I live in Australia, so this might not apply worldwide, but here, when withdrawing money, the ATM will give me back my bank card, then several seconds later the cash comes out.

This typically leads to forgetting to take the cash, especially when my mind is elsewhere.

Given that I put the card into the machine, aren't I less likely to forget to wait for it? Wouldn't it make more sense to wait until I take the cash, then output my card?

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    what if you take cash first and forget to take your card? is that ok?
    – sree
    Jul 11, 2012 at 4:20
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    I was told that the first ATM versions did give you cash before your card, but they had to redesign the solution because Most users considered "receiving cash" as "my task is completed" and thus they left the ATM immediately (without the card) when they had accomplished what they came for... Jul 11, 2012 at 5:25
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    If you leave your card behind (especially if it's a credit card), the impact is likely to be very high on you: your card could be used fraudulently (particularly online) and you would need to call your bank/card provider and get it cancelled. If you leave money behind, you're probably out less money overall, and you're definitely less likely to need to call your bank. Nonetheless, an insert-and-remove style card reader as most new ATMS use seems to be preferable in every way.
    – Kit Grose
    Jul 11, 2012 at 5:48
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    In France, the ATM will get the money back if you didn't pull the notes in a delay of 30–60 seconds. In this case, you might be not charged at all.
    – Benoit
    Jul 11, 2012 at 8:14
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    I'm protecting this question as we're getting far too many "In {insert country name} we do it like this..." answers which don't help anyone. Please cite actual research or evidence when answering this question. Anecdotes are not answers.
    – JonW
    Jul 11, 2012 at 8:36

7 Answers 7


I found an article that explains this.

Apparently, in Argentina, ATMs give cash before the card, resulting in a large amount of people leaving their cards behind. See http://uxmovement.com/thinking/preventing-user-errors-in-automated-teller-machines/ - unfortunately there are no references cited so I'm unsure how true this is.

To me, however, it would make more sense if your card was returned to you before entering your PIN.

As Jørn explains, it comes down to when the user considers the task completed. You're at the ATM to get cash, you're more likely to remain at the ATM until you receive your cash.

  • 5
    Nice explanation. The key point in the article is the user's mental model of task completion as I commented above. Jul 11, 2012 at 5:31
  • 7
    Behind this 100%, here where I live in the States, the two ATMs I go to (only a few miles apart) actually do them different ways, and I constantly fear forgetting my card because I never remember which one gives it back to me first.
    – SpellingD
    Jul 11, 2012 at 7:04
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    I believe that with modern chip cards, you could not get the card back before entering the PIN. It needs the card to verify it. Jul 11, 2012 at 8:49
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    I work for the leading ATM supplier, so I can tell you exactly what happens. The application on the ATM can be configured in any way you want. It is particular banks decision on how the transaction flow should look like. Different banks have different wishes. But the general idea is. You want to get both the card and the money. People are generally waiting for the money (because that is why they approached the ATM in the first place), so they will get the card first (so they will not forget to take it).
    – Eiver
    Jul 11, 2012 at 13:37
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    ATMs seize your card if you enter an incorrect pin many times. They could not do this if they give back the card before you enter pin ..
    – wim
    Mar 1, 2013 at 1:07

Unfortunately there aren't many real references to help answer this question. UXMovement has an article which Tass references in their answer, which makes some good points about the task flow of using ATMs. In summary:

  • Users follow the tasks in sequence, but regard the task as completed once they have achieved their goal. Subsidiary steps are easy to abandon at this point.
  • There are two ways to arrange the task flow: card then cash, or cash then card.
  • The typical user goal at an ATM is to withdraw money, meaning that receiving cash marks the end of their task.
  • When the card is dispensed first, users have not completed their goal so remain in the task flow.
  • When cash is dispensed first, users mentally abandon the task flow before receiving their card, meaning that they are more prone to forgetting it.

Another resource is Nudge blog's article which argues along similar lines, further highlighting the issue of achieving objectives and abandoning the task flow due to a feeling of "mission accomplished".

  • 1
    There is a youtube collection detailling observations in this area www.youtube.com/watch?v=uUR_AGltYoY . On a side note, ATMs can lock a card/pin if the pin is entered incorrectly 3 times. This could explain why they sometimes don't give your card back immediately (along with other security sequences). Otherwise a greater separation between card and cash return phases might have helped. Though I've found no evidence to support that theory.
    – Jay
    Jul 11, 2012 at 8:52
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    There's quite a lot of psychological research (which I'm going to have to look up) which covers this whole field of task management in problem solving (which we do all the time). Some problem solving tasks can get quite complex !: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_Hanoi
    – PhillipW
    Jul 18, 2012 at 13:02

This exact questioned is actually answered! This questioned is an example of a Forcing Function described in the book Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman

Forcing Function Defined

Forcing functions are a form of physical constraint: situations in which the actions are constrained so that failure at one stage prevents the next step from happening. Starting a car has a forcing function associated with it—you must put the ignition key into the ignition switch. Some time ago, the button that activated the starter motor was separate from the ignition key, so that it was possible to attempt to start the car without the keys; the error was made frequently. In most modern automobiles, the starter switch is activated by turning the key—an effective forcing function that makes you use the key to do the operation.

Using a bank or credit card to withdraw money from an automatic teller machine, then walking off without the card. This was a frequent enough error that many machines now have a forcing function: you must remove the card before the money will be delivered. Of course, you then can walk off without your money, but this is less likely than forgetting the card because money is the goal of using the machine. The possibility exists so the forcing function isn’t perfect.

ATM as a Forcing Function

Forcing functions are the extreme case of strong constraints that make it easy to discover erroneous behavior. Not every situation allows such strong constraints to operate, but the general principle can be extended to a wide variety of situations. In the field of safety engineering, forcing functions show up under other names, in particular as specialized methods for the prevention of accidents. Three such methods are interlocks, lockins, and lockouts.

The Three Types of Forcing Functions

An interlock forces operations to take place in proper sequence (figure 5.4). Microwave ovens and television sets use interlocks as forcing functions to prevent people from opening the door of the oven or taking off the back of the television set without first turning off the electric power: the interlock disconnects the power the instant the door is opened or the back removed. The pin on a fire extinguisher or hand grenade and the safety on a rifle are other examples of interlocks; these forcing functions prevent the accidental use of the devices.

A lockin keeps an operation active, preventing someone from prematurely stopping it. The sad stories of those who turn off word processors without first saving their work could be avoided with the use of a lockin. Suppose the on-off switch were a “soft” switch, not really disconnecting the power, but sending a signal to the program to quit, checking that all files had been saved, and then, after all the appropriate housekeeping operations had been completed, turning off the power. (Of course, a normal power switch should also exist as an override for special situations or for when a software problem causes the soft switch to fail.)

A lockout device is one that prevents someone from entering a place that is dangerous, or prevents an event from occurring. A good example of a lockout occurs in stairways of public buildings, at least in the United States (figure 5.5). In cases of fire, people have a tendency to flee in panic, down the stairs, down, down, down, past the ground floor and into the basement, where they are trapped. The solution (required by the fire laws) is not to allow simple passage from the ground floor to the basement.

The ATM is a Lockout Forcing Function.

  • 3
    Big points for referencing Don Norman's excellent book. Regarding ATMs, most of the newer ones I've seen ask the user to dip the card into the reader and quickly remove it. In this flow, the card never leaves the user's hand -- which is a good way to make sure the user doesn't forget the card. Two more examples of lockouts from autos: diesel gas nozzles are bigger than regular petrol nozzles, preventing fill-ups with wrong fuel; and manual transmissions prevent ignition if the clutch pedal is not pushed to the floor, preventing starting in gear.
    – RobC
    Jul 20, 2012 at 19:19
  • @RobC As mentioned above, this solution is not possible with the "European type" cards and ATMs.
    – yo'
    May 29, 2013 at 10:39

Well its a human behavior that we never forget to take the money :).

When we step into an ATM our primary task is to take the cash. So we are always in a mindset where we are trying to understand how much do I want to take out and what denomination will I get. In this phase we are all thinking about the CASH. The Card is just a medium to authenticate the transaction.

Now on the other hand, losing a card can be more dangerous than losing cash.

There is plenty of research to support the theory when we have only one task to complete we have very minimum chances to forget that. As such when we go to ATM our primary task is to take the cash and hence we generally don't forget that. That is the reason, we get CASH at last and we get the card back before we take the cash and leave the ATM booth.

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    If you're going to include comments such as "There is plenty of research to support the theory" in an answer then it's advisable to at least include some links to such studies.
    – JonW
    Jul 11, 2012 at 8:44
  • Since you put a smiley after "its a human behavior that we never forget to take the money", you probably mean that, in fact, we sometime do forget the money. That makes the rest of the answer a bit weak.
    – laurent
    Jul 19, 2012 at 10:22
  • Old joke: "In the delivery room, they never wonder who the mother is."
    – user67695
    Jun 8, 2017 at 14:55

Most likely because it costs something to a bank if you forget your card. While it costs them nothing if you forget your cash. This feature is not designed for users but for banks.

The excuse that "many people forget their cards" is not credible - just as many people probably forget their cash, except you'll never hear about it since there's nowhere they can go to complain.


To anwer some of the comments - if you lose your card, the bank is reponsible for any illegal transaction:

  • If you report a debit card missing before it is used, you are not responsible for any unauthorized withdrawals.

  • Your liability is limited to $50 if you report the loss within two business days after you realize your debit card is missing and to $500 if you report the loss after two but before 60 days.

This is why, if you lose your card, it's a much bigger problem for the bank, not for you. If you forget $100 at the ATM, it's lost and you have no option. If you lose your card, at most you will lose $50, or nothing if you report it immediately.

  • 3
    Why is that not credible?
    – deworde
    Jul 11, 2012 at 8:38
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    This answer is very speculative. Do you have any resources or evidence to back up your claim?
    – kastark
    Jul 11, 2012 at 8:52
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    I doubt banks would admit they changed ATMs for their own benefit, and to the detriment of their customers. They will most likely come up with excuses like, indeed, "many people forget their cards". From a customer perspective it's obvious that forgetting the cash can be much more costly than forgetting a card.
    – laurent
    Jul 11, 2012 at 10:09
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    @Laurent it is not obvious that it's more costly to forget cash than the card. If you leave $10 behind that may be preferable than leaving a card behind that could be used by someone to get $10,000.
    – JonW
    Jul 11, 2012 at 10:39
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    Yes, the chances are slim but do exist (card cloning etc), but the chance of someone getting access to your account by using the $10 you left in the machine are non-existant.
    – JonW
    Jul 11, 2012 at 11:49

Because the "mental model" of the user is that receiving the cash is the end of the transaction. That's the walkaway point; risking leaving the card in the ATM. Banks and users therefore had to spend much time, effort, and costs in replacing cards.

The "cash last" model helps us navigate a virtual, electronic world just like we can add items to an ecommerce shopping card without having first created an account replicates the experience of a real world bricks and mortar world of adding items into your cart without having to show a passport at the store's entrance first...:)

I don't believe it's universally adopted through (been to some banks/countries where card is last).


In the UK, we used to give the cash before the card about 20 years ago (IIRC) and I have distinct memories of people being called back to ATM's by the next user because they had forgotten their card as something that happened on more than a few occasions when I was present.

This is because the cash is the thing the user was looking to get, so is the entire purpose of the interaction. Once cash has been received, it is very easy to subconsciously feel that the interaction is over.

Since the switch, I have only ever left cash in the machine once, and that was when I got distracted by a phone call at just the wrong moment. I don't hear of people leaving their cards behind very often these days (and when they do, it's as the result of a scam being run), and I certainly don't hear stories of people leaving money in the machine very often. I don't have any stats to back that up as anything more than annecdotal evidence though.

  • Maybe we should have disposable cards, but cash that we hold on to and reuse?
    – user67695
    Jun 8, 2017 at 14:49

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