Pros and Cons of Paperless Billing Statements

MessyDesk_SilviaJansen.jpg
© Silvia Jansen / Getty

Switching from paper bills to paperless billing might save time, but is it worth it?

How Paperless Billing Works

When you sign up for paperless billing statements you won't get a credit card statement in the mail anymore. Instead, your statement will be available online, often as a PDF file that you can download, save, and print. Your credit card issuer will send an email each month you when your statement is ready.

For your convenience, some credit card issuers also include your minimum payment due and the due date in the body of the email. If you're thinking about ditching traditional paper statements, consider the pros and cons before you make the change.

Pro: Saving the Trees

Paperless statements are good for the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the average American uses about one 100-foot-tall Douglas fir tree in paper each year. If credit card issuers send out fewer billing statements, there will be less demand for paper, which means less air pollution from paper production. Some credit card issuers have even promised to make their own contributions to environmental causes when you sign up for paperless billing.

Con: Easier to Miss Payments

One of the downsides to paperless statements is that it’s easier to forget to send your payment when you don’t have that physical bill as a reminder.

If you need a due date reminder, you can print the statement from the internet and post it where you normally put your bills. Paper is still being saved since you’re skipping the envelope and billing statement inserts.

You could also miss your due date if the credit card issuer's emails are caught by your spam filter and never delivered in your inbox.

Make sure you add your credit card issuer's email address to your "safe list" to prevent the emails from being automatically quarantined.

Pro: Less Mail and Paper in Your Home

The elimination of billing statements means there’s less paper and clutter in your home. You’ll save time sorting through bills and figuring how what you should keep, what can be thrown in the trash, and what must be shredded.

If you download your billing statements, you can save them to your computer or external drive and access later when you need them. Most credit card issuers make several months of billing statements available online, so it's may not be necessary to save your most recent statements.

Con: More Passwords to Remember

When you sign up for online billing, that means you’ll have yet another username and password to remember. Even if you try to use the same ones for all your sites – which generally isn’t a good idea – there are always a few sites with slightly different restrictions that will require you to come up with something different from what you normally use, something that you’re more likely to forget. And if you can't remember your password, you’ll have to use the password recovery process to check your statement every time you forget your password.

Pro: Perks for Online Billing Statements

Some credit card issuers offer incentives to cardholders who sign up for paperless statements. For example, you may be entered into a sweepstakes when you switch to paperless billing statements. Some card issuers actually charge a fee to send a paper statement and waive this fee when you sign up to receive your billing statement online.

Con: Less Access to Previous Statements

Credit card issuers typically only make a certain number of statements available online. If you need more than that, e.g. for tax purposes, you may have to go through a few extra steps (and could even have to pay a fee) to access older statements.

You could get around this by printing your billing statement each month and filing it away so you can access it if you need to.

Pro: Identity Theft Prevention

Switching to paperless statements could help prevent identity theft resulting from stolen mail. Since statements aren’t mailed to your home, mail thieves won’t get access to your credit card number if they intercept your mail. Even hacking your email account wouldn’t give a thief access to your credit card information since you have to log in to your credit card issuer’s website to view your statement. Emails from your credit card issuer should never contain your full account number.

Con: Delay in Catching Credit Card Fraud and Credit Card Changes

If you’ve set up an automatic payment for your account, you could easily forget to review your statements each month, a step that’s critical to catching credit card fraud. You have 60 days to report billing errors, beyond that the credit card issuer could make you pay for purchases you never made.

There’s another downside to paying without reading your statement – no alert to changes in your minimum payment. If your minimum payment increases beyond the payment you’ve set, you’ll be hit with a late fee even if the payment is made on time. After 60 days, your interest rate will increase and the late payment status will hit your credit report.

Con: Email Address Change Notification

Just like you have to notify your credit card issuer when you change your mailing address, you should also update them with a new email address. Otherwise, you’ll miss the monthly notification that your billing statement is ready. You could also miss an email letting you know about suspected fraud on your account (but beware of phishing scams) or to alerting you to other changes to your account, e.g. a credit limit increase.

Pay Online Without Paperless Billing

Even if you choose not to sign up for paperless billing, you can pay your account online either through your bank if they offer online bill payment services or directly to the credit card issuer through their website.