Do not void paper bank statements just yet

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

You could instead receive paper statements in the mail, an option that is becoming less popular as technology improves.

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

Whatever their form, these monthly statements allow you to identify fraudulent purchases and errors and, in the case of invoices, to remind you of payment deadlines.

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

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 of the advantages of using paper is being able to annotate it.

But, just as checks have given way to debit cards, paper bank statements are being replaced by electronic statements and other technologies.

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

Many banks have tools like mobile alerts to help prevent fraud, and one day digital banking may affect paper statements as well.

“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 communications and analytics firm that provides financial statements on behalf of thousands brands. “But there is an opportunity to make print and digital work together.”

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

“GOING PAPERLESS” IS NOT FOR EVERYONE

Banks have been encouraging customers to opt for e-statements, or “going paperless,” for more than a decade, and the trend continues; a quarter of banks now charge a fee to send a paper statement, according to 2014 data from banking analytics firm Novantas.

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

But some people don’t benefit from electronic statements. According to a 2015 study by the Pew Research Center, about one-third of American households do not have high-speed or high-speed Internet access at home.

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

Accessing an online statement at a library or other public location may not be as secure as accessing it through your home network. Also, having a smartphone may not be enough.

It’s “very different from seeing a bank statement on a full sheet of paper (rather than) on a small screen,” says Chi Chi Wu, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. Certain transactions and billing deadlines on credit card statements can be overlooked and result in missed payments.

WHY SOME PREFER PAPER

Even people who can easily receive statements online may prefer paper for a variety of reasons:

— To reduce online information overload. Emails about statements can be ignored in a crowded inbox, and checking e-statements usually requires logging into online or mobile banking and downloading a PDF.

“Customers 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.”

By contrast, Twight adds, his clients with electronic statements don’t read them, except perhaps at tax time.

— To keep a more permanent record. Computers break down and files get lost, so digital storage of readings isn’t foolproof. Although paper takes up space, having a copy at hand can be more reassuring than in cyberspace.

— To facilitate family tracing, if necessary. If an older person can no longer manage their finances, loved ones may need to step in. Finding paper statements may be easier than finding passwords from the bank’s website.

SAVE YOUR STATEMENTS

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

Whatever the future of statements, whether paper or digital, they are important financial documents.

This article was provided to The Associated Press by personal finance website NerdWallet. Email Spencer Tierney: [email protected] Twitter: @SpencerNerd.

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Shawanda H. Saldana