Editorial Policy

Pros and Cons of Credit Card e-Statements

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By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D.
July 28, 2010

Although consumers continue to grow more eco-conscious, when it comes to shifting to paperless credit card statements, many cardholders are afraid that going green will make it more challenging to stay out of the red.

According to a recent survey conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media, even though many cardholders are comfortable making payments online, 71 percent of cardholders still opt to receive paper credit card statements. When asked why, most cardholders report that they like having the credit card bills lying around to remind them when their payment is due. Many consumers also express a preference for paper-based record keeping.

However, online statements can provide some unique benefits, which you may want to consider. Here are some pros and cons of going green:

Pros of Paperless Credit Card Statements

View statements sooner. Signing up for paperless statements means that you get almost instant access to new credit card statements, giving you several extra days to review the account and send in payment or pay online.

Paperless statements take less space. Downloaded statements can be easily saved to a computer hard drive and backed up on a separate disk, instead of filling up filing cabinets. In addition, most operating systems feature search functions that allow users to locate information contained within documents; in other words, if you are looking for specific transactions, you can simply click “find” instead of having to sift through each and every statement. You have plenty of time to download the statements, many issuers will store statements on online account pages for an average of 12-24 months.

You might also consider downloading credit card transactions into a book-keeping software like Quicken or Quickbooks, which keeps all transactions at your fingertips and makes it easy to track your expenses (always a good idea to do even if you stick with paper statements).

Deter fraud. Online credit card statements eliminate the paper trail that accompanies snail-mail statements. Would-be thieves who stoop to sift through your trash will be left with only old newspapers and banana peels.

Protect the environment. For many cardholders, this is one of the biggest reasons to switch over to online credit card statements—and for good cause: if even just 10 percent of households were to switch to electronic bills, statements, and payments, we could save over 75 million pounds of paper and avoid using the 51.5 million gallons of gasoline necessary to mail them. This tiny switch would also protect over 900,000 trees and prevent the production of nearly 2 billion pounds of greenhouse gasses.

Cons of Paperless Credit Card Statements

No bills lying around as a reminder. Many cardholders rely on the visible paper bills as a reminder to send in their payment. In absence of a paper statement, many consumers are concerned that they will forget to send in their check on time, particularly for credit cards not used regularly.

To help remedy this, experts suggest signing up for cell-phone text alerts to remind you of an approaching payment date. Most credit card iPhone apps also offer payment-reminder services. In addition, card issuers automatically send out e-mail statement notifications when electronic bills are ready to view, and also lets you sign up for email payment reminders to notify you both when a bill is coming due or is late. Some people also find it useful to coordinate bill payment dates so that all credit card bills come due at the same time.

No hard copy to file. People used to paper-filing systems may be uncomfortable switching to electronic storage of their credit card information. Some fear that all their financial records will evaporate into thin air should their hard drive crash. While this is a valid concern, it is easily remedied by doing frequent backups, which most computer users already do anyway (or learn the hard way that the should be doing). Online backup services, like Mozy.com, iDrive.com, or Carbonite.com, which automatically back up computer hard drives in the background, can be well worth the modest subscription fee for the peace of mind they afford.

Unfamiliarity. This may be the biggest hindrance of all. If you’re used to paper statements, switching to e-based statements does take a commitment to changing longstanding habits. If you’re motivated to switch, take one step at a time by first signing up to make payments online on your card issuers’ websites. Keep the paper statements coming until you get comfortable managing your credit cards online; and then make the decision whether or not to go paperless.

Switching to paperless credit card statements will entail some extra work at first, but for many, the rewards are well worth it. By switching to paperless statements, even just one household can prevent the production of 171 lbs of greenhouse gasses, likely well worth the effort for more eco-conscious consumers.