Q&A: When institutions won’t go paperless

Dear Liz: I have for years insisted on being paperless, not only for credit card statements and utility bills but also for tax documents such as the 1099-INT and 1099-DIV. My problem is that I receive income from two lifetime annuities and those of course generate 1099-R forms each year, which are mailed to me. I have requested to receive those as PDFs from the companies that execute those annuities, and they claim they cannot do so and are not required to. Are they right, or is there some federal regulation I can quote to force the issue?

Answer: The idea that a business can’t generate an electronic form for a customer is a little ridiculous, but there’s not much you can do to force these companies to get with the times.

The IRS requires that any person or entity that files more than 250 information returns — 1099s, W-2s and other forms that report potentially taxable income — do so electronically. But that requirement applies only to forms being sent to the IRS, says Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. There’s no requirement that such forms be issued electronically to individuals.

Which is unfortunate, since as you know getting forms electronically is much safer than having your private financial information sent through the mail. Since these companies are so insistent on clinging to paper, consider sending a letter — certified mail, return receipt requested — to the companies’ chief executives requesting that they join the 21st century.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to score points in the credit game. Also in the news: 5 credit card trends to watch for, student loan payment plan promises forgiveness but rarely delivers, and how to tell if a bank account is right for you.

How to Score Points in the Credit Game
The traditional advice of paying on time and keeping balances low will eventually result in decent credit. But you can speed it up.

5 Credit Card Trends to Watch for in 2022
Expect more customized rewards and incentives, a more seamless overall customer experience and a big resurgence in travel credit cards, among other things.

Student Loan Payment Plan Promises Forgiveness But Rarely Delivers
Most borrowers are unlikely to ever see that debt forgiven, despite the baked-in promise to do just that.

4 Ways to Tell if a Bank Account Is Right for You

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 banking facts to fortify your finances. Also in the news: Taking a new look at banking in 2022, 6 predictions for small businesses, and how to stop wasting your gift cards.

5 Banking Facts to Fortify Your Finances in 2022

2022. New year. New you. New look at banking? It would be a smart move.
Save for what makes you feel good in 2022
Expenses that don’t put a roof over your head, but do provide joy, rejuvenation and other hard-to-quantify benefits are worth saving for, too.

How will small businesses survive 2022? 6 predictions on what they’ll need for success.
It’s been a rough couple of years for many small businesses—what does the future hold?

How to Stop Wasting Your Gift Cards
Stop letting them collect dust in your wallet.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to seek if you don’t like your bank. Also in the news: iPhone Black Friday 2021 deals, how to bank your digital coin, and the best time to buy a Christmas tree this year.

Survey: Most Like Their Bank; What To Seek if You Don’t
“Choosing a bank is a very personal decision, and no two banks are the same,” says Chanelle Bessette, a banking specialist with NerdWallet.

iPhone Black Friday 2021 Deals: Are They Worth It?
At&T is offering a free iPhone 13 or iPhone 13 mini with eligible trade-in.

From Cryptocurrency to Cash: How to Bank Your Digital Coin
Crypto banking allows consumers to hold and spend cryptocurrency with crypto debit cards.

The Best Time to Buy a Christmas Tree This Year
This year, due to supply chain issues, do it sooner. And bring more cash.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How money mistakes could signal dementia risks. Also in the news: How to bank when you can’t get to one, will tax bills increase as home values soar, and why tax diversification is a smart investment strategy.

Money Mistakes Could Signal Dementia Risk
Missing bills could mean it’s time to build financial guardrails.

How to Bank When You Can’t Get to a Bank
Online banks, remote customer service, ATM reimbursement and shared branches are all options for consumers.

The Property Line: As Home Values Soar, Should You Brace for Your Tax Bill?
If you’re in a home whose value on paper has been going up, up, up, preparing for the resulting tax bill could bring you back down to earth.

Why ‘Tax Diversification’ Is a Smart Investment Strategy
You’ve heard of portfolio diversification? This is the same thing, but for taxes on your investments.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 ways to manage retirement health care costs. Also in the news: 6 ways to budget using your bank account, how to save money with Amazon and Walmart prescription discounts, and how much money you need to live on your own, in each state.

4 Ways to Manage Retirement Health Care Costs
Strategies to help control medical costs.

6 Ways to Budget Using Your Bank Account
Your bank account can do more than store your money. It can help you control your spending, too.

How to Save Money With Amazon, Walmart Prescription Discounts
The discounts can be substantial. But if you have insurance, consider your copay and deductible.

How Much Money You Need to Live on Your Own, in Each State
Using the living wage tool.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 6 ways to budget using your bank account. Also in the news: Checking your finances now to avoid falling behind, how video games can level up kids’ money skills, and four questions to ask yourself before any big purchase.

6 Ways to Budget Using Your Bank Account
Your bank account can do more than store your money. It can help you control your spending, too.

Check Finances Now to Avoid Falling Behind
Financial experts recommend taking a close look at your retirement savings, planning for 2022 goals and more.

How Video Games Can Level Up Kids’ Money Skills
These four conversations can help your video game-loving kids learn about money.

You Should Ask Yourself These Four Questions Before Any Big Purchase
You need a game plan.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Google, Walgreens and H&R Block want to be your bank. Also in the news: 6 packing and planning tips for long-term travel, the imminent return of international travel, and Verizon’s new children’s money management app.

Google, Walgreens and H&R Block Want to Be Your Bank
Companies are working with partner banks to offer FDIC-insured accounts through their own apps and platforms.

6 Packing and Planning Tips for Long-Term Travel
No matter how long you plan to work abroad, these preparations can help set you up for a smoother trip.

Ask a Travel Nerd: I’m Vaccinated — Can I Finally Go Abroad?
The return of international travel is imminent, but you’ll have to book soon and be flexible with your plans.

Verizon introduces a children’s money management app
It’s never too early to start teaching financial responsibility.

Q&A: Mailing checks really is a bad idea

Dear Liz: I differ with your opinion that electronic payments are far more secure than sending checks through the mail. My own personal experience sending checks for about 40 years with only one mishap (which wasn’t attributable to the USPS) provides great confidence in mail as a payment system. In contrast, not a month goes by without news of some large organization entrusted with all kinds of personal and financial information being breached in a cyberattack. If the bad guys get my credit card information, I’m out no greater than $50. I’m not also going to risk them having my bank account and routing numbers for the dubious convenience of saving a stamp. Yes, mailboxes get broken into, but until there are real penalties for inadequate computer security, corporations will continue to underfund their network security and be reactive instead of proactive. I’ll take my chances with the local thieves and not the worldwide population of black hat hackers.

Answer: You’re quite right that databases where information is stored can be vulnerable to hackers if companies don’t take the proper precautions. But avoiding electronic payments doesn’t keep your information out of those databases. Information about you is collected and stored whether you like it or not. You didn’t contribute your Social Security number, date of birth and credit account details to Equifax, for example, but chances are good you were one of the 147 million Americans whose information was exposed when that credit bureau was breached.

In contrast to some databases, electronic payment transactions have strong encryption that makes it extremely difficult for hackers to intercept and read the information. Criminals would much rather target information that’s at rest in databases than try to capture and decode it in transit.

Your checks are almost certainly being converted to electronic transactions, in any case. Few checks are physically passed between banks these days. Often a biller will take the routing and account numbers that are printed on your check and use them to request an electronic funds transfer through a clearinghouse such as the Automated Clearing House (ACH).

Because those numbers are printed on every check you send out, by the way, anyone who sees that piece of paper, from a mail thief to someone inputting the payment into a company’s computer system, could misuse that information. That’s a far bigger risk than the possibility an electronic payment could be hacked in transit.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: You may qualify for free or cheaper health insurance now. Also in the news: Big banks join effort to ease path to credit cards, 3 ways technology can help minority-owned businesses recover, and the 12 states ending the extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits.

You May Qualify for Free or Cheaper Health Insurance Now
The latest coronavirus relief package made health insurance free or significantly less costly for millions of people.

Big Banks Join Efforts to Ease Path to Credit Cards
Large lenders are participating in a pilot program allowing them to share bank account information with the credit bureaus, easing access for credit card applicants.

3 Ways Technology Can Help Minority-Owned Businesses Recover
Start by embracing e-commerce.

These 12 States Are Ending the Extra $300 Per Week in Unemployment Benefits
Find out if yours is one of them.