How Does an ATM Machine Work?

Author Justin Gilmore

Most of us have experience using ATM machines. We put in our ATM card, hit a few buttons, and collect our cash. Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Inside the machine, there’s a lot going on that makes it possible for us to get fast cash. So, exactly how does an ATM machine work?

The first step, of course, is the user putting their ATM card into the machine. This allows the machine to read the card’s magnetic strip, although newer cards also have a chip that holds all necessary information about the card. The user is then prompted to enter his or her pin number using the ATM machine’s keypad.

Assuming they enter the correct pin, the user will then be given several options on the machine’s screen. They will then choose the desired transaction. Most of the time, this is either withdrawing money or checking the balance of their account.

After the transaction request is made, the ATM will connect to the computer of the bank associated with the card. First, the ATM connects via a phone line to a host computer, which then checks the details of the transaction request with the bank’s computer. Once the bank’s server is contacted, the balance of the account the user is trying to access can be confirmed. Assuming that account has enough funds to fulfill the withdrawal request, the machine receives permission to dispense the money the user has requested.

The cash dispenser part of the ATM machine takes over from here. This part of the machine uses high-precision sensors that make sure the machine only dispenses the exact amount the user has requested. If the bills inside the machine are folded, wrinkled, or problematic in some way, the machine can reject them and move them to a different part of the machine rather than dispense them to the user. This helps prevent the user from receiving more or less money than they requested. It also explains why the money we get from an ATM machine often looks crisp and brand-new.

Once the machine spits out the cash, the user can take their money, as well as their ATM card. The user is often asked if they want a receipt with the date, time, and amount they have withdrawn from the ATM machine. Printing out a receipt if requested is usually the last step in the process of how ATM machines work.

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