Pros, cons of online bank statements

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Your bank wants you to “turn off” your monthly paper-by-snail-mail statements and “turn on” online-only statements that don’t involve any paper, envelopes or postage.

This switcheroo is good for the bank since it won’t have to incur the cost to print and mail out your statement every month. Of course, the online service isn’t cost-free, but all things considered, it’s cheaper for the bank than paper is.

Some banks are so set on your going paperless that they’ve offered up incentives — five dollars, a chance to win a sweepstakes — to get you to drop your statements. They’ve also served up some threats — a fee or inability to access your statement online — if you refuse. Sheyna Steiner has the details in her Bankrate story, “Will paperless statements set you free?

Going paperless is nice. I tried it for a while, and it was a pleasure not to have a fat file of bank statements in my filing cabinet. But after a year or so, I got a surprise: My bank changed the terms of my savings account, my balance (which hadn’t changed) wasn’t high enough to avoid the monthly fee and I racked up several months of charges before I noticed the change. Ouch.

Sure, I should have read the fine print that came — you guessed it — through the U.S. mail. Usually, I do read these things, but this one slipped by me. And, if I’d had the paper statements, I’m sure I would have noticed the fees much sooner than I did.

The real problem with paperless is that, well, there is no paper, which means if you want to see your whole statement and really read what it says, you have to — you know the drill — print it out. And now it’s your paper, your ink and your time, instead of your bank’s, that gets spent.

The moral here, at least as I learned it, was that paperless doesn’t mean auto-pilot. In fact, it’s just the opposite. If you don’t have paper, you have to be more diligent to really read what’s on your computer screen. Raise your hand if you want to do that.

And here’s another question: What happens if you buy a new computer and don’t have an easy way to transfer your data? Will all of your electronic bank statements be trapped in that old computer you’d like to junk, but can’t?