The check is in the mail.
Online bill paying and banking is slowly making that well-worn phrase as outdated as a 3-cent stamp. First class postage stamps cost 3 cents from 1932 to 1958, when the Internet wasn t even a dream. The post office delivered twice a day, and snail mail often arrived overnight.
Modern snail mail s cost and leisurely pace are among the reasons why it makes sense to handle financial transactions online. Among the others: The convenience of not writing checks and sealing envelopes, getting instant confirmation of payments, and being able to pay on time whether you are home or away.
After paying almost all bills online for the last year, I can vouch
for one thing. It works, lifts a big burden, and frees up time for
other activities. Surprisingly few people, however, have caught on.
Surveys suggest that about one in every three households do at least
some of their banking online and only one in six pay bills
Getting started with online banking and bill paying is easy.
Most banks and other financial institutions offer their customers
online access to their accounts. Go to your bank s home page on the
Internet and check for information about getting online access.
Access may be free if you maintain a certain balance or have an
account that includes electronic banking. If not, the bank should
charge only a small fee for online access.
Online banking usually lets you view account statements on your
computer, transfer money from one account to another, and verify
direct deposits of payroll and other checks. You also can call up
images of canceled checks, and make up a list of bills that the bank
will automatically pay from your account.
You also can make online payments directly through the web sites of
most companies. Check your bills for a web address, or search for the address on the Internet. Go to the site and look for a link about
Many companies permit payments from both bank accounts and credit cards. Registering is simple. Just keyboard information about the account. You can make a one-time payment, returning to the site every month to make another. It s often possible to schedule recurring payments, in which the bill is automatically debited. Click yes if the company offers to send an e-mail notification of
each bill. The e-mail will include a link to review the bill for accuracy, and then make the payment.
People worry about the security of online transactions. The risk of someone stealing your account numbers actually is very low. Computers at financial institutions and companies that take online payments use security protocols. Those rules and standards
allow computers to exchange information in a highly secure way.
You can reduce it further by picking strong passwords for your online
accounts. One good guide is at www.microsoft.com/security/articles/password.asp. Then keep the