Save a Tree: Manage Finances Online

– by Laura Mauney

In many instances, you pay bank and credit card fees, so make best use of those products!

Do you really need a fat monthly statement in the mail full of multiple pages and special offers that you often shred and/ or toss (hopefully) in the recycling bin?

Do you really need a receipt every time you withdraw money from an ATM or for that trip through the fast food drive-through or gas station?

Unless you must have receipts for “proof of purchase” – for returns or grocery itemization, for example – or are required to use paper receipts to track business expenses or tax deductions, you do not need so many pieces of paper lying about, especially if you pay with plastic instead of cash.

Paper receipts and statements create massive paper waste, are costly to businesses, and guess who’s paying? Yes, YOU and a whole lot of innocent trees!

Thankfully, in today’s cleaner, greener, electronic world, most businesses that engage in consumer transactions allow customers to “go paperless.”

“Going paperless” essentially means the consumer chooses to no longer receive mailed statements, or paper receipts.

Many ATMs and easy-pay-kiosks, like those at gas stations, allow customers to opt out of paper receipts at the close of the transaction. If you don’t really need that receipt, if you know absolutely it will just end up in the trash and not in your tax return, expense reimbursement request, or a legal file, just say “No!”

Online banking and bill-pay is easy to set up and more secure than ever, but should be concientiously managed.

Many banks allow online banking and bill-pay to occur directly within the banking website.

Electronic billing and online bill-pay are also offered by most utility, phone, cable and credit card sites.

Many of the same businesses provide “Apps” for smartphones and tablet computers that allow customers to institute transactions from almost anywhere on the planet.

Businesses also usually offer a “go paperless” option, which requires a “terms and conditions agreement” from you that relieves the business of liability if your payments lapse.

Laura’s Recommendations for Secure Paperless Financial Management

Special Tip I: If a business transaction absolutely requires a paper check, consider re-ordering via a website that sells checks printed on recycled paper. My favorite green check printing company is The Check Gallery, which I’ve used for decades, and which has also won an award for ethics. Check it out!

  • Most creditors and banks print a website address on paper statements telling where you can engage with the company online. Visit these links to find out how to conduct business with the company electronically.
  • Legitimate bill-pay sites require personal registration and password protection. This practice protects your banking information. Any site that doesn’t provide personal registration should not be used for online bill-pay.
  • To further protect your information, keep an offline log of bill-pay sites and passwords, and use a different password for every site. Make sure the passwords are hard to crack.

Special Tip II: For anyone on a super-tight budget, I do not recommend auto-pay for online bill-pay. Creditors who are granted auto-pay privileges will attempt to take the money whether it is available or not, which could, in turn, cause an overdraft for the payor. Overdrafts often result in fee-based penalties, which only make matters worse in tight-budget situations.

  • When a banking or bill-pay transaction is generated by you from your computer, the instruction is “encrypted” before it soars off into cyberspace. Encryption means that the transaction is converted to a secret code that cannot be read by any system other than the receiving system – the business or bank to which you are submitting the transaction. However, just as mail-theft is always a risk, cyber-theft is possible, too. Every once in awhile computer hackers with ill-intent attempt to crack encrypted code, so make sure the security software and firewall on your computer and mobile devices are up to date at all times, to allow for maximum possible protection.
  • Additionally, avoid sending personal financial transactions via an open Internet network of the sort offered at coffee shops and Internet cafes. If you plan to conduct transactions away from home, make sure to use a secure connection, e.g. the 3G or 4G provided with your smartphone plan, or bring along a “mobile hotspot” tied solely to your own system. Install password entry and security software on your smartphones and tablets, as well.
  • Beware of “phishing” by illicit companies that try to trick you into submitting passwords and financial information via email links. Phishers spam thousands of people simultaneously with alarming messages about the state of their affairs. If you receive an alarmist email about a bank account, credit card, or other site where you conduct personal business, the best way to double check the alarm is to visit the site directly on a separate web browser. In other words, don’t click the link in the email. If you discover that info in the email is false, mark the suspicious email as “spam.” This should tell your email provider to filter out future messages. Providers will often report phishers to law enforcement and private internet security services.
  • If you discover any instance of a charge to or payment from one of your accounts that you know you did not make, report it to the relevant institution immediately by email, to create an electronic record. Call immediately, as well, to achieve instant action. In almost all cases, you will not be held liable for fraudulent transactions.
  • Now, back to saving trees: After site registration, opt into the “paperless” option to stop bills from arriving in the mail.
  • At the billing sites, you will be asked to set up a pay-from account. If you set up a checking or savings account for pay-from, you will need the routing and account numbers, both of which appear on paper checks and statements.
  • Set up a tracking log in a spreadsheet or via financial management software that itemizes all obligations by due date. Items can be tracked by month, and marked or highlighted when paid.

Special Tip III: An added bonus of using a spreadsheet or Financial Management Software to track online bill-pay transactions is that the software provides more efficient and accurate budget and tax management.

  • After paperless billing is initiated, monthly statements are generally posted online. These can be used to check for accurate credit card charges and for expense itemization during tax time.

Note that all recommendations are suggestions only. Work with your own situation to sort out the online shopping and bill-pay practies that are right for you.

Read more about using the Internet to save trees:

  • Save a Tree: Read Online
  • Save a Tree: Shop Online
  • Read the next Chronicle…

    About Laura Mauney

    Laura Mauney is a writer who thinks she is a photographer. Professionally, she specializes in online marketing, and creating, organizing and managing creative assets and user-friendly information for websites. She is also a mother. Her photo blogs include Flowers in Urbia and Trees in Urbia.

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