| How much longer
are you going to pay your bills the old fashioned way? As the
price of a first-class stamp keeps rising, it's time to make
the switch to online bill payments. No checks to write, no envelopes
to lick and no stamps to buy.
Doesn't matter whether
you enjoy the bill-paying routine
or you loathe it. Online bill payment
methods come in a variety of flavors
to fit all wants and needs.
You can continue
receiving bills in the mail but
pay them online, or you can have
your bills mailed to a company that
will present them on the Web and
notify you by e-mail when payments
Most bank Web sites use bill-paying technology from a company
called CheckFree. Customers continue to receive most or all of their bills
in the mail, but they can pay them online through the bank's Web site.
The money is debited from the checking account, just as if the customer
wrote a check.
When you pay electronically, your billers aren't necessarily
paid electronically. More than 1,000 major billers, mostly utilities and
credit card issuers, receive payments electronically from CheckFree. Smaller
billers end up getting a paper check in the mail from CheckFree.
Services such as Paytrust
are designed to eliminate paper bills from your life. When
you sign up, you change your billing address to the Paytrust
or StatusFactory office. When the service receives your bills,
it scans them and notifies you by e-mail. Then you can look
at the bill online and pay it.
You also can pay bills directly at billers' Web sites. Lots
of companies boast of this capability. The problem is this: Who wants
to visit a bunch of Web sites to pay bills? Companies seldom make it worth
your while. For example, GEICO, the insurance company, charges a bill-paying
fee if you don't pay your semiannual car-insurance premium in full and
instead you spread it out over two to four payments. It charges the same
fee if you pay online.
Some companies are experimenting with e-bills, which are
delivered over the Web and can be analyzed and manipulated various ways.
For example, you could get a telephone company e-bill and sort calls by
area code or time of call.
Consumers might not see the point of interactive bills,
but boosters regard them as a marketing tool. They want to force you to
look at an advertisement before you can view your bill.