot of room in your checking account, and don't account for those checks, that's how you end up bouncing the check or having your card rejected for insufficient balance.
posted by smackfu at 2:37 PM on July 28, 2010


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