Consumers prefer a paper trail
Contact: Ruth Susswein, 301-718-2511 Linda Sherry 202- 544-3088
The message is clear: Consumers overwhelmingly prefer to receive bills and statements on paper rather than electronically, according to a new survey of more than 2,600 people by the non-profit Consumer Action.Up to three-quarters of those surveyed opted for bills to arrive by mail. For each of nine types of bills and invoices, consumers chose paper over digital delivery: insurance (66%), utilities (63%), medical bills (74%), property taxes (71%), internet services (51%), mortgages (45%), motor vehicle renewals (69%), credit cards (61%) and phone bills (56%).
“Even more compelling is the fact that respondents accessed our survey online and still prefer to receive paper statements for most important bills and notices,” noted Consumer Action’s Director of National Priorities, Linda Sherry.
Many of those who gave reasons for their paper preference mentioned the ease of viewing and accessing the bills for future reference. Paper statements help some people remember to pay their bills on time.
“We manage numerous accounts for which paper files are kept. We have power outages fairly regularly and sometimes need answers when there is no access to my records kept electronically,” explained one survey respondent.
For some older, disabled or lower-income consumers, paper documents are not just an option, they’re a necessity. Those who are not tech-savvy, have difficulty using a computer or have no internet access at home find paper statements essential.
More than one-third (38%) of respondents said they prefer mailed copies of other important communications from service providers, and nearly as many (35%) said it depends on the type of communication. Twenty-six percent chose email or online notice. Consumers prefer paper notices for:
The only category where respondents prefer to receive information electronically—51 percent—was data use and privacy notices.
- Bank statements (57%)
- Medicare and prescription drug summaries (55%)
- Social Security statements (68%)
However, the majority (55.5%) of survey respondents said they prefer to pay their bills online.
What’s more, how consumers receive the bill does affect how likely they are to review the details. More than three-quarters (78%) of those who receive bills by mail said they review the transactions printed on paper statements. Of those who receive bills electronically, less than half—only 43 percent—said they go online to review their transaction details.
While the majority of respondents (66%) have not been charged to receive a paper statement, there is some cost-shifting. Nearly 9 percent of respondents said they have paid a paper-statement fee for phone, pay TV or cable bills, and 16 percent have paid for bank statements.
“No one should be forced to receive [bills and notices] electronically only, or to pay to receive proper notices and statements by mail,” said a survey respondent.
Under the federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (E-Sign) Act, if the law requires that a statement or disclosure be made in writing, financial institutions can substitute electronic statements for paper ones, but only with a customer’s consent. As a member of the Keep Me Posted campaign, Consumer Action supports an individual’s right to choose between receiving important financial information online or in print and believes that paper should be the default.
“Customers should get paper bills and statements until they proactively consent to electronic delivery,” said Sherry. “Bottom line, consumers need to know that they have the right to switch back to paper at any time they desire.”
For more on what consumers’ rights are in receiving a statement of their choice, see Consumer Action’s latest issue of Consumer Action News: Paper or digital? (https://www.consumer-action.org/news/articles/paper-or-digital-winter-2018-2019)
Consumer Action’s online survey of 2,607 people was conducted from Nov. 7-27, 2018.
The results may not be cited for commercial or advertising purposes.
To view the full survey, visit: http://bit.ly/paper_digital.
John Gear is a Salem attorney.