Legal, Regulatory, and Privacy Issues

Paper versus online statements: 8 FAQs

Credit card issuers have for years encouraged their customers to switch from monthly paper statements to online e-statements, but consumers have resisted. More than half of consumers still get a paper statement for a credit card or checking account, according to a poll in June 2016. Are you thinking of switching from paper to e-statements? Or maybe switching back? Here’s what you need to know.

Q: Can a financial institution force you to accept electronic statements?
A: No. The Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-Sign) Act requires that you opt in to receive electronic statements. Before consent can be given, the consumer must be provided with information about the choice, including:

  • The option to receive a disclosure in paper form.
  • The right to withdraw consent, including any fees that will be charged as a consequence.
  • How to obtain a paper copy of records upon request.

A consumer’s consent must demonstrate he or she can access the programs and equipment to receive and read electronic statements.

Q: Can I change my mind if I’ve agreed to receive electronic statements?
A: Yes. You can go back to paper statements if you change your mind. You can often make the change yourself on your bank’s or card issuer’s website. 

Q: Do online credit statements differ from paper statements?
A: The experience is different, and can affect what consumer protection warnings you see. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 imposed additional disclosure requirements on card issuers if there’s a balance. Paper monthly statements must now include a minimum payment notice, describing how long it would take, and how much it would cost, to pay the full balance by paying only the minimum. Those who pay their bills online can do so without ever seeing those notices. The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has said it will “observe closely how card issuers ensure that consumers receive disclosures in different channels.”

Q: Is it legal for a bank or credit union to charge me for paper statements?
A: Yes. It’s up to the institution. No law prevents charging a fee for paper statements, although most choose not to do so. The fee must be disclosed.

Q: What should I do if I receive electronic statements?
A: Some experts recommend printing them out and scanning them so you will have a permanent record at hand. Banks must keep their records available, but access won’t always be convenient and at your fingertips online.

Q:How far back do banks’ online records go?
A: Banks set their own limits on how far back they grant online access to old credit card account statements. For example, as of June 2016:

  • Discover leaves previous statements available online for three years.
  • Capital One leaves the past six years’ previous monthly statements online.
  • Chase leaves the past six years’ monthly statements online, for both open and closed accounts.
  • American Express allows instant online access to the past year’s statements; anything older than a year requires you make an online request, which takes up to 24 hours to complete.
  • Citi is similar to American Express, granting instant access to the 12 most recent monthly statements online, with a delay of up to 48 hours for older statements.
  • Wells Fargo keeps records online for two years, customers can request statements for previous years by mail.
  •  Synchrony Bank store cards give access to the past year’s statements; it sends older statements by mail.

Q: What should I do to keep paper statements?
You should keep paper statements in a secure location, such as a locked filing cabinet. When you want to dispose of them, be sure to shred or burn them to protect yourself from identity thieves.

Q: How long should I keep paper statements?
If you need them for tax records, the IRS recommends keeping them for three years after you filed your tax return, or two years from the date you paid the tax – whichever is later. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. recommends keeping credit card statements that don’t have tax significance for a year.

See related:Paper or emailed credit card statements: Which are better?, Making sense of confusing credit card statements

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