When technology first allowed bank customers to check their accounts online, it was widely predicted that paper account statements would become obsolete. But, they never did. Customers, it seemed, liked paper statements. But now, banks may finally kill off the dead-tree statement — by riddling them with fees.
Currently, four of the 10 biggest U.S. banks offer a discount when checking account customers choose to receive their monthly statements electronically, as opposed to by snail mail. Essentially, if you want paper statements, you’re going to have to pay for it.
In 2010, Bank of America introduced its eBanking account, which requires customers to receive electronic statements — instead of the paper form — as part of the criteria to avoid a $8.95 monthly fee.
Last year, when TD Bank revamped its line of checking accounts, it started to offer a $1 discount to switch to online statements only. Also in 2011, U.S. Bank’s new suite of checking accounts charged a different monthly fee, depending on whether or not the customer wanted paper statements. The paper statement option costs $2 more.
This April, Wells Fargo followed in the footsteps of U.S. Bank and charged $2 more for monthly service fees when customer wanted paper statements.
For checking customers with TD Bank, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo, that extra cost of seeing the previous month’s transactions on a piece of a paper instead of a screen applies only if the monthly fee is actually charged. If they meet the fee-waiver requirements for that account, there is no extra cost to receiving paper statements.
Most other banks will default to paper statements, at no additional cost, and then request that customers enroll in online statements. Not surprisingly, many customers either forget or don’t bother to do it — opting to engage in the monthly five-second ritual of glancing at a paper statement before it joins the pile of recyclables.
In 2011, nearly 30 to 40 percent of consumers received their financial statements or bills electronically, according to a Javelin Strategy and Research study, conducted on behalf of NACHA — The Electronic Payment Association. Another 33 percent of consumer “double-dipped” — receiving both online and paper statements.
According to Javelin, if every U.S. household stopped receiving paper bills and statements, 687,000 tons of paper would be saved every year — enough to circle the Earth 239 times.
Paper statements not only increases operating costs for companies but also introduce unnecessary waste for consumers. In an age when digital information can easily be accessed online and on mobile devices, combined with rising environmental awareness, the reasons to ditch paper bills and statements continue to stack up.
If more banks adopt the practice of implementing higher fees for paper statements, customers have the most compelling incentive — lower fees — to sign up for online statements.