We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

Paper vs Electronic Billing

Reader Mike sent me a private message asking if I had any rationale to help him overcome his reticence in utilizing electronic billing, giving up his beloved paper bills that are mailed through the post office. He likes the concept of e-billing, but has strong reservations he wants to overcome. He's wondering what kinds of billing solutions my readers use, without getting environmental rhetoric. I have some ideas for myself, but others may have more and better ideas.

First, let me review the arguments Mike has given for going to electronic billing:

  • reduces costs to businesses
  • reduces the strain on resources and pollution
  • wants to use modern technology for this

Some of the reasons I prefer electronic billing over paper billing include:

  • less likely to lose e-bills
  • electronic filing of bills so I have ready access to them, regardless of where I am (I only have a notebook computer)
  • less paper to file, in increasingly outdated filing cabinets
  • less paper to recycle, in the form of envelopes and stuffers
  • fewer paper cuts from opening the envelopes
  • possibly higher security of private information
  • efficiency increase by not having to handle the bill as often
  • pay bills while on the road, not missing what the post office is holding for me
  • reduced bank fees for electronic processing
  • money saved in not buying checks as frequently
  • reduced postage costs

To help me make sure I don't forget to pay a bill because I didn't get the notice it was ready to pay, I have added a reminder alarm to my phone's calendar on the same date each month to check the website, retrieve my latest bill, and to pay it -- electronically of course. That means I "touch" each bill once and move from retrieval through payment to filing in one process.

Why wouldn't I get a notice? Email gets filtered out with spamfilters, I can accidentally delete something without realizing it, I drag it into some email folder without realizing it -- effectively losing it -- or some unaccounted glitch happens. Losing email is ultimately just as bad as losing "snail mail" in that you don't realize you haven't gotten the notice if you don't have some reminder system in place. It's just faster to remedy the lost bill if you are accustomed to doing it electronically.

I get billed and pay so much online that I write very few checks these days. It took me years to get to this point, but I'm loving it now that I'm here. The online activity I do includes banking, credit cards, HSA (health savings account), water, electricity, conference and association dues, and wages. I write about five checks a month, between my personal and business accounts, and most of those are to businesses who don't accept credit cards; some are to friends or family.

Electronic billing may not be one of the biggest environmental steps you can take, but every little bit helps. It all adds up through time. If you bring less paper into the house -- in the form of not having paper bills -- you have less recycling to do, saving your energy and time.

But even if there wasn't an environmental benefit, there's still the convenience of electronic storage and payment that makes it better, from my perspective.

If someone wants to change back to paper billing, for whatever reason, it's just a matter of calling the billing company and making arrangements. That does mean of course you need to have record of the company and their billing number, as well as your account number, but that sounds like a prudent record to keep anyway.

I'm not sure if I've given Mike any intelligent (his word) argument for reasons to adopt electronic billing. I'd like to hear from him, and you, about your thoughts regarding the subject.

Comments

I was the same way... not just with bills, but with direct deposit as well. Then I messed up. One month, I forgot to mail my check to the credit card company, and I realized it on the due date. The only way to save myself from a late fee was to go online and pay it.

After that, I realized I'd been a dolt. It felt GREAT to pay online. Something about the instant gratification you get when you hit the "pay" button and then get a printable receipt. You don't get that with a checkbook and the mail.

(I installed a PDF printer, too, by the way. I run Linux at home, but I like Bullzip on Windows.)

mdebusk at May 6, 2010 11:25 PM

There are two methods to doing paperless bills, them or yourself. By them I mean going to the account website and having them debit your account. Or you can use your banks bill pay (most offer it free, so if yours doesn't, might be worth switching) and you set when the bill goes out and to whom. I have a few bills that I have scheduled through bill pay that automatically go out and some (trash paid quarterly) that I log in when I get the bill and pay one time.

With them, you get a little float on your payment (24 hours at least) but then they have your info. With yourself, you get no float and might even have to pay early (like a check) but you are secure in that you have all the control.

Andrei at May 7, 2010 10:58 AM

It took me awhile to go 'paperless' too but now I love it! Once a month I sit down and pay my bills online through my bank and then I'm done for the month! Used to be that I paid each bill at their respective website but it's more of a hassle and then ALL those sights have your info. I cannot help but think that it is much more secure to do it through your bank.

The only downside I see is that the post office is losing revenue which means downsizing, less jobs etc.

Jo Brown at May 7, 2010 2:31 PM

Jo, I hadn't thought about the possible impact on post office employees, but maybe they can transition to similar positions elsewhere. We all have to change with the times, so hopefully the post office will help their employees do that.

-Kit

Kit Cassingham at May 11, 2010 11:31 PM

Andrei, the way I term the different ways you can pay bills on line is with a push or pull approach. I don't know if those are legitimate terms, but that's how I think of them.

I can push the money from my bank account to the company whose bill I'm paying. Or I can pull the money from the bank to the company I'm paying. I find the pull-method a bit more efficient since I'm in that account already getting my statement, but in the long run, it doesn't matter to me which approach I use. I get it done without going to the effort of writing and posting a check through the mail.

-Kit

Kit Cassingham at May 11, 2010 11:34 PM

Actually, Kit, describing it to you DID help me realize what was necessary to make it work effectively. I've been doing all my bill payments online for a few years now. it's quick, nothing gets lost in the mail, and there is a record. And there is not that 2-7 day float waiting for my account to catch up. (I use credit card or my bank's Bill Pay option. I strongly recommend that people avoid the Automatic Debit for many reasons.)

My concern is that snail mail or email each have the option of getting lost, so having both reduces, if not eliminates, such an issue. Also, let's say I lose my income. Will I still pay for (what I believe to be) the Luxury of internet? And last, I do have a calendar of due dates for all my monthly and annual bills (vehicle registrations, subscriptions, etc). But a few have varying due dates, utilities mostly, that can range over a week or so.

So...
Duplicates? Never, or rarely, needed in actuality.
Loss of income? More likely cut components of my $100 a month satellite TV bill than my $30 a month internet bill.
Sliding due dates? As you said, a system of reminders for the earliest historical due date for each of those.

Sure, it takes slightly more discipline, but without discipline, one's bills are already in trouble. So, thank you, Kit, but having you to sound off to, it helped me realize that joining the 21st century is both environmentally and financially sound without the non-existent Murphyisms that I was so afraid of.

For those few who don't know, Murphy's Law:
If anything can go wrong, it will!

Mike from Dallas at July 12, 2010 3:14 PM

Mike,

That's a great summary of the pros and cons of paper vs electronic billing and payment. Thanks!


-Kit

Kit Cassingham at July 13, 2010 1:28 PM

Besides, I am getting SO sick of all that extra crap and advertising they stick in with the bill, that I have to dispose of. I shred EVERYTHING before throwing it away, regardless of sensitivity, and I hate having to empty my basket almost daily due to the volume of paper mailed out by these companies. Shredding or not shredding, all that paper ends up in landfills either way. (And then companies have the audacity to complain about the cost of paper mailing?) Environment or no environment, waste is still waste.

Mike from Dallas at July 14, 2010 11:03 PM

And Mike, that's a good summary: waste is still waste. While I can find a bit of use in some paper I receive, most of the paper coming into our house just gets recycled.

The paper that doesn't get recycled, and that burns me up the most, is the brightly colored, non-recyclable paper used mostly for inserts "to get your attention". I tend to react to that tactic by not giving that business my business.

People over use electronics sometimes -- I call it spam -- but at least it's not wasting natural resources, much.


-Kit

Kit Cassingham at July 31, 2010 7:34 AM

I really like online bill paying! WAY easier then paper. With Paper I tend to ad it to a pile of things "to-do" which is to say I ad it to the pile of things I will forget to do until all deadlines have passed, the pile is un-usefully large and then I will shove it all in a box to be sorted out later. Not very useful. With my online bills I get the email, click the link, sign in, pay the bill and move on. I also use my banks bill pay for a few folks who get payed by check (the bank mails the check for me!) and the one payment I REALLY have to keep my eye on is the ONE bill I haven't managed to get online yet (because they won't call me back and I have to talk to someone to be able to set it up!)

Ruth Stewart at July 31, 2010 10:07 PM

Ruth,

I changed banks a last year when I couldn't set up my electronic account. They offered it, I just couldn't manage to get the help I needed to get through their system. I'm now a dedicated electronic bill payer.

It's almost frustrating when people don't offer that option. It's even weirder when writing a check is the only payment option (other than cash); the number of checks I write has dropped dramatically.

Viva Progress!


-Kit

Kit Cassingham at August 2, 2010 10:46 AM

It is really confusing ,that which of the two way is much ecofriendly. Which of these process has low carbon footprints. Whether production of electricity through burning of coal is ecofriendly or cutting down of tree & then processing it to prepare paper.

sid at May 16, 2014 11:51 PM
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