Logging into your online accessible accounts in the last couple of years (itself mind blowing about twenty years ago) you’ve probably noticed a new sort of nag screen creeping up – notices asking if you would like to receive your monthly statement in electronic format. From water bills to mortgages, suntanning subscriptions to cable bills – you can find online statements and auto bill pay for pretty much everything, nowadays. Still – trees saved, trips to the mailbox avoided – is there any downside?
The Case for Paperless Statements
Paperless statements and their friend auto-bill pay undoubtedly make it extremely convenient for you to keep an eye on accounts and avoid late fees. Paperless statements are great in that manner – if you need to reference a previous month, you’ve got your statement sitting in your email inbox or in an easy to find spot on the web site of your service. That’s right – no more pile of papers sitting next to the shredder!
Pair it with auto-bill pay and you’ve got yourself a real winner: you can watch, in a somewhat detached manner, as bills are paid on time every month. Any issues? As long as you had auto-bill pay enabled you’ve got a case that the company providing the service is at fault. Pretty nifty.
The Inevitable Downside
Of course, keeping one lazy eye on your bills isn’t always the best idea, nor is attaching automatic bill pay to some accounts. Take a credit card, for example. You might be happily spending $1,000 a month on your credit card (and paying automatically). However, your highly automated system might hit a snag with an unexpected high bill – perhaps a mistaken charge. The company at fault will rectify the immediate problem, but good luck getting them to pay the resulting fees without a big fight. There’s a definite argument to be made for turning off auto-bill pay for accounts which vary monthly – especially credit cards. You don’t want to mess up the delicate web you weave!
As for paper statements, they are generally a good idea, except in one specific situation. Ask yourself – how much do you trust the company you are doing business with to keep their records properly?
Let’s say you’ve got a savings account and there is an error to the bank’s favor of a few thousand dollars. With a paper statement? No problem, call them up (or go into a branch) and show the mistake then have it rectified quickly. It’s not so simple with electronic statements – what if the error propagates through the system and the only backup in on their website? Not a good situation – you may have to reconstruct your transactions to have any chance at recovering the funds. The only way around that little nightmare? Either downloading the statements monthly (and looking at them every quickly, only to call whenever there is any issue), or keeping paper statements. A similar argument applies in reverse for loans and mortgages in the tens and hundreds of thousand dollars range – uncredited payments or calculation errors might leave you with a ton of work.
A Precarious Balance?
You’ve probably figured out from my biases how I stand – paper statements for my big accounts, electronic statements for the banks I trust and whatever fixed utilities allow it. Some things still get the old paper check – call me a luddite if you want, but just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean you’re wrong. That’s just my style for the time being… and I want to hear yours. So tell me – what do you do?
Do you use paperless statements? Auto bill pay? Are you as paranoid as yours truly with some accounts? Do you trust all of the banks and companies you have contracts and accounts with to handle your account properly?