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Using a credit card responsibly means staying on top of your account — tracking purchases, looking out for fraud, paying on time — and your monthly statement helps you do that. Card issuers are required by law to provide statements of account activity, and to mail them or make them available electronically at least 21 days before any payment is due.
In recent years, more and more cardholders have been choosing to receive statements electronically rather than in the mail. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 56% of cardholders were receiving exclusively e-statements in 2020, up from about a quarter in 2014. Issuers actively encourage customers to go paperless, promoting it as a low-hassle, environmentally friendly option (that also saves the issuer money).
So, if you haven't gone paperless yet, should you?
If e-statements are enough for you to track spending, check for fraud, identify errors and make your payments on time, then you're probably better off without all that paper. But if you lean on hard copies to keep your life in order, stick with what works for you.
Pros of going paperless
Ease of access
As long as you can get online, you have access to your statement. You can look it up whether you're thousands of miles away from the filing cabinet where you keep your financial records, or just in a different room and don't feel like getting up. Most issuers make statements accessible directly through their mobile apps.
E-statements can also be easier to search when you’re trying to find a particular transaction. Say it’s tax time, and Uncle Sam needs to know how much you spent on child care last year. You can probably review e-statements faster than paging through paper documents.
Of course, if the issuer's website or app is down for maintenance when you need to check a statement, access suddenly isn't so easy. And there are other access issues to consider, discussed below.
Some financial services providers charge a fee to send paper statements in the mail.
Some issuers do not offer paper statements at all, so if you want a hard copy, you may have to print it out yourself.
» MORE: How to pay a credit card bill
A statement for just one billing cycle can be several pages long. Storing reams of paper in a filing cabinet requires way more space than parking e-statements on a hard drive or in the cloud.
Even if you don't plan to save your paper statements, they still have to be printed and mailed, then either tossed or recycled. If you're conservation-minded, going paperless is a way to make a little bit of a difference.
Some financial institutions incentivize customers to opt in to paperless statements by offering things like cash bonuses, rewards points or an opportunity to win a prize.
Cons of going paperless
Lack of permanence
Credit card issuers archive older statements, but they generally don't keep them forever. Chase, for example, holds onto statements for seven years. Wells Fargo says credit card statements are available going back only two years. At Navy Federal Credit Union, it's three years. For someone who owns a business, for example, that time may be insufficient. If your circumstances require comprehensive financial records, paperless may not be the right option.
Closing an account may also limit your access to old statements. You'd have to print any documents or save them as PDF files before the account closes.
It’s usually possible to receive paper statements but still make payments online.
Access issues for some
Some people just work better with paper. Digital natives won't blink an eye when prompted to set up and retrieve e-statements. For someone less familiar or comfortable working online, the lack of paper statements could result in missed payments, late fees and lower credit scores.
Internet access is also far from equal. Internet speeds and reliability vary by geography and socioeconomic status. Some people simply can't afford it. Sometimes, paper statements aren't just the better option; they're the only option.
Relying exclusively on electronic records can also complicate the task of caring for relatives and navigating end-of-life decisions. People have enough trouble remembering their own logins and passwords. Imagine having to manage or wrap up the finances of an incapacitated or recently deceased family member whose statements are accessible only via computer, and you have no login information.
Best practices for managing e-statements
If you go paperless, follow these tips so you don’t slip up and harm your finances:
Open and save your e-statement each month. When you get the email saying your statement is available, go online and download it. Don’t just glance at it online; save it to a place where you can access it in the future. If there’s a transaction you want to dispute, you’ll need a printed copy of it.
Create a filing system that works for you. No matter what form your statements or bills take, it’s important to be well organized to manage your money. Consider organizing your e-statements by month or by account — or both. After downloading your e-statements, save them into the appropriate folder.
Back up your files periodically. Computers crash; flash drives get lost. Save copies of your e-statements onto an external hard drive and/or to the cloud throughout the year.
Check your credit card account throughout the month. You don’t need to wait for the monthly statement. Check your account once a week online or on the mobile app to keep an eye out for any suspicious charges or fees.
Keep a record of your bill payments. Make a spreadsheet with all your accounts in one column and the months across the top. Each month, enter the amount you paid. The benefits are twofold: You can be sure you paid that bill, and you’ll be tracking your spending.
Keep your contact information up to date. If you change your email address, how are you going to get your e-statements? Your bank or credit card issuer needs to know your email address, mailing address and phone number. If you move, go through your bills in your financial files to be sure your records are current.
Make sure your devices are secure. This is crucial whether you receive paper statements or electronic ones. E-statements contain extremely sensitive information that hackers and con artists would love to have. Use strong passwords and/or biometric indicators like fingerprint authorization or face ID.
E-statements have definite benefits in reducing clutter, providing on-the-go access and potentially saving money. And it’s easy to feel the need to go paperless when it seems like everyone around you has, and when your issuer is encouraging you to switch because it lowers their costs. But if you know that e-statements will get overlooked in your already full inbox, then stick to paper. The right decision is the one that keeps you on top of your finances, not the one that is most convenient for someone else.