Going paperless can save trees and save you money -- but it's not for everyone or every situation.
More companies are giving customers the option of receiving bills, notices, and other paperwork electronically, as well as making payments over the Internet. There are several factors to consider before trading hard copies for electronic ones.
The September issue of Consumer Reports Money Adviser offers tips on the potential advantages for consumers to go paperless and when to stick to paper.
"You might want hard copies of certain documents like your tax returns, as well as electronic ones," said Noreen Perrotta, Editor, Consumer Reports Money Adviser. "In other cases you might not have a choice. Electronic statements are a requirement if you want a high-interest checking account, and some companies now make annual reports and proxy materials available online automatically, requiring shareholders who want paper copies instead to request them."
Benefits of going paperless
Cost savings. Paying bills online eliminates the cost of postage. You often can direct a company to take the payment from your bank account the day it's due, maximizing the time your money is earning interest. Also, some companies have started charging for paper bills. ECG Long Distance charges. Other businesses offer incentives for you to go paperless. Citizens Bank and Charter One pay account holders ten cents every time they conduct certain transactions electronically, including using their debit cards and paying bills online.
Reduced clutter. All those paper bills, notices, and statements tend to pile up, and they need to be stored somewhere. Eventually you'll have to shred many of them before you discard them. Electronic versions don't take up any space-except on your computer hard drive.
Convenience. You might be able to search and sort electronic bills and statements or import the data into financial programs, such as spreadsheet applications, for analysis. Bank statements often contain interactive features that let you find out more about a charge and reconcile your checkbook. And electronic documents are portable. If you need to, you can keep years of records in a laptop or on a thumb drive.
Stick to paper?
Consider sticking with paper if:
Your computer isn't secure. Having all your documents in one place is convenient, but they're an easy target if a hacker or an unauthorized user in your home gets access to your machine. And electronic records aren't for you if you don't keep your security software up-to-date or use a log-in password
You can't manage electronic copies. Some bills and other electronic communications arrive directly in your e-mail inbox. For others, you'll receive a notice that the document is ready to be viewed and downloaded. You'll have to log into your account on the company's Website to get it. If either seems like too much trouble, perhaps you need the arrival of an actual envelope to get you motivated to look at whatever's being sent.
It has to be in hard copy. Even if your credit-card issuer lets you initiate a challenge to an unauthorized charge by phone or through its Website, you must mail a letter about your dispute to the address your issuer provides. Otherwise you'll lose your rights under federal law.