The eBill Revolution Continues

09/17/2012 9:00 am EST

Focus: MONEY MANAGEMENT

Terry Savage

Author, The Savage Truth on Money

Consumers are no longer forced to view their bills and pay through the company's Web site, or wait for a paper bill to pay through their bank. A new program eliminates an extra step, writes MoneyShow's personal finance expert, Terry Savage.

Paying your bills online is only the first half of the personal finance billing revolution. The long-delayed second half of the technology has now arrived at almost every bank Web site. It will save you time and energy, and it will save millions of trees. But it will cost more jobs in the postal system.

I’m talking about “electronic bill presentation,” or eBills. This goes beyond just viewing and paying your bill at the biller’s Web site. You can already do that at the sites of insurance companies, utilities, and department stores.

But this next generation of e-billing now means your monthly bill will show up at your bank’s Web site—ready for you to view, decide how much to pay, and schedule the payment. You still have the same control over your bills, but you don’t have the chore of piling them up on your desk, opening them and throwing out the return envelope and statement stuffers, and then going to your bank Web site to make the payment.

Major companies, including telephone, wireless, department stores, utilities, credit cards, and mortgage providers, are now participating in eBills. And more than 3,800 financial institutions including Citibank, Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, US Bank, ING Direct, Charles Schwab Bank, Associated Bank, and Navy Federal Credit Union are already offering eBills. Chase is expected to offer the service early next year. And community banks and credit unions are also among the early adopters.

It’s estimated that more than 60% of bills that people now receive by mail could instead be eBills. Major billers who have signed on to eBill include: Comcast, DirecTV, AT&T, Verizon, US Cellular, Sears, Macy's, Allstate, State Farm, Nationwide, American Express, and Discover—to name just a few of the larger billers. The moment has arrived!

Getting Started
When your bank agrees to provide eBills, it will put an eBill icon on your bill pay page, next to each of your payees that has agreed to offer eBills. Click on that icon, and acknowledge that you want your bills to be presented electronically.

They already have your account number and banking info, so the process is easy. (And if you’re skeptical, most banks will offer a 90-day trial, during which you’ll receive both eBills and paper bills so you can see if you like it!)

The company will send your bill to the bank Web site. And you’ll receive an e-mail notification that the bill has arrived at your online bill pay account. The e-mail will include a link to your online bill pay, where you’ll sign in as usual to securely access your bank account.

Once there, you can click on the bill to review it. You’ll see the date it is due, the minimum required payment, and the details of this month’s statement. Then you can decide how much to pay, and when. Schedule that payment with a click of your mouse.

If you’ve forgotten to make the payment, you’ll receive another notification five days before the bill is due. Paying on time will help improve your credit score and your money-management skills.

And you still have a “paper trail” if you need the information for future reference. Most banks store your bills securely online for at least a year. And if you’re still hooked on real paper, you can always print out your eBill and store it in a file folder. Plus, if you’re using Quicken, you can still download all that information into your budgeting program.

The Big Easy Difference
As you can see, this is not an automatic bill pay system. Many people already set up automatic monthly payments for bills that require the same amount to be paid every month, such as on your mortgage, rent, or car loan.

But eBill presentation is designed for those bills that vary in amount every month, or may come less frequently. Those are the bills you want to review, and decide the amount and timing of what to pay based on your bank balance and money available. It’s exactly how you handle your current paper bills—but you don’t have to go through the hassle of opening them and piling them up!

And, you have an extra degree of flexibility. If you’re traveling or on vacation, you don’t have to wait until you get home and possibly miss a payment deadline. When you receive the e-mail that your bill has “arrived” at your bank, you can simply log in and pay securely from your laptop or tablet.

Even better, recognizing that mobile apps are the next new thing, many banks are starting to offer the ability to view and pay your bills from your smartphone or tablet, through a secure link to your online banking account. That will be the next generation of click, view, and pay.

Of course, eBills are secure. Perhaps even more secure than the paper bills now landing in your mailbox. No one can click on your e-mail to see your bill unless they have your online banking password and pin.

I remember that just a decade ago, many people were skeptical about online bill payment, wondering if it was safe. Now more than 70 million American households are paying bills online, delighted at the ease, time saving, organization, and the fact that they don’t have to buy postage! So let’s complete the process by receiving our bills online, too.

If you want to be green—and have more green in your wallet—this is the next step. And that’s The Savage Truth.