Paperless credit card statements: Right for you?
Presented with the option of going paperless, many consumers are choosing to receive statements and pay bills from their banks and credit card issuers electronically. While choosing the online option can be beneficial for both consumers and corporations, there are still some important considerations to keep in mind before deciding to go paperless.
The benefits of going paperless are straightforward. Banks and credit card issuers can save significant amounts of money on printing and mailing expenses, while consumers who opt for electronic statements are often rewarded with lower fees or investment minimums. Additionally, paper-free transactions are easier on the environment.
But getting statements electronically can also make it harder for consumers to keep tabs on their finances.
Banks and financial companies may only store paperless documents for a few months or a couple of years, which can leave important documents inaccessible when consumers may have to review them. For example, the IRS can usually audit taxpayers for three years after their returns have been filed, and up to six years after if income has been significantly understated.
That means that bank and credit card statements that might prove deductions such as charitable contributions need to be held for a few years following the return claiming the tax deduction is filed.
Many corporations allow clients to request that older documents that are no longer archived be mailed to them, although a fee may be charged for each paper document.
Meanwhile, consumers who no longer receive paper statements in the mail could end up neglecting their accounts. Credit card users who have their electronic statements paid automatically from checking accounts could end up missing changes, such as increases to minimum payments.
Some electronic financial documents may not be received if consumers change their e-mail addresses, or if the statement is filtered into a spam box. Therefore, security experts say consumers should regularly go through spam boxes looking for legitimate mail.
While financial companies tout the heightened security provided by paperless transactions, security experts say that going paperless does not necessarily make you safer. They note that online criminals store victims' information electronically rather than simply snatching information from mailboxes. To combat this threat, experts recommend installing anti-virus software on computers -- since fraud often begins with a computer virus, hacking, spyware or a phishing attack.
Published: May 22, 2007
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