If you’re over 40 (or is it 50?), you might remember the term “free checking”. Like a lot of things in the past few years, free checking is fast becoming a thing of the past. Banks not only routinely charge basic monthly fees for checking accounts, but a growing list of other fees.
One of the most annoying is the paper statement fee.
This is a fee that many banks charge as online and mobile banking have become prevalent.
You see, as convenient as online banking is for consumers, it’s a big expense reduction strategy by the banks. They don't have to pay for paper and postage to send monthly statements to you.
Do you still want paper statements mailed to your house? Enter paper statement fees.
What Are Paper Statement Fees?
Paper statements are a well-established tradition in the financial industry, particularly with banks.
With personal account statements, they’ll run in monthly increments on odd days of the month.
For example, your “month” may end on the 21st, rather than at the actual end of the month.
With business accounts, however, monthly statements are usually timed for the actual calendar month. With either a personal or business account, you’ll receive 12 statements per year.
Bank statements have several purposes.
Tracking personal cash flow
The most obvious is to provide you with a written record of the activity in your account.
But it also gives the ability to reconcile your account, both to make sure there are no discrepancies and to update your own checkbook.
For those with business accounts
As important as they are for personal accounts, they’re even more so for business accounts.
Business checking accounts are major controlling accounts for any enterprise. Statements provide a record of all transactions – including income and expenses – running through the account.
With many businesses, a business checking account could represent their entire business activity in a typical month.
How Banks are Working to Eliminate Paper Statements
As the financial industry goes increasingly digital, a massive shift is underway to eliminate paper statements.
First and foremost, this enables banks to lower their operating costs.
After all, the cost of printing, preparing and paying postage on many thousands of bank statements each month is a major expense.
Virtually all banks today are operating online, enabling customers to pull up statements on the banking platform. They naturally prefer that outcome to mailing paper statements.
In an attempt to phase out paper statements, banks are now charging fees for each statement mailed. These are in addition to other fees banks charge.
Paper statement fees are not always obvious
Banks will inform you when they implement the fees.
But that notification often comes in the form of complicated disclosures, where a new fee is revealed on Page 3, Section 6, Subpart VXII. You’ve been informed, you just don’t know it!
In a world where we’re inundated by disclosure forms encrypted in legalese, these documents are routinely ignored.
It makes a strong case for reviewing the fine print in any disclosures, particularly those that include updated fee schedules.
Implementation of those fees may not be obvious either
For example, I have an account that charges two fees each month.
The first is a basic monthly account fee of $6.
The second is a more mysterious “activity fee”. It’s based on the number of transactions in your account, and other activity and fees. It’s possible a bank could bury a paper statement fee in some sort of catchall equivalent.
Unless you’re willing to break out a calculator and all the fee disclosures you’ve received in the past 12 months, it can be complicated to figure out exactly what comprises that number.
Once again, you could be paying a paper statement fee – you just don’t know it!
Paper Statement Fees at Top Banks
Paper statement fees are in a state of flux.
Among the larger banks, you’ll typically pay a fee of $2 or $3 per monthly statement.
Although that number might sound small, it adds up, and it's a fee that you shouldn't be spending your hard-earned money on.
Smaller banks, and online banks, may have lower fees or no paper statement fees at all.
There may still be some brick and mortar financial institutions that are ruling out paper statement fees altogether. Enjoy it while it lasts – that practice is likely to end in the next few years.
We've compiled a list of some of the major banks that are charging paper statement fees:
Paper Statement Fees at Top U.S. Banks
|Bank||Paper Statement Fee|
|Bank of America||$5|
|Discover Bank||None (limitations apply)|
Statement Copy Fees
Similar to paper statement fees, some banks may charge you a statement copy fee. This is another way banks tend to disguise those pesky paper statement fees.
Instead of explicitly charging you a paper statement fee, banks get away with charging you a fee for simply requesting a paper copy of your statement. You'll find that most big banks charge you a statement copy fee, as opposed to a paper statement fee, since most of them opt to send their correspondence online as their first form of communication.
Keep in mind that every time you request a paper copy of your statement, banks will charge you this fee, so try to keep your paper-trail limited.
The major difference between paper statement fees and statement copy fees, is that paper statement fees tend to be charged monthly, whereas statement copy fees are charged on a per statement basis.
Here's a list of some of the statement copy fees charged at major U.S. banks:
Statement Copy Fees at Top U.S. Banks
|Bank||Statement Copy Fee|
|Fifth Third Bank||$5|
|Union Bank||$3 by phone or $5 in-branch|
How Can You Avoid Paper Statement Fees?
Like all bank fees, paper statement fees need to be avoided to lower your cost of banking.
How can you do that?
Opt for online/mobile banking
If you’re well accustomed to receiving paper monthly statements, it can be a bit of a transition.
But you can do it. It’s like anything else, you just need to adapt to a new habit.
After a few months, you’ll come to realize that you don’t miss paper statements anymore. It will become your new normal.
In fact, your online account will provide the most accurate picture of your account activity.
Contact your bank to discuss your options
In smaller banks at least, it may be possible to contact the bank and get this fee waived.
There’s even a chance the bank already has a policy eliminating the fee under certain circumstances.
For example, they may waive the fee if you have a certain minimum amount of money on deposit with the bank.
It’s always worth looking into.
Use a personal finance management tool
Online services, like Mint, Personal Capital and YNAB aggregate all your accounts on their platforms.
You can often take a snapshot of your bank statement and print it off for your records.
This can give you access to the bank statement itself, without the annoying inserts banks often stuff into important correspondence.
Why You Might Want to Dig in and Keep Paper Statements Coming
Not everyone wants to go completely paperless, and there may be good reasons why.
Email reminders only tell you to log in
When you go paperless, you get a monthly email reminder from the bank that your statement is ready.
But to do this, you have to log into your account and find your statement – and print it if you want a physical copy.
That process is a bit more complicated than simply opening up an envelope.
Avoiding phishing schemes
With email notifications from financial institutions comes phishing schemes.
These are bogus emails that perfectly duplicate correspondence from your financial institution. They direct you to log on to your account from the email.
But their only purpose is to get your login credentials, which gives the sender access to your account.
It’s purely a criminal activity, and the perpetrators have become so good at it that you don’t even know it’s happening. Getting paper statements reduces that threat.
Reminders to review your account
Even though all the information is available online, some people need a physical reminder.
The receipt of a monthly statement in the mail can be a valuable poke to review your statement.
You prefer a paper trail
Even in an increasingly digital world, you may prefer to have a solid paper trail connected to your accounts.
Printing statements on your home computer isn’t free (ink, printer replacement, time spent). It may be worth paying a few dollars extra each month to avoid that effort.
You don’t do business online
Though the great majority of consumers are folding into the digital universe, some people still prefer to avoid it. Paper statements will be absolutely necessary in that situation.
Why You’ll Want to Go Paperless
Now let’s take a look at the many reasons why you won’t want to keep getting paper statements.
At $5 per statement per month, you’re paying $60 per year to receive paper statements. If you keep an average daily balance of about $1,000 in your checking account, that will be the equivalent of a -6% annual return on your money. Not good!
Mail could be stolen
Thieves do raid mailboxes, giving them access to your bank account information and other sensitive financial information.
Storage of paper documents is a security risk
Any physical documentation retained is a potential security risk.
Other people may have access to your records. And as sad as it is to say, identity theft is often an “inside job”.
In addition, storing a large number of monthly statements takes up space in your home, and even represents a fire hazard.
The mail doesn’t always arrive on time – and sometimes it doesn’t arrive at all.
If you have a problem with your account, it can be tough enough to wait until the end of your statement cycle to receive your bank statement. It can be white-knuckle time if the statement is seriously delayed. And some mail never arrives at all.
If it’s your bank statement, and it goes to the wrong place, your identity will be compromised.
Reduce your environmental footprint
The paper in manufacturing/printing processes required to produce a paper statement – as well as the fuel cost to deliver it – have an environmental impact.
Online statements are purely digital, and have no impact.
Even if you routinely print your online statements, the impact is lower than the snail mail process.
The inevitable elimination of paper statements
Apart from the cost of paper statement fees, this is the biggest issue.
The financial world is going digital, so it’s just a question of time before paper statements will fall into the dustbin of history.
People are gradually transitioning over to paperless bank statements. But if you’re determined to keep paper statements, you can either pay the monthly fee or move to a bank that doesn’t charge that fee.
But either situation is likely to change.
Banks that don’t charge paperless statement fees are likely to implement one, and banks that already have it, are very likely to increase it. It’s just the way the world is moving.
Hang on for as long as you can, but be prepared for the day when you won’t have a choice.