Bill Payment Services
Archived Q&A and Reviews
- Is there such a thing as a bill-paying service?
- Getting bills paid on time
- Paying utility bills online
- See also: Utility Bills
- Related page: Banks and Banking
My husband and I are terrible about managing our paperwork -- bills, insurance forms, etc. Officially, it's my husband's job -- he's the one with an MBA, and he set up all of our financial arrangements in the first place -- but no matter how much I organize the bills and papers for him and remind him they have to be attended to, they sit in a pile and get ignored. Several times, we've risked being sent to collections. I understand that it's not fun to pay bills, and I understand procrastination, but this is way beyond that. He's clearly intimidated by the task, and I don't know how to get him UNintimidated. And as I already handle most of the rest of the household responsibilities and work full time, I'm not feeling willing or able to take on the job myself. I've set up as many of our bills on auto-pay as I can, but there's still a lot of actual paperwork that has to be managed. So, here's my question: Is there a professional service that can help us? We're not rich or fancy, so I don't think we need a high-level money manager, just someone to keep on top of our financial documents, bills, and so on so we don't have to worry that we lost our car insurance a month ago because we didn't pay the bill and don't even know. Does this kind of thing exist? How much does it generally cost? Please help. Thanks so much for your suggestions anon
Paytrust (www.paytrust.com) is *wonderful* for handling bill paying, and in my opinion much better than the free online bill paying that many banks are giving away nowdays to accountholders.
The online bank bill paying works ok because it can pay bills for the many companies that allow you to pay by electronic transfer. However, some companies and many individuals don't let you pay electronically (like your doctors, dentists, clubs, or friends). So unfortunately, you continue to get some bills in your mailbox.
Paytrust, unlike the bank online bill paying services, allows you to have your bills sent directly to a Paytrust address, they then scan the bills and email you to let you know your bills have arrived (no more paper bills in the mail !!).
You can set up bills for automatic payment based on your own rules so you don't have to remember to pay them- it's done automatically (you can change this at any time, or have some bills paid automatically and the others paid only when you direct Paytrust to pay them).
It should only take about an hour or so to input your bill information to first set it up (depending on how many bills you have), but after you set it up, it's smooth sailing!
It cost about $10 a month, but it's one of the best financial planning things I've ever done- no more bills in my mailbox, and Paytrust automatically pays my bills if I want. Diane
What you are really looking for is a SAHM who is a CPA that has time to do the following, like me! Either pick up the mail from you or you send the bills in a manila envelope to me once a week, I sort it, file it, write the checks, and bring back a nice clean packet of checks that you need to sign and send. I can even pick up the check signed and send them if need be. I am sure there are others that do this as well.
You say you set up as many of your bills on auto-pay as you could. I strongly recommend using the Bill Pay service from your bank (as opposed to auto-pay which originates from the payee) for the rest. You can get Bill Pay to pay ANY bill, for any amount, and it also keeps track of payments in one place. Steps:
1. Put everything on regular (eg monthly) payments, even if that adds a small service charge. Enroll in any available program to pay the same amount each month.
2. Contact all payees and ask them to change your payment or statement date to the same date (I like the 15th; then I make all payments on the first). This takes a couple of bill cycles.
3. If necessary, switch your bank to one with Bill Pay (I like Wells Fargo a lot, but BofA and others have it too).
4. Enroll in Bill Pay (about $8/month). Enter all payees; most can be entered with a couple of clicks. Set it up to pay all your bills automatically on, say, the 1st. Pick an amount which is a little larger than your typical bill.
5. Be sure you have enough balance or overdraft to cover the bills on the night they pay.
6. Check your bank statement, and your bills, now and then. Make any necessary adjustments. Tina
We too were overwhelmed with paying our bills. I read Suze Oreman's books, bought Quicken, a new desk to get organized and none of it worked. We had more room to make more piles!!
So I ''turned it around'' and made it a necessity of our house (similar to cooking, laundry). Once I got it together, it only takes me 1 hour per week to file the papers that are paid through bill pay, pay the local bills that I have to write checks for and balance the checkbook.
You have to have on-line bank access (so you can get the answer right when you are doing the checkbook) and a little space that is only for the bills. We open the mail each night and recycle the junk so we only have the bills (this keeps the pile to a minimum). We then file the bills in our box in order of date due. Each weekend, I take the bills out that are due for the following week and pay those.
Since we made it a part of our chore list, my husband chose scooping dog poop and putting laundry away over paying the bills. I've actually grown to like it since he also takes our son away from the house when I am doing it.
BTW, we found a service who would help and they were about $35 per hour. I had to drive the bills over each Friday. If something important arrived during the week, I would have to make an extra trip over again. After the first month's bill ($140), I decided that it wasn't worth it (I would rather have a few meals out) and that is when I took it over. You Can Be a Super Bill Payer
I have a Visa credit card that offers to pay other bills through your credit card bill. But you will have to remember to pay the Visa bill! Go to: http://visa.billeo.com/billeo/billersearchpage.do?sitename=VISA_P=2
FYI, I have set up a simple but workable system in my house: As soon as the bill comes in the mail, I tear out the pay statement, place it in the envelope, put a check in it and stick a stamp on it and then write the date it should be mailed on the front of the envelope. (If I don't do this right away, they risk getting lost in our little box by the front door.) Then I leave the envelopes in the kitchen where I can see them each day. Once a week I grab the bills that are due, fill out the checks and put them out by the mailbox. If you do the same thing each time, it becomes routine and you won't forget to do them. (It might help to examine who gets the mail and where the mail gets laid each day and how you could organize them before or as you're laying it down.) Busy Mom
Dora Ritzer, of Paper Tiger Business Services, might be helpful to you. I know she's done this sort of thing for others in the past, and I've always found her to be conscientious and thorough in her work - not to mention reasonably priced! She can be reached at 510-523-7424
Once again, my MasterCard has assessed a $35 late fee for a payment they claim was one day late. I think it's time to get serious about setting up some online or electronic bill payment system. The recs on the website are a couple of years old, so I'm curious to hear about current options. It seems there are a couple:
1) Arrange with specific vendors (PG, the credit card, etc.) for automatic bill payment. Seems cumbersome, and would be a nightmare if I ever were to change checking accounts. But I have already done it for the mortgage and a couple of other things. How does it work for bills that aren't the same every month?
2) Use the online bill pay services of my bank, Washington Mutual. Has anyone used WAMU for this? Pros and cons of the service?
3) Set up e-payment through a third-party vendor. I currently use Quicken to manage our finances, and I know they offer this sort of service. Any feedback on it? Any recommendations for other third party vendors?
Am I missing any options? I'm particularly interested in hearing about the tradeoffs between these choices. I also remember reading an article years ago that scared me, about how automatic/online payments aren't always properly credited, resulting in you unknowingly running up a big balance and, bam, your lights are turned off. I'm a balance-the-checkbook-monthly type, so having things happen out of my hands is a little scary. If you use an automatic payment service, what do you do to stay on top of things? Have you been able to address problems to your satisfaction?
Sorry, I know this is actually about 10 questions, not one, but I'm looking for any recommendations you may have. Many thanks! Ticked off at Bank One
Paytrust.com is the best online bill paying service. It has a hugh database of creditors who will send your electronic bills directly to Paytrust for your account, and then you can pay them electronically. So it consolidates all your electronic payments.
But the beauty of Paytrust is that, unlike the bank bill paying services, you can set it up so that most of your paper bills (e.g., the bills from creditors who don't send bills electronically) go directly to Paytrust- they never even hit your mailbox. Paytrust then scans the bills into your online account for you to review. I don't know about you, but I *hated* getting paper bills in the mail. Now I rarely do. Also, I can log into my account wherever I am and pay all my bills, not just the ones that are sent electronically.
You can download your transactions to Quicken or other financial software, and at the end of the year you have the option of getting a CD with all your transactions. I have never had a problem with payments being lost, etc.
Paytrust has many more comprehensive services than the bank services. Of course, you pay more. I pay $10.95 a month, but I can tell you it is worth every penny!
I believe Paytrust has been rated the best bill paying service by several technology reviewers. Diane
I totally understand what you're going through. Argggh! Isn't it annoying? Try asking a supervisor at Bank One to credit you back the late fee as a courtesy. They sometimes will.
I use Bank of America online bill payment. This is through my checking account. I am also a balance the checkbook monthy, super-organized person. I also like to be in total control of what goes in and out of my account and will not set up any automatic payments. B of A has a database of tons of creditors (Bank One, Macy's, etc.) that you can pick from as a ''payee'' to add to your personal list. If they do not have a payee in the database, you can add one. You can even add individuals. After having your payee list, it's super easy. You just enter the amount that you want to send, the date that you want it sent (they display the amount of days it will take to deliver), and click ''pay.'' The nice thing about this is that no payments take place without your knowledge. You can set up automatic payments if you want to, but I prefer to do it this way so that I can enter the info in my checkbook as I pay. This has worked out really well for me. Plus, you don't have to use a single stamp. It's really easy, convenient, and efficient. I write the confirmation number of each payment on the physical bill and in my checkbook. You can even print out the payment confirmation page which lists the date, creditor, and amount of each payment that you make. SO, hope this helps. Feel free to email me w/ more questions. Jackie
For your credit card-- if you pay an annual fee for the credit card, you may have the option of having the full balance paid on time every month automatically from your checking account (they don't offer this on free credit cards). They often don't advertise this, but will give you the option if you call up customer service and ask for the proper form. I did this with a United Airlines Mileage Plus VISA card. I have never had any problem with PG, EBMUD and others deducting automatically from bank account- I think this is preferable. If you do in fact change your bank account (and how often do you do this?) you only need to look back over 3 months or so worth of statements to see all the automatic payments coming out and contact those people to stop the old bank account deductions and re-establish new ones in the new account. Leo
I've been using on-line bill paying through WAMU for almost a year now. It's fantastic - super efficient, reliable, and secure. I haven't found any ''con's.'' Originally, the bank charged $5/month for the service (which was very worth it), but now it's free. Can't beat that! Paperless bill payer
I have been using Bank of America's bill paying service for several months, and it seems to work just fine, because it is all in one place. You select the companies that allow on-line billing (it depends on the company, not the bank). Currently I see my bills on-line and pay them on-line for mortgage, 2 credit cards, water, and telephone. I am receiving a paper bill and paying on-line for electricity and cell phone. All these companies give you a _detailed statement_ and you can print it out for your records.
You get an email from the Bank advising that you have something to pay, which is good for the credit cards because they are not necessarily due at the end of the month. The only bill that I pay with paper is the garbage, because they don't provide this service. For insurance, gym, and daycare, which don't provide this service, I have set up an EFT automatic payment with the individual companies.
Many on-line companies offer automatic payment but I prefer to see the bill on-line before paying it, to check if there are any mistakes. I have never seen one. The only drawback is that I must keep a list of which companies are on-line, which are paper, etc. On the other hand I no longer keep all my bills in my car waiting to mail them 'when I see a mailbox', which I never see on time. Laura
If you sign up, most utilities will automatically take the payment from your checking account. I pay my EBMUD, PG, and SBC bills this way. They take out the exact amount you owe each month, and they send you your bill ahead of time so you know how much it's going to be. You just have to be sure to have sufficient $ in your account on the payment date. I think it's called APS and you'll need to fill out a form and send a voided check.
I pay other bills (satellite, cell phone, newspaper) automatically from my credit card. This is actually slightly better because I never carry a balance and I get a cash rebate on credit card purchase.
Still, some bills are too variable and/or do not have automatic payment, such as my homeowners insurance, credit cards, property taxes, and garbage service, so I either write a check or use my online banking (a different bank than yours) to pay these. I know it's not optimal in terms of economic efficiency or time efficiency, but the best way to avoid late charges on these is to mail the checks back immediately and not wait till near the due date. Some people sit down and pay bills twice a month, e.g. the 1st and 15th of every month, but that might push the grace period of some credit cards. David
The same thing happened to me recently- wrote the check and put it in my desk drawer to mail closer to the due date and then found it 1 week after it was due. I called the credit card company, MBNA, and was refunded half the late fee because it was the first time late. However, I decided that I need to have the payment deducted directly from my checking account, which was pretty easy to set up and ensures no late fees.
I set up every bill that is the same amount each month to charge to the credit card, so I have fewer checks to write and so I get the free miles or whatever else the credit card is offering. The credit card balance then automatically deducts from the checking account. In the past, I have always just written checks for the other bills.
My husband and I recently switched banks and credit cards, and I must admit that I have spent hours setting everything up again, so I think that is a valid concern of yours. We also recently set up online banking at the new bank and have enjoyed it so far. Once you get it set up by entering information on all of your payees, it's easy to log on, type in the amount for the bill and press submit. You get an email when payment goes out and can always get an online update of what has cleared the bank and your present balance, which helps with balancing the check book. On the downside, I must admit that I am a little concerned about security, especially after hearing on the news this morning how most home computer systems have little security. Since I have only used it for about a month, I haven't found out if payments have not been received, so I cannot pass judgement in that area. Susan
I have been using Quicken's electronic bill paying service (originally Checkfree) for ten years. In all that time, I had only one problem, and that was caused by my putting the wrong address on a new payee. Electronic payments are more accurate and timely than paper check processing.
I pay $9.95 per month for Quicken's service because it has been so reliable, and because if I switch, I'll have to set up all my payees again. But if I were a new customer, I'd try the bank's free service first. Check-free
I have been using Washington Mutual's online bill pay service for the past 2 years and have never had a problem. One time I realized that my acct number had changed for one of the Payees in my list, and I input it wrong. I called customer service and they were really great. I actually got to talk to a person right away who cleared up the problem for me. I highly recommend it. You can pay one bill at a time, or set it up to pay recurring bills of the same price each month.
I use it to pay my bills at the end of the month about a week before they are due. Then I write all the amounts in my checkbook so I can refer back to them. This helps me keep a running actual balance of my account. Its great not to have to buy stamps anymore! happy wamu customer
I use both B of A and the credit companies online bill paying. I use the bank's site to pay little bills, like Macy's, telephone, costco, etc. I use the Bank One site, Citibank and AT & T sites to make the larger credit card payments. I am usually last minute on my bill paying and the credit card companies credit your account the same day if you pay the bill on the due date before 1:00 pm Eastern Time. When I had tried to pay the same credit cards through the Bank of America web site, it took up to 3-4 days, which then credit card tacked on late fees. I have a tough budget because I am self-employed and some months are better than others, so each month I pay what I can afford, it gives you a choice to make a minimium payment or another amount. Very easy. The credit card companies also email about 10 days before to remind me of my pending due date. It would be a mess if I ever changed my checking account (or email for that matter), but for now it is very convienent.
PG & E, SBC, and few other utitlies will email your bill as soon as it is available and then give you an option to pay online or by check. Sign up for these services, sometimes they even give a $5 credit if you go paperless. If you do pay your bills at least a week in advance I would sign up all accounts with your bank. With B of A they list the bill paying transactions as pending and set the money aside before the vendor cashes the check. It is the easiest way. but like I said, I am last minute because my income flucuates, so it doesn't work for me. I hope this helps somewhat. Kerri
I can speak to the auto bill paying for PG, EBMUD, and the SF Chronicle. I have those set up, and they work just fine. They send you a paper bill before the charge is actually assessed, with the date that it will be charged, so you have plenty of warning when to put it in your checkbook. The Chronicle is the only one that doesn't give the actual charge date, so I just write it in my checkbook as it comes. It's easy to change info, like bank account. Go to this site to sign up for PG, EBMUD, Chronicle, and others: http://directpaymentplan.com/ .
I have PG's balanced payment plan which means that my my yearly estimated bill is averaged out and I pay the same amount each month. I really like it- no more high bills in the winter. Go to this site to find out about it: http://www.pge.com/res/financial_assistance/balanced_payment_plan/faqs/
I have been thinking of setting up the kind of online bill pay services with my bank, B of A, so that I can be like the woman in the TV ad who sits down and whips out all her bills in 5 minutes! I'll be interested to hear what other people have to say about that. I'd like to save time, checks, postage, and licking envelopes. Cecelia
Admittedly, I am pretty naive about how our bills get paid. I just know they do. We use a bill pay service called Paytrust.com. We have been using them for 5 years and it has been great for us. It costs about $10 a month, but it has been well worth it in the savings of late fees. You can set it up to pay whomever you want. We have all of our bills go to it; credit, school loans, car. You can set it to send a consistent amount every month or to notify you when a bill comes in and again when it is due.You can do an electronic payment or if the vendor doesn't accept that, it will send a check. We use it to send a check for daycare every month and we don't even get a bill for that. We have never had a problem using it and it has cut down on late fees for us tremendously.
The only two issues that have come up are: 1. you have to have all your bills sent there, which requires changing your address on them. They give you a personal P.O. box number to use. We didn't have any trouble changing addresses with anyone. All of our bills go there and if something goes there that is not a bill (like a notice or replacement card) they notify us via email and mail it to us promptly. 2. You have to be careful about how long it will take an electronic funds transfer to post. Sometimes it takes 3-5 days, so you have to take that into account. But once we got into a cycle, it stopped being an issue.
Good luck late fee free
I can't believe I waited so long to use the WAMU online banking. It's the best. I've used it for about 2-3 years now and haven't had a problem, unless it's been my fault and even then, they have helped to fix it.
What I do is set up all my monthly bills in the system and every Friday I do my bill pay. You can pay multiple bills at once so I'll go in and put $78 for bill A, $555 for bill B, etc. You can also tell when it will arrive. So, let's say MC is due 11/1. The friday after I get my bill I go into my account and place the transaction order and tell WAMU that I want MC to get my money on 10/29 (I give it a day early because some credit cards post late charge if it isn't received by mid-day). WAMU will send it out in time to guarantee payment, if not, they will pay the late fee. (I've had them do it too, very nice!)
As for keeping on top of it, you really have to mentally deduct it from your account. So, say that I know by 11/15 I will have car, home, and credit card bill due, I know that I will need roughly $XY00 in the account.
Regarding the improper crediting of your account. This happened once to me, with PacBell. It was my own fault because in the area where I keyed in my account #, I mistyped. So, someone else got credited. I got my next month's bill only to find that I was ''late''. I called WAMU, who sent copies of the check to me and PacBell and also they straightened everything out with PacBell. I did end up paying the check again, just because we were going through the home buying and didn't want to accidentally have any silly dings on my credit. But, it would have been fine anyhow. PacBell even reversed the late charge on me!
Also, WAMU has this email customer line, which I find very handy. In general, I find that most vendors respect the online banking more than the old ''check's in the mail'' kind of thing. HTH Janki
I recommend starting the bill pay with WAMU. Although I don't use WAMU (I use Bank of America due to it's high ratings for Online Banking), I did go out and check WAMU's online banking website, and it looks okay. One feature that it has is guaranteed delivery. That means as long as you schedule the payment 5 days in advance and you have the funds in your account, you will not be charged a late penalty. If you are, WAMU should work with the company to get the late charge reversed. I know that with my account, I have had to use this feature several times,and it was so easy. I just entered a request and let my company do the work. I have found that when you set up to automatic deductions, it can be confusing in the beginning. I began by paying my bills online for a few months until I felt comfortable setting up recurrent payments. I do not recommend letting each company pull the funds from my account automatically, especially gym memberships. I feel more confident knowing that I have control over the drafts. If a mistake is made, then I know where to go to fix it. anonymous
Any advice about paying utility bills and such on-line, as opposed to using an automatic bill payment service? I really don't want to pay for such a service; I'm also getting confused after trudging through various utilities' and services' websites. Melanie
I can't remember the last time I paid a bill through the mail! For the past four or five years I've had a checking account at First Internet Bank of Indiana (www.firstib.com), and I can't recommend them highly enough. Electronic bill payment is free, quick, and easy -- they've never made a mistake. On the few occasions I've had to speak with customer service, they've answered the phone within three rings and been a pleasure to work with. I certainly don't miss going to the physical bank; doing everything by phone, email or snail mail is fine with me. Oh, and they refund all ATM fees, since they don't have their own ATM machines. sonya
I've separately signed up for my monthly Visa, PG and EBMUD bills to be automatically paid from my checking account - and it is FREE. They can better manage their own cash flow if they know that payments will be received in a timely manner, so they make it available. Its been a few years now, but I think I called up each of the 800 numbers for PG, EBMUD and WellsFargo and asked them to send me the sign-up form or show me where the form was on their web site; then I sent them a voided check along with the signed form and in about one payment cycle it was done: my bills started saying ''Do not pay this; it will be paid by an automatic deduction on mm/dd/yy''. I didn't bother searching their web sites because it is essentially a physical process - one that requires a signed form and a voided check. [while writing this however, I did find http://directpaymentplan.com/ for PGE and EBMUD] I think I had options for paying the full amount, minimal amount or something in between. It is working fine - I only use my checkbook for the few monthly bills that can't be auto-payed. John
If you bank with Wells Fargo, I'd recommend their bill pay service which is available online or via telephone. I've never had any problems with it and it's very convenient. Amanda P.
I used on-line payments for about 4 years via checkfree. This is where I received the bill and then entered the bill into Quicken and download my payements to checkfree to pay for me. This worked great and saved me about 3 hours a month. Two years ago I switched to a total bill management system (www.statusfactory.com). All my bills are sent to the bill payment center in Henderson and presented to me on line (they are stored there for 1 year). I set up the parameters to pay my bills. For example, I get the same cable bill everymonth so I say pay in full and send me a notice when it is paid. I can also say I want to see my Visa bill before it is automatically paid. The parameters are very flexiable and all information is sent to you via email or you can go online to manage your account. You can also download information into Quicken or MS Money. I can't recommend this service enough!! They just raised their prices from $8.95 to $11.30/month. It is worth not managing all the paper alone. In the two years I have had very few issues (clairifications of the service) and they have been very prompt with their customer service. Jamie