Editorial Policy

Gone paperless? You still need to check your mail

Kristin McGrath

December 13, 2013

Like a lot of people nowadays, I pay my bills and get my account statements online. That means I’ve gotten pretty bad about checking my (snail) mailbox. It’s mostly full of catalogs and coupons, anyway. Unless I’m expecting something (such as a replacement for a soon-to-expire credit card, a package or a medical bill), I often go as long as two weeks without checking.

Last Friday, however, I learned the folly of my ways when I retrieved my mail for the first time since before Thanksgiving. There was an envelope from my bank marked “Important account holder information enclosed.” Inside was a new debit card. Although my current debit card isn’t set to expire for more than two years, my account had gotten flagged in one of Bank of America’s fraud assessments. There were no suspect charges on my account, but, to be on the safe side, they were sending me a new debit card (with a new card number) and canceling my old card. Because I’d waited so long to check my mail, I now had just four days until my old card would be canceled.

I tend to avoid automatic payments as much as possible, and the ones I do have are generally linked straight to my bank account, rather than my card. So I didn’t have many automatic payments to switch over to the new card. I did, however, have to go in person to my jiu-jitsu school (which didn’t have an online system for me to log in to) so that the school could fax over my new card info to their payment center in time for my next automatic payment. I also canceled an Amazon order I’d placed with my card the night before (and hadn’t yet been billed for) to avoid payment snags when the order shipped in a few days.

While the ability to handle so many financial chores online offers time-saving benefits, I learned that it can also lull you into a false sense of security. Many consumers essentially have two financial lives (an online one and a dead-tree one), leaving our attention divided.  My bank hadn’t sent me any emails about the new card, so I thought I had no pressing reason to check my mailbox.  If I had waited just a few more days, I would have gotten hit with returned payment fees and an even more frantic dash to get my bills in order.

Has an important piece of mail ever lingered in your mailbox? And has your divided financial life ever caused you any problems? If so, follow these tips from personal finance and personal organization bloggers for keeping your scattered financial life under control.

DollarVersity points out that going paperless isn’t an excuse to become less organized, but a reason to become more organized.

Little Green Blog calls out an important paperless billing snag — you’re less likely to notice errors.

In a blog for Happy Cog, Ryan Irelan, outlines how he went paperless — and how he kept his financial matters organized electronically.

Moving more bills online entails a lot of passwords. Wise Bread has some tips for keeping them all straight.

Bargaineering emphasizes the importance of creating electronic backups of the documents and statements you used to receive in the mail.