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Paying bills online is a great way to save time

Updated: May 3, 2013 12:14PM

Originally published: April 21, 2002

It has been nearly five years since this column introduced you to the wonders of online bill payment.

I was an early adopter simply because someone literally took me by the hand and showed me the benefits--both in time savings and financial organization. In those five years, I have written very few paper checks.

No one has attacked my bank account from the Internet and withdrawn money (as I feared early on). My computer never ate my financial information (although I religiously back up my work on a disc as I was instructed).

And checks sent to recipients as diverse as utilities, medical offices and the stable where I board my horse have all been credited properly--and perfectly on time.

Plus, I download all of my financial transactions--from checking to credit cards to mutual fund and brokerage statements--into one simple place on my computer, using Quicken. (That’s the program I started with, but Microsoft Money is equally useful.)

Here’s how to get started

It’s true: Online bill payment is a huge timesaver, completely guaranteed against fraud or payment delays, and surprisingly easy to use.

Plus, with postage costs going up, it’s a money saver. I’m so organized and on top of my personal finances that I want to take you by the hand to get you started paying your bills online.

This is the perfect moment to climb on board. Almost every bank, thrift and credit union is now set up to allow you to pay your bills online from their Web sites, as well as independent financial portals.

That means you can use any computer--at home, at work, on the road--to send instructions to pay your bills. If you later want to download that information into your Quicken or Money program, you can easily do so.

You can keep your check register, which is created automatically, in your Quicken or Money program. Or you can access it at your bank’s Web site.

And you can always print it out. Most people find it incredible that they can pay absolutely anyone using online bill pay. Money that you send to utilities, phone companies, and major department stores is sent by electronic fund transfer, not by paper checks.

But still, nearly one-third of payments continue to be made to people or companies by real paper checks, printed out by a computer and mailed to the recipient. It’s just that you don’t get writer’s cramp doing the chore; the bank does it for you, and you can get those paper checks back in your bank statement. The next step: online bill presentation Now the next step in online bill payment has arrived, and it’s quite exciting: Your bills can be presented to you online.

You can either go to the company’s Web site or instruct your bill presenter to send your monthly bill to your bank’s Web site.

You’ve probably received the inserts in your phone and utility bills, asking whether you want your bills presented online. Answer: Do it! But instead of scurrying around to all the company Web sites, go to your bank’s Web site and sign up for online bill presentation.

You can click to view the bill, just as a paper bill. That’s particularly useful to see details of a credit card or phone bill. Then you can arrange to have the check paid out just before the bill is due, making the best use of your cash flow.

Some banks will even send you an e-mail notifying you that you have bills ready to pay. And a few will present your bills right into your personal e-mail account.

That allows you to securely authorize payment without leaving your e-mail program. So now the only thing holding you back is your own inertia or fear of change. Decades ago, I was the last one of my friends to get a microwave oven, fearing the radiation! Now I look back and laugh at my fears, and can’t imagine how I’d live without it. Try online bill payment.

You’ll wonder why you ever hesitated--and you’ll never go back to paper.

And that’s The Savage Truth.

Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and is on the board of directors of McDonald’s Corp. and Pennzoil-Quaker State Co. Send questions via e-mail to She appears weekly on WMAQ-Channel 5’s 4:30 p.m. newscast.

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