Going Paperless: Should You Receive Bills & Statements Electronically?

An increasing number of credit card providers, utility companies and financial institutions are offering the option to go paperless for statements and bills. Rather than receiving your information through the mail—as it has been done for years in the past—you can opt for exclusive electronic communications. But is this really the way you want to go?

Benefits of Going Paperless

The major selling point that billing companies use for electronic statements and bills is the benefit to the environment. By opting out of paper statements, you can save hundreds of trees and reduce the amount of waste in the environment. Since many people throw away their bills and statements as soon as they arrive, this cuts down on the outgoing residential trash.

Of course, this isn’t the real reason why corporations want you to go paperless. In reality, they are savings hundreds of thousands of dollars in postage costs by submitting your bills and statements electronically. This doesn’t mean that you should insist on paper statements to thumb your nose at The Man; it just means that the request is self-serving on both sides.

For you, the consumer, going paperless means that you have less mail in the box every afternoon, and can seriously limit the clutter that develops on your desk and the kitchen table. Some people have trouble filing important documents with any regularity, and if you opt for electronic bills and statements, you can simply relegate them to a file on your computer for easy retrieval.

Pitfalls of Going Paperless

Unfortunately, however, it is not all sunshine and roses for the electronic age. There are several ways in which going paperless can actually harm you as a consumer, and put you on the track toward debt and financial loss.

For one thing, when you receive bills and statements electronically, there is always the opportunity for mis-directed mail. If bills are automatically miscategorized by your spam filter, you could go several months before discovering an unpaid bill. If your mailbox is full, the document will likewise be lost in cyberspace, which can wreak havoc on your finances.

Furthermore, going paperless means limited access to financial documents. Some companies archive bills and statements for six months or a year, but after that, you might not be able to retrieve old documents. Some credit card companies and banks will send you old statements for a fee (up to $5), which can cost you more money out of pocket.

Should You Go Paperless?

Think about your own personal preferences when it comes to handling bills and statements. Do you meticulously file them in your cabinet at home and clean them out every two years? Do you prefer to read things on paper rather than on the computer. If so, going paperless probably isn’t the best course of action for you.

Others, however, prefer to keep all documents stored on their computers, and would rather run a quick document search to find what they need than fish through piles of old paperwork. This is especially true for the younger generation, which is composed of people who grew up with computers. They are comfortable with the conveniences and pitfalls they offer.

If you decide that you’d rather receive bills and statements electronically, make sure you store them on your hard drive or a flash drive to avoid automatic deletion from your Internet account. It’s also a good idea to print hard copies of important documents that you might need to reference later.