Don’t Write Off Paper Bank Statements Just Yet

Spencer Tierney
By Spencer Tierney 
Edited by Amy Hubbard

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Electronic bank statements have virtues — saving trees, keeping your desk uncluttered — but they also have a vice: They can be easy to forget.

You could instead get paper statements delivered by mail, an option that’s becoming less popular as technology gets better.

But Nessa Feddis, senior vice president for consumer protection and payments at the American Bankers Association, says they “won’t disappear entirely.”

Whatever form they take, these monthly records help you find errors; remind you of deadlines, in the case of bills; and spot fraudulent purchases. (If you see possible fraud on your statement, take these steps to protect your bank account.)

Here’s what you can expect from bank statements in the future and how to decide whether sticking with paper makes sense for you.

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A more digital future

Bank statements played a key role when balancing a checkbook was common. You would keep track of deposits and withdrawals on paper and compare your numbers each month with your statement. One perk to using paper is being able to mark it up.

But, just as checks gave way to debit cards, paper bank statements are being replaced by electronic ones and other technology.

"Instead of a formal document at the end of the month, it’s a rolling, continuous spending tracker,” Cole Kennedy, a copywriter in New York City, says of his bank’s tracking feature. His bank also provides graphs of his spending history.

Many banks have tools such as mobile alerts to help prevent fraud, and someday digital banking might affect paper statements too.

"We’re not going to snap our fingers and stop sending paper” to people who want it, says Rob Krugman, chief digital officer at Broadridge, a customer communication and analytics firm that delivers financial statements on behalf of thousands of brands. “But there’s an opportunity to make the paper and the digital work together.”

For example, he says, a one-page statement could have an integrated chip in the paper, which you could scan with a smartphone to see more details online.

‘Going paperless’ isn’t for everyone

Banks have encouraged customers to opt into electronic statements, or “go paperless,” for over a decade, and the push continues; a quarter of banks now charge a fee to send a paper statement, according to 2014 data from banking analytics firm Novantas. (Here’s more on how to avoid paying three unnecessary bank fees.)

About 61% of checking account customers only receive electronic statements, according to a 2017 survey by Javelin Strategy and Research.

But some people don’t benefit from e-statements. About a third of U.S. households don’t have access to broadband, or high-speed, internet at home, according to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center.

Banks, by law, have to make paper statements available as an option. They can’t assume everyone has internet access.

Accessing a statement online at a library or other public place might not be as secure as accessing it through your home network. Plus, having a smartphone might not be enough.

It’s “very different seeing a bank statement on a full sheet of paper [rather] than a small screen,” says Chi Chi Wu, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. Certain transactions and bill deadlines on credit card statements might get overlooked and lead to missed payments.

Why some prefer paper

Even people who can easily receive statements online may prefer paper for various reasons:

To cut through information overload online. Emails about statements can get overlooked in a crowded inbox, and checking e-statements usually requires logging onto online or mobile banking and downloading a PDF.

“Clients who have paper statements check them at least once,” says Dana Twight, certified financial planner and owner of Twight Financial in Seattle. “It comes in the mail and they see it.”

In contrast, Twight adds, her clients with e-statements don’t read them, except maybe around tax time.

To keep a more permanent record. Computers crash and files get lost, so storing statements digitally isn’t foolproof. Although paper takes up space, having a copy at hand can be more reassuring than one in cyberspace.

To make it easy for family to find, if necessary. If an older person can no longer manage their finances, relatives might need to step in. Finding paper statements might be easier than tracking down bank website passwords.

Save your statements

Tax audits, lawsuits and other situations may require a bank statement. Storing paper in a safe place is intuitive, but e-statements also should be saved offline, either printed out or saved on your computer. Some banks keep them available online for up to seven years.

Whatever the future may hold for statements — paper or digital — they’re important financial records.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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