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Paper for your plastic (bills)?

Name bar In principal, I love the idea of getting all of my bills via e-mail, where they can be stored forever and don't have a role in the dual epidemics of arborcide or (air, land, and probably sea, too) pollution.

I certainly pay them all online. I only grudgingly write my lawn service a check each month and mail it to them in exchange for the handwritten invoices and inexpensive price tag that brings these angels of green mercy to my home. I consider that if they started taking credit cards and set up an online bill pay option, my $30 service would be as obsolete as wampum.

But I still get great satisfaction out of looking over my bills on paper and checking them for errors or noticing whether my spending habits or energy use or bank balance are fluctuating in a way they shouldn't.

Every once in a while, this habit really pays off. This week, I saw a $2 finance charge on my bank statement. I haven't used an out-of-network ATM for a decade, so I was curious. Apparently, though it's not clear when you use the ATM, the now-merged Wachovia and Wells Fargo charge $2 if you request a receipt that includes the image of a check you deposit.

I did this the other day without thinking about it. Had there been a tipoff about the price, I'm sure I wouldn't have done it. Thankfully, the bank removed the charge without the slightest bit of resistance. The representative told me these calls are common right now because of the ongoing merger.

Sure, $2 isn't life or death. Now. But I keep hearing about this possible double dip. And it has nothing to do with ice cream cones, skinny dipping or germy habits at the hors d'oeuvres table.

And on the other hand, a friend and colleague who moved and had all of her bills converted to electronic statements got a bit of a shock. The notice that her Macy's bill was due was ensnared in the sometimes-evil spam filter of her e-mail.

Three months, maybe more, had passed, and Macy's was unsympathetic to her wayward bill. Somehow, they didn't have a current phone number for her, so they said they had no other way to let her know she was so behind. The late payment (and ugly finance charge) led to her credit score getting docked. Thankfully, she's not in the market for a big loan anytime soon.

I'm hard pressed to recommend that everyone get all their bills on paper. Especially considering I'm overrun with paper at home. Credit card statements from 2000. Pay stubs from my first job. This is absurd, considering you don't really need to keep credit card statements for more than a few months, in general. I just haven't gotten around to buying a shredder.

But over the years, inspecting the bills on paper has saved me fees and overcharges and caught errant uses of my credit card by other people. I just need to find a way to reconcile that with saving our beleaguered planet.

Posted by Nirvi Shah at 10:00 AM on September 2, 2010 in Banking , Savings | Permalink | Facebook | Digg | del.icio.us | AIM

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