One of the ways that many people simplify their finances is to automate them with the help of bill pay. Online bill pay services, or bill pay offered through your financial institution, can be a great help to you. It is possible to arrange to have your bills paid automatically from an account designated for this purpose. This includes utility bills, credit card payments and other bills that you might have. You centralize your bill pay, rather than requiring you to visit several different sites to arrange for a payment. However, bill services can differ in some points, and it helps to carefully consider your needs before signing up for bill pay.
Figure Out Your Bill Pay Needs
The first thing to do is to consider your bill pay needs. Make a list of all the bills that you have, and who receives payment. Find out which service providers accept electronic payments, and which require some sort of check payment. A good bill pay service will meet your needs, issuing checks and mailing them to those who don’t accept electronic payments. You will also need to consider whether the bill pay service can handle recurring bills, as well as bills due at different intervals (quarterly, annually, etc.).
You can look online for bill pay services, but one of the best things you can do is check with your financial institution. Many banks and credit unions offer bill pay services at a reasonable cost to their customers. You shouldn’t automatically use your financial institution’s bill pay, but you can get the details and compare it other services you can find online.
Another consideration with a bill pay service is how much it costs. Many bill pay services charge fees. This is to be expected, since a convenience service is being offered. However, it is a good idea to look closely at the fees that are charged. In addition to a regularly monthly fee, there might be additional fees for having to issue paper checks, service fees for statements, or fees if you exceed a certain number of payments. The best bill pay services will be up front about the fees being charged, and won’t have hidden fees. Decide what you think is reasonable, and look services that offer good value.
Your financial institution may offer special discounts to customers, and this can be a good way to get reasonably priced bill pay services. However, shop around and do a cost comparison. You might find that an online service might be more cost efficient. You can take this information to your bank and see if some of the fees can be waived in order to make the service more competitively priced.
Ease of Use
Some bill pay systems are difficult to set up and hard to use. Look for a bill pay system that is relatively easy to use. Consider whether you want to log in and arrange for payments each month, or whether you want an automated system. In either case, it is often possible to set up the arrangement you want. Find out whether there are special shortcuts that can be applied to move the process along. Many financial institutions and bill pay services offer demos that can give you an idea of how user friendly a bill payment system is.
Also consider customer service. Look for a bill pay service that offers reliable customer service. You want to be able to get the technical support you need, and resolve problems quickly. If you are happy with other services from your financial institution, it can help to have your bill pay there, since they are familiar with you and your account. However, if you decide that going to a third party is the way to go, double check customer reviews and learn more about how the bill pay works, and whether others are satisfied with it.
One of the most important characteristics of a good bill pay service is security. You are providing access to sensitive personal finance information, and you need to know that it is safe. By law, banks and credit unions are required to have a certain level of encryption for electronic transactions. You want to make sure that any third part online bill pay service has the same kind of encryption. Double check to make sure that the bill service you use is secure, and find out what kind of measures are taken to secure data.
You also want to make sure there are back up security measures that protect against server failures and power outages. You want your information to be protected, in the event of a natural disaster or some other problem.
Access to Reports
Find out what reports are available from the bill pay service. You want a regular statement of how much money is being paid, as well as whom it is being paid to. You can usually have these reports delivered electronically or via paper. Many services, though, charge a fee for paper reports, so consider electronic delivery.
Integration with Accounting Software
For those interested in fully automating their finances, it can help if a bill pay service or bank offers integration with accounting software. This way, you can check on your bill pay status quickly and easily from your money management software. Find out if your desired bill pay service is compatible with your personal finance software, and choose a service that will allow you to fully automate your finances, if that is something that is important to you.
Alternative: Automatic Debit
If you are looking for an alternative to a bill pay service, you can consider setting up automatic debit with the companies you do business with. Many utility companies, lenders and others will arrange for automatic debit free of charge. It may take a little time to set up, but once you have arranged for automatic debit, then the money is taken out on the same day each month, without the need for you to do anything. While some might charge fees for direct debit, most companies will perform this service for free.