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Paper Statements: a Relic of the Past?

Paper Statements: a Relic of the Past?

Have paper bank statements gone the way of the dinosaur? They are not extinct, but they are more expensive. There are still some banks and credit unions that provide paper statements for free, but over the last couple years, increasingly others have started charging anywhere from $1-2 to $8.95 a month.

"Just as you pay for a better seat or food on an airplane, you’ll pay for paper statements at many banks. To the extent you still write checks, at some banks, you may have to pay an additional $2 fee to get check images in that statement," says Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director at U.S. PIRG.

"Banks of course save money with no paper statement mailings. They save money in paper and postage. They will encourage you to help them be green," says Mierzwinski.

With e-statements you have the advantage of being able to store electronic documents on your computer. You can even password protect individual PDFs if you use Adobe Acrobat. "They save trees and avoid the toxic chemicals used to process paper," points out Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for Consumer Action.

Why should you pay for your account information?

In some cases there are ways to get those fees waived, like say if you carry a specified minimum balance, but on the other hand, some banks are making it trickier to get the fees waived. Paper statement fees are yet one more fee for people to fuss about.

"Consumers should have the option of accessing their account in the way that best suits them. For some people, viewing their statements online is great, but not for everybody. People shouldn’t be charged for accessing their account information," says Lauren Saunders, associate director of the National Consumer Law Center.

Paper may be old school, but there can be advantages. "They serve as a good reminder for consumers who aren’t used to checking their email accounts for credit card bills and the like. This is especially true if they’ve never signed up for paperless statements before," says David Bakke, a financial columnist with MoneyCrashers.com.

If you don’t want to pay for a paper statement, you need to vigilantly check your online account.

If you don’t want to pay for a paper statement, you need to vigilantly check your online account, says Mierzwinski. "Many consumers look at their online transaction regularly, but fewer actually look at the full online PDF summary statement, which also lists fees and charges, with a summary, it includes for example, fees for foreign ATM use," he adds.

As in all online activity, passwords must be protected and mindful of security, points out Saunders. While you don’t want to repeat and reuse passwords, unless you’ve got a memory of an elephant, you might want a password keeper program. However, don’t set the program to log you in automatically, set it to ask for your master password for the password keeper on financial services sites, suggests Sherry.

In fact, if you don’t have a computer or high speed internet, opting for e-statements may be ill advised. "It’s not a good idea to log on from a public computer to see financial records and other bills," says Sherry.

Although some banks are providing online statements for up to two years or more, Mierzwinski understands that they are legally required to provide them online for only 60 days. "You may have to call to get older ones and they certainly won’t save them forever. You can save your paper statements forever."

It really is a matter of preference. "I get hundreds of emails. I don’t want something as important as a bank statement buried. I want my statements mailed. Computers can crash. You also have to remember to download your statements. I like having a pile of paper for my records," says Saunders.

Financial planner and writer Hank Coleman of MoneyQandA.com worries about missing something with only online statement. "Because I get so few letters in the mail any more, I look at them all, even the junk mail. The same isn’t rue of my email inbox. I get inundated with so much stuff, both good and garbage, I throw a lot of important things out by accident without even realizing it. That’s my fear with banks switching to online statements only. I’m scared to death that I’m going to miss something important, either an announcement or a fraudulent charge, or something important.

Lastly, says Sherry, "I suggest going paperless only if it’s the right decision for you. Don’t do it just because you’ll be entered in a sweepstakes."

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Anonymous | | Comment #1
"That’s my fear with banks switching to online statements only. I’m scared to death that I’m going to miss something important, either an announcement or a fraudulent charge, or something important."

If you're not reading your online statements, it's a good bet your not reading your paper ones either. I've never had any problems downloading mine to a storage device and that's much more convenient than leafing through a pile of papers. Maintaining an online account also makes it considerably easier to track my transactions on a daily or weekly basis. That's much better than flying blind until the monthly paper statement arrives. This is the 21st century and paper is inevitably going to be phased out as an option for recording banking transactions. So, the excuses about not being as comfortable with virtual records or not owning a computer aren't going to work much longer.
Anonymous | | Comment #2
I am fine with virtual records. I find it quicker and easier to check. But that is for now, for today. But I worry about tomorrow. I am a widow and should something happen to me I want a paper document showing up at my house so that my kids will see it and have to deal with it. No matter what instructions I provide about online matters, I think it would be easy for something to be overlooked.
And I have rarely missed something online, but it has happened, and a paper bill kind of hits me over the head and reminds me.
Anonymous | | Comment #3
I want both paper and online statements from any institution. On-line for a quick convenient? check of my account(s) and paper copy for my legal records.

ALL institutions can conveniently? loose on-line records. My paper copies are secure and a good backup for any future discrepancies. And yes, I do have a system for purging what I consider not needed any longer.

If any institutions will not provide both, then I don't do business with them.

I know some people will say I'm old fashion, but let them get "burned" once and they will agree with me. I've worked in IT for years, and I'm very much aware of how on-line data can be lost.

Just keep in mine that if you can produce a paper copy of something and an institution denies an error occurs, I believe any court of law would find in my favor!

"Let the buyer beware"
Mary | | Comment #4
Back when Auction Rate Securities were a frozen in 2008, 2009 (Auction Rate Securities were like CDs that you had the option of selling every week and advertised to be a cash asset), on my bank paper statement before there was a problem they were listed under "Cash." Then the bank (UBS, Wells Fargo, etc.,) put them under "stocks" even though sold to people/companies as a cash asset. I was happy I had evidence on paper that they were previously considered "cash." Banks have the ability to change-up your statement. If you are going paperless, don't forget to at least print out statement at home. If I had not had paper copies, they would have changed the category to suit them. (yes, I got it all back, but it wasn't pretty.)
hoho | | Comment #5
This is a non issue. If you want a hard copy just print it.
Anonymous | | Comment #6
Obviously, you don't read your hard copies and on-line copies. I have some accounts which show some information only on the hard copy and visa versa.
hoho | | Comment #7
What Information is not on the on line statements? What kind of statements are you talking about? The statements I get have the same info. Other info can be accessed via online banking.
paoli2 | | Comment #8
I don't like just online statements because I like to compare my statements for both of our brokerages many times and it is much easier to do if I can look at the paper statements side by side. So far our brokerages don't charge us for paper statements and I prefer it this way.
Anonymous | | Comment #9
You can use a printer and then look ide by side if you have to but as you wish. When a bank or other institution starts charging for paper I make the switch. It's cheaper for me to print than to pay a couple of dollars. If you feel it's worth the hard coy you company the fee.
Anonymous | | Comment #10
"FEES" - That's what the banks/institutions are all about. We already have so many hidden fees built into our accounts it's ridiculous.
hoho | | Comment #11
Someone has to pay for the "free" Checking, Bill pay, ATM s etc. I never pay fees. I get rebates on charge cards that I pay off monthly. Thank you to all those that pay for these items for me
paoli2 | | Comment #12
They get paid by the extra money one has to have in accounts to get all the freebies. If interest rates were higher I would never leave large amounts in accounts just to get "free" checking but these days, it's a different game unless one wants to put up with rebate charge cards or reward accounts which I don't prefer to fool with.
hoho | | Comment #13
I get free checking with no minimum and free ATM. No other account s with the bank. I just have to have 1 ETF which is my paycheck. Except for money for bills I transfer the rest to my money market and my mortgage is deducted from on on line savings account. I don't know what you mean by "Fool with" rebate cards but I charge my normal purchases. I get 5% on gas. 2% on groceries and 1% on other. The 5% is deducted each statement from Penfed. My other card is BOA and I get a check each quarter. Easy enough for me.