Online, On Time

By paying her bills via computer, Nicole Long becomes more efficient and avoids late fees

To Nicole Long, the days and weeks always seem to run out too soon. As an accounting manager for a manufacturer of doors and windows in Atlanta, Long’s job stretches into her nights and weekends. She’s also active in her church, determined to find time for volunteer work, and training to walk a marathon.

“People hear that I’m in accounting and they assume that everything about my life is well organized,” says Long, who lives in Marietta, Georgia. “That’s not the case, though; I was beginning to let things slip.”

For Long, 30, the wake-up call came last year when she was late mailing a car payment. “Some of that payment was applied to interest rather than to the principal of the loan, so I was effectively penalized,” she says. “I didn’t want that to happen again.”

Long, who does her banking through Bank of America, decided to look into online bill payment to get a better handle on her credit as stipulated in DOFE Principle No. 5. “At first,” she recalls, “I was disappointed because the bank’s list of vendors did not include some of the companies I pay regularly, such as my mortgage lender. However, there is an ‘add-a-vendor’ feature. Any company that sends out regular statements can be added to the list.”

Besides her car and house payments, Long set up a roster of “payees” that includes her credit cards and utilities: phone, gas, and electric. “You have a great deal of flexibility in how you arrange for payments to be made,” she says. “For example, I have a $2,400 balance on one credit card that I want to pay off, so I asked for a $100 check to be written every other week. I’ll pay off the balance in a year. And, thanks to making payments every two weeks, I’ll cut my interest charges. If I had to write checks, I’d never keep up that payment schedule.”

As is the case with most online bill-payment services, Long started the process by entering the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the companies she wished to pay. “Once you have the program set up,” she says, “adding a new vendor takes just a few minutes. The information you need is all on the bill you receive, and you don’t need any special software.”

The cost for her service is only a few dollars per month, Long says, and the money she saves on postage offsets some of those fees. “The amount I wind up paying is money well spent because of the convenience and time savings,” she asserts. “Now I can pay bills at virtually any time, from my home, my office, or my laptop if I’m on a business trip.”

What do experts think of Long’s strategy for getting her life in order? Paying bills online can be a “brilliant” way to manage your finances, says John Roberts, vice president and director of wealth management at Denver Investment Advisors. “In addition, electronic bill paying can be coordinated with personal finance software such as

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