Despite a recent shift towards online statements, many of us opt to get them the old-fashioned way.


When the internet really took off two decades or so ago, and it became possible to receive all your financial information and correspondence via your computer instead of your mailman, many predicted that paper mail would soon be rendered obsolete.


Fast forward 20 years, and although corporate offices have become predominantly paperless, financial institutions are still spilling ink in order to communicate with the customers they serve. While these big firms can compel their employees to print out less, they can only gently encourage their customers to “go green” and get their bills and statements digitally.


Even the computer literate among us may find it hard to wean ourselves off the hard stuff (that is, hard copies of our financial statements). Maybe Iʼm old school, but I like to get a paper statement for each of my accounts at least once a year. Going completely paperless is not for everyone.


Why financial statements are so important

For one thing, they can help you keep track of your finances and provide a useful record for filing your tax return and for general accounting. Remember, there is a difference between personalized account statements and general fact sheets. Sometimes it may take a call to get the information you need.


Tip: If you request to receive quarterly account statements in hard copy, you may be more likely to actually read them. Any more frequent than that and you may be inclined to view the mail as a nuisance, akin to junk mail.


When I tear open a bill, my eyes gravitate to the bottom line, or wherever the account balance or amount due is displayed. But I also pay attention to the fees that might be hidden there somewhere.


So many people pay fees of up to 3 or 4% in expenses on their investment funds for years, because they arenʼt even aware of them or read their statements in a cursory fashion. Or in some cases, the 3-4% doesnʼt impress them as particularly high. But it is! To put it into perspective, an annual fee of just 1% on a $100,000 account balance works out to be $1,000 per year!


The fact is that customers who actually read their statements are more likely to spot any fees or charges that were much higher than expected. And with that information in hand, they can take action to prevent or lower those fees in the future.


Why paper statements can be more effective.

A 2016 report found that traditional hard-copy statements work better for some people, despite efforts by financial institutions to go digital.1 People seem to value a physical piece of mail as a recordkeeping tool; even computer-savvy types may prefer paper statements. And itʼs because they provide us with a tangible, concrete record of our financial transactions and funds' performance. Compared to the barrage of emails we receive on a daily basis, statements that are actually mailed are more likely to be seen and given due attention.


One major East Coast utility found that even among their newest customers (those expected to be more computer-literate), an average of 89% opted to have their bills mailed to them.2 Itʼs easy to understand why, given some of the advantages to paper statements:


  • With constant news of data breaches, many people are understandably wary about accessing their financial data online.
  • It can be a hassle locating your statement online and having to remember yet another password.
  • When you view your statement on a tiny smartphone screen or other device, you are potentially more likely to overlook the disclosures that can provide the most critical information.


If you do go green, beware of the blind spots

Paperless statements are the future, and not only are they better for the environment, they have clear advantages for consumers, too. We just need to be mindful of their limitations (and those of human behavior).


My family and I are conscientious recyclers and we actively try to minimize the amount of paper mail that lands on our doormat. However, when it comes to important financial communications, I would still rather get it in an envelope. The best solution might be a compromise. Go green, but get your quarterly (or annual) reports the old-fashioned way—and make sure you review them carefully.


1. “Paper Statements: An Important Consumer Protection,” National Consumer Law Center,

March 2016



2. U.S. Post Office, Office of Inspector General, “Will the Check Be in the Mail? An

Examination of Paper and Electronic Transactional Mail,” Report Number RARC-WP-15-

006 (Feb. 9, 2015),







Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America has sponsored Ask the Expert posts for informational purposes only. Many of the experts are unaffiliated with Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, College Retirement Equities Fund, and their affiliates and subsidiaries (collectively TIAA), and TIAA makes no representations regarding the accuracy or completeness of any information on the posts or otherwise made available by the experts.Statements of external featured experts are solely their own and are not endorsed or recommended by TIAA.


Responses from experts to questions posed by Woman2Woman community members are intentionally general in nature and are not intended to give personal, financial, or specific advice. Some strategies are complex, and more information is often needed to determine the personal needs of a community member. We strongly recommend that you consult with a financial advisor before taking any action based on an expertʼs response or other information you obtain from the Woman2Woman: Financial Living site so that all of your personal circumstances can be taken into consideration. Participation in the site does not render the member a client of the expert or of TIAA.


This site is not designed to accept or respond to requests or complaints regarding specific TIAA accounts, products or services. If you wish to discuss an issue of that nature, please contact TIAA at 800-842-2252. TIAA is not responsible for any opinions provided by members of this site. TIAA is not responsible for the content or privacy policies of third-party sites to which you may link.


Any tax information provided is not intended to be used, and cannot be used, to avoid possible tax penalties. TIAA and its representatives do not offer tax or legal advice. You should consult an independent tax or legal advisor for advice based on your own particular circumstances.


The material and responses are for informational or educational purposes only and do not constitute a recommendation or investment advice in connection with a distribution, transfer or rollover, a purchase or sale of securities or other investment property, or the management of securities or other investments, including the development of an investment strategy or retention of an investment manager or advisor. The material and responses do not take into account any specific objectives or circumstances of any particular individual, or suggest any specific course of action. Investment decisions should be made in consultation with an investorʼs personal advisor based on the investorʼs own objectives and circumstances.


Certain products and services may not be available to all entities or persons.


Investment, insurance and annuity products are not FDIC insured, are not bank guaranteed, are not deposits, are not insured by any federal government agency, are not a condition to any banking service or activity, and may lose value.


Experts may not have medical or scientific training. Any information related to physical oremotional health is not intended to be used in place of a consultation with a physician.


TIAA is not responsible for the statements of community members. We may link to posts made by community members only to direct you to topics that may be of interest to you. This does not mean that we agree with the opinions of these community members. Their statements are solely their own and are not endorsed or recommended by TIAA.


TIAA-CREF Individual & Institutional Services, LLC, Teachers Personal Investors Services, Inc., and Nuveen Securities, LLC, Members FINRA and SIPC, distribute securities products.


© 2017 and prior years, Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America-College Retirement Equities Fund, 730 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017