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Even the Tech-Savvy Prefer Paper Bank Statements, Study Finds

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There’s a new push to slow the paperless revolution, and no, the paper manufacturers aren’t behind it.

The National Consumer Law Center recently issued a report saying electronic bank statements can make it difficult for people to get information about their financial accounts, particularly for lower-income accountholders who tend to have limited access to technology.

Even people you might consider tech-savvy — younger consumers and those who prefer to pay bills online — still show a preference for receiving paper bills. The NCLC report cited a few studies that showed people opted for paper-based communication for accounts requiring monthly payments or payments upon receipt of a statement. In an analysis conducted by a major utility company in the eastern U.S. that serves a major metro area, 91% of consumers opted to receive paper bills in the mail, even though 71% of customers paid bills electronically. (It’s worth noting this figure came from a report from the U.S. Postal Service, which has an interest in the vitality of paper mail.)

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has also reported that only a quarter of active credit card accounts have opted for paperless statements, showing a preference for paper.

From an organizing standpoint, it makes sense. People get a ton of email, making it easy to overlook an important account notice. Sure, you might be able to set up email filters to flag certain senders or try to stay on top of your inbox, but there are plenty of other obstacles to electronic statements. Reviewing an electronic statement often goes like this: You get the email notification that your statement is ready, then you need to go to an account login website, then you need to log in — do you remember your username and password? No? That results in more emails and passwords, or perhaps you get to try and answer some security questions. Once you’re in your account, you have to find the statement, which, depending on the user interface, can slide somewhere between easy and difficult. Even before all of that, you have to have a computer, tablet or smartphone readily available.

Conversely, you could check your physical mailbox and open an envelope. In addition to highlighting these barriers, the NCLC report notes that the paper statement can serve as a tangible reminder to pay the bill. The report highlights examples of consumers who have missed payments because they overlooked an electronic statement, resulting in a hit to their credit scores. Bad credit has wide-reaching implications, like limiting further access to credit, lower insurance and interest rates, and even the ability to get housing or a job. (You can see if late payments are impacting you by viewing your two free credit scores each month on Credit.com.)

In light of that, it’s understandable that so many people who make electronic payments haven’t made the move to electronic statements. The NCLC report argues that consumers should not be pushed toward paperless account management, asking the CFPB to prevent banks and credit card issuers from making electronic statements the default preference, charging a fee for paper statements or incentivizing paperless statements.

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