How often do you forget about, or even lose, an important bill? It’s a symptom of our busy lives–too much to do, too little time. But there are some big drawbacks to a lackadaisical approach to bill paying. First, there’s the credit bureau and what it has to say about your money-management skills (yes, late bills do show up on your credit history). Then there’s the sense of disorganization when you unearth a late bill–not to mention the late fee. But there are some ways to make sure you never lose track of another bill.
Keep all your bills together in one place. Whether that place is your desk or the kitchen table, it should be equipped with your bills, cheque book, envelopes, stamps, pens, pencils, calculator, tape, stapler and return address labels. Next, choose two days a month to pay your bills–whatever works for the billing cycles you’re on. Mark them on your calendar or in your Daytimer in big letters. Make a to-be-paid folder for each of the two days you’ve chosen. When your bills arrive, make sure they’re accurate; then stick them in the appropriate folders based on their due dates. As soon as you pay each bill, record it. Mark your copy of the invoice with the date, cheque number and amount paid and stick it in a bills-paid file. With everything in one place, you’ll be able to easily research any paid bill if there’s a problem with a vendor, product or service.
Consider purchasing a money-management software package. Software such as Quicken will keep you organized. It’s also a great time saver when it comes to reviewing your budget because it automatically organizes your income and expenses.
Setting up pre-authorized payments (automatic debits from your account) for recurring bills such as your mortgage or hydro bills will eliminate unnecessary paperwork and late payments. Simply fill out the appropriate forms provided by your utility companies and mortgage holder. Just remember to record all payments.
Want more control over what gets paid and when? Visit the local branch of your financial institution or call its customer service centre to set up telephone or online banking services. Then just call or connect, pay the bills, record the details and you’re done. These options have the added advantage of letting you check bank balances before making purchases, which is really smart if you’re running close to the line each month.
Don’t even want to open another envelope? Sign up for epost, the online mail service from Canada Post, at www.epost.ca. It’s a free secure service designed to help you pay and organize your bills electronically. When you sign up, you’ll receive a private electronic mailbox that’s accessible any time from any computer with Internet access. Then select the bills you would like to receive electronically. When your bills arrive to your electronic mailbox, you can pay, manage and store them quickly and conveniently using a variety of payment options, including an online banking link that connects to your financial institution’s Web site and Internet banking service and Canada Post’s free electronic funds transfer service. A particularly nice feature of this option is that you can deal with a bill right away by specifying a future payment date.
Choose whichever payment option is good for you–and never pay a late fee again.
Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s latest book is Dead Cat Bounce: The Skinny on e-Vesting (Prentice Hall). She can be reached at www.gvomoney.com.