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, 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."