Well, it's that time of the month again; it's bill paying time. Have you ever noticed how close the end of the month is to the beginning of the month?
The monthly ritual seems to never end but it has become worlds easier with computers, the Internet and online bill paying services that most utilities have added to their systems.
Here's the way life used to work every month: the bills would come in at the beginning of the month (as they still do) and then, I'd go through each one with the checkbook and a book of stamps. I'd write a check, write it in the check book, stick it in the envelope along with that month's payment stub, write my return address on the outside of the envelope, stick a stamp on it and drop it in the mail. Every month like clockwork, it was a chore that consumed a bunch of stamps, checks, time and usually resulted in a little writer's cramp.
How are things now?
Well, the bills still come in every month like clockwork but the hassle of writing checks and dropping them in the mail is almost a thing of the past. Sure, the chore of sitting down and "paying the bills" is still there, but with my trusty pc and my Internet connection, I can get the job knocked out in half the time that it used to take and I can get a book of stamps to last months now.
So, what's involved? Well, it helps to have a credit card (or a "check card" with the Visa logo that most banks are happy to provide), a computer and an Internet connection. It also helps to know the web addresses of the companies that you wish to pay online, but the nice thing about that is they usually print the web address somewhere right on your monthly statement.
Connect to the Internet and navigate to the companies' website whose bill you are trying to pay and follow the onscreen instructions. Hint: you will usually find a link that says "pay online." Follow that link and you are on your way.
Now, here's the catch; each website is setup different from the others so you kind of have to think about what you are trying to do on each site and follow their particular set of links.
Some sites may have you sign up first; that is to create an account on their website first before you can pay your bill online, but you only have to do that the first time; once the account is created, the next month when you log in (remember the username and password when you set it up) all of your information from the last time should be already there.
Not comfortable using a credit card online? Well, you are actually safer with credit card orders because the bank spends an enormous amount of resources preventing fraud and will usually back you up if something does go wrong but hey, I can understand the worry. In lieu of a credit card, many sites will allow for electronic fund transfers by asking for your bank account and routing numbers (is that really safer?) or you may even have luck checking to see if your bank's online system allows for web-based bill pay to the companies you pay each month. Most online banking systems these days provide for it and if they don't, you can also check PayPal. They've been offering a bill-pay service for a while and you may be surprised at who you can use them with.
Let's go back to paying the bills individually. Let's see, you can navigate to www.fpl.com to pay your electric bill. You have to set up an account online first, but then every month, log back in and make a payment.
Do you have a telephone setup through AT&T? You can go to www.att.com and sign up for online bill pay there. Again, you have to set up an account the first time but every time after that; just log in and pay.
Do you get your trash picked up by Waste Management? They can be paid online at www.wastemanagement.com.
Now, that's just a few of the companies that we pay each month and I'm glad I took the time to learn each system. Now, if only I could find a way to use my computer to eliminate all my bills altogether; that would be something.
Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (888) 752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).