These days, you can pay your mortgage or rent, utilities, insurance, loans, and credit cards every month without lifting a finger. Automation is a great time saver – and it can also reduce your vulnerability to identity theft – but it is important to use it wisely.
How it works
There are few different methods you can use to automate paying your bills. If available, the most convenient option is to use your bank’s or credit union’s bill-paying service. You log into your checking account online, input who, how much, and when you want to pay, and your financial institution sends an electronic or paper check. You can do it as a one-time thing or set up recurring payments. Another option is to set it up directly with your creditor or service provider – generally all you need to do is let them know when you want the payment taken out of your checking account and submit an authorization form. For some bills, you may also have the option of having the payment charged to your credit card. To avoid interest, don't charge more to your card than what you can pay in full the next month. You can also use a third-party service to pay your bills. It generally does not make sense to shell out money for this if you can use one of the other two options, which are usually free.
Putting your bills on AutoPay does not mean that you can completely forget about them. First, you want to make sure that you have enough money in your account to cover the withdrawals. If your $1,200 mortgage payment is supposed to be deducted, but there is only $800 in your account, then either your account will become overdrawn when the debit occurs or the debit won’t occur and the bill won’t be paid. Either outcome can result in fees. You also want to verify that the withdrawal actually occurred when it was supposed to. Mistakes sometimes happen, and you are still responsible for paying your bills on time even if someone else messed up. Don’t forget to review your statements too – if you don’t, you may miss an unauthorized charge or notice of a change in terms. Lastly, if you close a checking account or credit card that you are paying bills from, be sure that you update your bill pay information so that future payments are assigned to your new account.
Don’t just AutoPay – AutoSave as well. If you wait and see what money you have left over at the end of the month, you may find that you have little or nothing there. There are typically two options for AutoSave: have a portion of your paycheck directly deposited into your savings account, or set up an automatic, monthly or biweekly transfer from your checking account to your savings account. If you choose the second option, it is best to schedule this to coincide with your payday. By automating, it will be easier to build toward your goals and establish an emergency fund.