Consumers receive statements on any bank accounts that they own, either on paper or electronically. Electronically delivered bank statements are usually treated the same as paper statements that the bank mails. A bank statement is certainly an official document and is a legal document in some circumstances. A consumer should retain bank statements for a reasonable amount of time in case he has a need to present the information.
The Free Legal dictionary says that a legal document is "a document that states some contractual relationship or grants some right." Generally, this type of definition refers to contracts between two parties, stating what the parties will do, and any consideration exchanged as a result of these actions. On the surface, a bank statement does not appear to meet this definition. However, some could argue that a bank statement details money that a customer has on deposit, and, in conjunction with the account agreement, will pay to the borrower on demand. This may represent a contractual agreement between the depositor and the bank.
A bank statement provides information to the depositor. The depositor can generally rely on the accuracy of this information, or follow the bank's procedures for correcting any errors. Many times, courts will rely on bank statements to provide information in lawsuits, or to prove payments have been made. Bankruptcy courts and trustees use bank statements to verify a debtor's available cash and income based on deposits. The fact that courts rely on these documents gives them a legal purpose.
In a circumstance where someone is going to rely on a bank statement as accurate and a binding document, he may want to obtain a notarized copy from the bank. Most banks have a notary public working for them, and the notary can put his official seal on the bank statement certifying that it is a true and accurate document from the bank. Notarization gives the bank statement the characteristics of an official, or legal document.
A depositor should examine his bank statements regularly. Any errors should be brought to the bank's attention quickly. In case of electronic transactions, such as ATM or electronic bank drafts, a depositor has 60 days by law from the date of the statement to report the error. If the depositor does not report it in that amount of time, the bank does not have to conduct an investigation. Paper checks do not have the same requirements, but the depositor should still report and handle the errors quickly.