Many vendors accept online payment methods, and not just because it saves time for consumers. It saves money for vendors and increases the likelihood that their bills will be paid.
However, managing automatic payments through individual sites can be tedious – especially when your account information changes, thus requiring an update on multiple sites. A growing number of vendors are addressing this by offering comprehensive online payment systems that pay multiple vendors, assist with bill management, or both. They may be offered through banks or third party vendors.
Many bank sites allow you to set up automatic payment from your account with multiple vendor designations. Third-party payment systems may be strictly for payments similar to PayPal, or they may be sites that target combined bill management and payment services for consumers. In all cases, the vendor will need information from your account as well as information from the payee to complete transactions.
Multiple reviews and comparisons of these services are available online. Consider the following features to see which service may be the best for you.
- Management of Bills/Ease of Use – If this aspect is important to you, try out a demo to check out the ease of setup and use, as well as the features that may be relevant to your bill paying needs. An intuitive interface will increase your confidence in using the system.
For example: are payments scheduled through a calendar or individually? Can you set up infrequent or one-time payments? Can you print hard copies for reference, and if not, what kind of records are kept? Can you balance your checkbook online?
- Payment Methods – All online bill-paying tools are capable of setting up recurring electronic payments, but not all are capable of cutting paper checks. Also, most require linking to a checking account, but some allow for payments via a credit card.
Is it important for you to be able to use multiple banks and/or multiple pay accounts? How far in advance do payments need to be scheduled to avoid missing a payment, and can you schedule them far in advance for annual payments? Who covers late charges? Answering these and similar questions will help you decide what is more important to you – simplicity or flexibility.
- Alerts – Some people prefer extra verification with automated systems; check into the alert settings available to you. Are you notified when bills arrive, when they are due, and when they are paid? How are you notified about confirmed payments? What if a bill is not received on time? Do you receive spending alerts?
- Security – Any bill-paying service is going to have basic security measures in place. Investigate online reviews of the bill payment sites to see how well it works in practice and how issues are resolved.
- Cost – Most services are relatively inexpensive, and they may be free through the banks if you have an account there.
- Customer Service – Check out reviews and access (e-mail vs. phone, 24/7 vs. 9-5) to find a service that fits your schedule and needs. Look into reviews on service – focus on how smoothly changes can be made and how disputes are handled.
Online bill-paying services can save you time, and insure that you do not miss bills, even when traveling. But remember – it is important to frequently monitor your bank balance and spending. Convenience can make it easy to run up bills and/or overdraft your account.
Online bill paying is not a substitute for fiscal discipline. They are tools – find the best one for your needs and use it wisely.