That little annoyance in your financial life — the fee for using another bank's ATM — isn't so little anymore.

The latest survey by Bankrate.com finds that ATM charges have hit records and the Web site estimates that Americans paid $4.3 billion in such fees in 2005, up from $3.8 billion in 2004.

The average ATM fee is now $1.54 and banks are charging their own customers who use a "foreign" ATM an average of $1.37, for a combined total of $2.91 for each withdrawal.

And despite bad publicity, a few misguided attempts by lawmakers in some states to rein in fees and a handful of large banks that prominently tout their fee-free ATMs, 96% of banks charge non-customers for using their machines and 87% charge their own customers for going to another bank's ATM.

If you are making two or more such withdrawals a week, we're talking some serious money.

So what can you do? The obvious answer is to plan your withdrawals a little more carefully so you're not stuck for cash when you need it most and can't make it to your own bank.

If your bank has an ATM on your route to work or school, check the amount of cash in your wallet or pocketbook each day before you drive past.

Many stores allow you to withdraw money from your account when you make a purchase with your debit card, effectively turning their cash register into an ATM. So you can kill two birds with one stone by doing your shopping when you need to hit the ATM.

If you use a small local bank with few ATM locations, check to see if it is part of a cash machine network where you won't have to pay fees. A few banks are now reimbursing account holders for fees charged to them at other banks' ATMs, mainly online and local banks without plenty of branches that want to compete with the big guys.

Commerce Bank, in the Northeast, for example, will reimburse checking account holders for ATM fees if they keep more than $2,500 in their account. But that's still the exception rather than the rule at most institutions.

Copyright (c) 2006 MarketWatch, Inc.