My thoughts on automatic bill pay

by Karen on September 7, 2008

I’m a firm believer in online bill pay. Who isn’t? Just a few clicks and the bills are paid. No stamps, no checks. It’s simple and fast. Like most technological innovations, I don’t know how people lived without it.

I don’t feel that way about automatic bill pay, though. While automatic debit makes things even simpler (you don’t even have to think about it!), I’ve always been incredibly uncomfortable with the idea.

I really like sitting down once a month and mindfully paying my bills. I like the peace of mind that comes with clicking and checking those bills off my list.

I don’t like the idea of money being withdrawn from my account without doing it myself. We build a cushion into our checking account, so there’s no danger of an automatic payment overdrawing our account. But I like that there are never any surprises when I check my balance. I always have a pretty good idea of what my balance is because I know what’s coming and going from my account. I don’t want to be reminded that a bill was due when I log in and notice that the amount has been deducted.

I like having control over when I pay my bills, too. I like to sit down close to the first of the month and get everything out of the way. When I was in college, I used to wait until the last minute to pay bills. I would check my balance and mentally subtract the bills that were due in order to figure out my “real” balance. I never paid them until just before the due date. This got me into trouble more than once. Why I didn’t just pay my bills and be done with them is beyond me. I most likely procrastinated because I was always strapped for cash, and I didn’t like seeing my balance go down.

Now that we don’t live paycheck-to-paycheck, getting those bills out of the way is liberating. I don’t dread it because I know the money is there, so I like to check it off my list.

Paying my bills myself every month allows me to monitor charges and possibly fix errors before they’re posted to my account. I don’t trust myself to take the extra time to look at my statements if I’m not sitting down to pay the bills.

Does this make me a control freak? Probably. But I think if there’s one thing that we should be control freaks about, it’s money. For me, automatic bill pay is a dangerously hands-off approach. I understand that it may be a real time saver for most people, but even in this automated world, I still like to have some degree of physical control over my money. It’s not going anywhere until I say.

Taking 20 minutes out of my day once a month to look over my statements and send my payments gives me the time to give myself a financial checkup. It allows me to double-check my budget to make sure I’m on the right track, and reconfigure things if necessary.

When it’s over I feel a wonderful, peaceful feeling of, “Well, that’s done.” I don’t want to worry about whether a computer glitch might botch my payment or not send it at all. I just want to know that it’s done.

I also love that when I look at my balance a few days later after all the payments have been posted, I know exactly how much money we have. I don’t want to look through my transactions to see if a payment has gone through to figure out my “real” balance.

What about you? Does automatic bill pay save you time or cause you stress?

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