Making Bill Paying Easier

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

For a variety of reasons, some older adults need help when it comes to the task of paying their bills.

Snow birding or other travel can mean mail goes to different addresses at different points of the year. People who struggle with vision problems, manual dexterity or cognition find that filling out paper checks accurately can be challenging. Some newly widowed people have never handled finances before and feel bewildered facing this new challenge. Nearly all companies accept automated billing. Many banks provide means to pay bills directly without paper checks after signing up for online banking.

One of the impediments to choosing autopayments is fear.

“I see this all the time with my baby boomer clients,” said Phil Provenzano, insurance agent and financial adviser with The Financial Guys Insurance Agency in Rochester. “They are not accustomed to utilizing technology to accomplish tasks and that is scary to them.”

He thinks that writing paper checks feels more comfortable to some clients because of the familiarity of the ritual and because it seems like the process is entirely within their control. However, that is not entirely true. Writing down the wrong address, forgetting to apply a stamp, unclear handwriting, checks lost or delayed in the mail, or the wrong account number may derail even this tried-and-true method of bill paying.

Once established, autopayment places the process within the control of technology. It is not without proper oversight. Online banking allows customers to look at their accounts anytime to ensure the balance is sufficient and the bills have been paid. Most banks provide automatic bill paying and automatic transfer services to ensure seamless bill payments.

“If you have the money to pay your bills when they are due, set up automatic payments,” said Diana Apostolova, investment consultant with Rochester Investments. “Combine automatic payments with alerts from your bank, so you know when bills are paid and the amount.”

A notification email or text alerts customers that bills have been paid.

She also advised using a credit card to make automatic utility payments to prevent a missed payment causing a disconnection or late payment charge. Since the amount of these bills can be widely variable, using a credit card to make these types of payments makes sense.

“If you prefer to make the payments manually you can talk to the companies behind the bills to see if you can change the due date to group payments,” Apostolova said. “Then, ideally, you only sit down once a month to pay bills.”

That can make bill paying less arduous. For people who need help filling out checks, consolidating bills into the same due date can also require just one short session a month rather than separate sessions. Many older adults who require this assistance rely upon their adult children for help.

“You can hire a bookkeeper to manage your payments and meet with you regularly for signatures on checks,” Apostolova suggested. “This can be particularly useful if you have a hard time dealing with money and numbers, or travel.”