Going paperless has its doubters

July 13, 2008|By Vicki Lee Parker | Vicki Lee Parker,McClatchy-Tribune

Companies have long been trying to get us to "go green." That's their environmentally friendly way of saying they don't want to send paper bills and statements.

Some offer cash rewards or bonus points on credit cards to those who go paperless. Citibank promises to plant a tree for each of us who agrees to go online to view and pay our credit card bill.

Some simplify our lives by sending e-mail alerts that our bills are available and drafting the payment from our bank.

All of this saves paper and trees and reduces our carbon footprint. And it obviously saves the companies money and saves us postage and time.

So why do their come-ons leave me cold? I want my paper.

I recently needed to find the credit card receipt for an item I bought less than a year ago. It was nice to go to my file cabinet and pull out the hard copy. Compare that with a few months ago, when I was refinancing my home. The lender asked for my last two mortgage statements. I didn't have them handy, because to save money they are mailed quarterly.

Curtis Arnold, director of Card Ratings.com, says my instincts are sound.

"I don't recommend that consumers totally switch to paperless," he said. "We all know that computers crash. And a lot of these issuers only keep records for a year. They may charge you if you have to get records from two or three years ago."

Arnold, however, pointed out that the longer I and others hold out, the more likely it is that we'll one day pay extra to get a hard copy of our bills.

Here are some things that can ease the transition from paper:

*Set up as many statement alerts as the company allows, including text messages, e-mail reminders and Web page alerts.

*Find out whether your bank allows you to view bills on its Web site. Many banks, including Wachovia Corp., have such agreements with other companies. That saves the hassle of going from site to site.

*Find out how long a company keeps online bills. If not long enough for you, print a copy.

*Keep a record of your account number. For security, some companies don't put entire account numbers on online statements.

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