Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Evils of Auto Bill Pay

An interesting situation with regards to automatic billing by Dreamhost, a website hosting company. Their blunder caused customers $7.5 million in far!

Mrs. Michah's post (via CFO), which sums up the whole story, reminds me of a similar situation my husband faced several years ago. He signed up to automatic billing with Verizon, and all was good. Until they goofed and triple charged him for something to the tune of several hundred dollars. This duplicate amounts were deducted from his account because Verizon was authorized to do so. After about six months of back and forth on the phone, he got his refund. He also canceled all automatic bill payments.

Instead, he signed up for a service with a new company at the time, PayTrust. The idea is similar, but it puts a lot more control in the payees hands. PayTrust receives your bill and scans it in so it's available for viewing any time. The best part is that you can set up rules on whether a bill gets automatically paid. For example:
If balance is less than $100.00, Total due. If balance is $100.00 or over, do not pay this bill, but send me e-mail notification.


Recurring, $400.00, Once a Month
We have a manual setup for all credit card payments so we can review them before payment. And we can make a one-time payment to someone in a few clicks. We could do this ourselves, but it's included in the monthly fee, and that's one less stamp we have to use :-)

This also comes in handy for us because when we travel, we don't have to worry about bills getting misplaced, lost, or forgotten. We can schedule stray payments in advance so they get paid regardless of whether we have net access.

Now, as an accountant, I like to think I'm pretty good at managing payments and such so that we shouldn't need this service. And I made the point to my husband early on. However, here's why we still have it:
  • It's an invaluable resource when we travel.
  • They also scan in all of our bills so we don't have to, and we can order a copy of the year's bills on a CD for $19.95.
  • We never made a late payment during those scatterbrained days of my pregnancy, or during the sleepless ones once MetaBaby hit the scene.
  • MetaDaddy, who's very on top of our financial situation as well, has access to the website. It's a foothold in reality to remind him of where we stand. And when he gets home, he can peruse Quicken to further settle his curiosity.
At $10.95 per month ($131.40 per year), some might think it too expensive and not worth it. But for us at this point in our lives, it's definitely than worth it. And far safer than auto bill pay.


Larry Duncan said...

I have initiated a new blog that deals with saving money. I think you might be interested.

Jeffrey Tambor said...

Nice and informative article, although we have an alternate to this now and that is to hire service of an Automated Bill Payments solution that will always keep on prefered.