Once upon a time you had to mail bill payments to your utilities, mortgage and credit card companies, vulnerable to the whims of the Postal Service. But these days consumers have plenty of options, including scheduling or paying bills online with each company or employing apps and software to streamline the process.
Here are some ways to make old-fashioned bill-paying easier, plus technology solutions to help you master your bills so you can stay on budget and avoid those dreaded late fees.
[See: 35 Ways to Save Money.]
Set up an automatic bill pay with your bank. This is a pretty straightforward process. You’ll offer up account information on each creditor to your bank, and your bank will automatically pay those bills each month from your checking account. Often you can opt to be reminded when a bill is about to be paid — so that if you need to shovel more money into the account (or stop the bill from automatically being withdrawn), you can do that.
Do an automated debit transaction. You can also direct a creditor to deduct money from your bank account on a monthly basis, such as in a payment plan. You’ll give the creditor your bank account and routing number, and they’ll take the money out each month. There are downsides to this, since you are giving out your banking information, and you really want to make sure you have money in your bank account every time the payment is deducted. Still, it’s a perfectly valid way to make payments, and by automating these payments you aren’t just making it easier on yourself to pay bills, you’re also eliminating the chance of forgetting to make the payment yourself.
Set up an automatic credit card payment. This generally works well for monthly charges such as a cellphone bill or cable bill. It tends to not work well with mortgage or student loan payments (at least federal student loans; private loans may be another matter). Financial companies tend to not want people to borrow money to pay off a debt.
The benefit of paying bills with credit cards is that if something goes wrong, and a bill is overpaid, it’s usually easier to get your money back. Also, though, as many cardholders know, if you have a credit card that pays you cash back on transactions, that can be an easy way to reduce your bills — typically by 1% but you might manage to get as much as 5% off, depending on the credit card.
[Read: Best Cash Back Credit Cards.]
The Best Bill-Paying Apps and Bill-Paying Software
If you want to take your bill-paying to another level, consider a bill-paying app or software program.
That said, there are only a handful on the market that actually pay your bills. Most money management apps allow you to track your bills and budget for them — but not actually pay using the app. So you may want to use one of the first four on this list for bill paying and some of the others for bill budgeting.
— You Need a Budget.
What it is: It’s strictly a bill-paying service. It lets you track and pay your bills in one app. You download Prism on your phone or tablet, and you’ll input your login information. The app will then sync your account balances and bills, and you can see them all at once. You can then pay bills from the app or schedule bills to be paid.
The cost: Free. The app may collect small fees from some billers that may appreciate getting faster payments, but you’ll pay nothing.
Pros and cons: Once you’ve set things up, you’ll always have everything at your fingertips on your phone or device. This is the digital version of sitting at a desk and staring at a bunch of financial statements. The con is probably that the app lacks of some of the bells and whistles that other money-management and budgeting apps and software programs have. You should also be aware that if you pay a bill and the transaction is declined, you could get a returned item fee of $15 from Prism (and that may be on top of a fee from your bank).
[Read: Best Budget Apps.]
What it is: This personal finance and money-management software does a bit of everything. Its Quicken Bill Manager, within Quicken, is the component that allows you to see all of your bills and pay them from your financial dashboard.
The cost: The price can range from $34.99 to $99.99 a year, depending on the type of computer you have and the features you want with the software program.
Pros and cons: The main pro is that there’s much more to Quicken that bill-paying services. For instance, it allows you to monitor your investments and create budgets, so you can better manage your finances. One possible con is that it works best on a desktop, though there is a Quicken app, which is compatible with iPhone and Android phones and tablets. And, of course, it’s always a negative when you have to spend money. But the hope with any bill-paying service is that by always paying your bills on time, staying within your budget and avoiding late fees, the cash you shell out will be well worth it.
What it is: This is a bill-paying services website where can pay bills online from hundreds of companies, from A (i.e, Academy Sports + Outdoors) to Z (Zulily credit card).
The cost: Free.
Pros and cons: The big pro is that it’s free, and while it isn’t a flashy website, it’s a perfectly useful bill-paying tool. At least one con is that there is no longer a MyCheckFree mobile app. But you can visit mycheckfree.com from your mobile browser and pay bills that way. It also takes a couple days for the bills to process, so if you have a bill that’s going to be late if you don’t get it paid today, it’s best to try another service. If you use the site a lot, you’ll want to get used to scheduling bills to be paid a few days before they are due.
What it is: It’s a bill-paying services website. As the Paytrust website says, “All your bills saved and organized online … Review any bill, anytime, anywhere.”
The cost: You get one month for free, and then it’s $9.95 a month afterward.
Pros and cons: Once you get set up, you’ll be paying for the convenience of paying your bills, all at once or individually, with one click. The con may be that you may find it a hassle to set up. You have to contact each biller, and give them a unique Paytrust P.O. Box, which means that your bills will be sent to Paytrust (and then you’ll see them on your app or desktop screen). From then on, you won’t get annoying bills in the mail; they’ll all just appear on your Paytrust app.
What it is: Like Quicken, Mint is one of the premier personal finance and money management software programs.
The cost: Mint, also known as Intuit Mint, is free.
Pros and cons: This can be an excellent way to track your expenses — and have all of your bills in one place where you can look at them. The userface is user-friendly, and you can get your credit score for free. But the con is that it no longer offers bill-paying, a feature was discontinued in 2018.
[SEE: 10 Best Money-Saving Apps.]
What it is: This is a money management and budgeting app. Your bank accounts, credit cards, loans and investments are all linked with this app, and you’ll get a helpful report showing you how much money will be left over once you pay your bills and other expenses.
The cost: There is a free version, but to get most of the perks, you’ll have to pay for PocketGuard Pro, which is $4.99 a month or $34.99 a year.
Pros and cons: The Pro version has a lot of pros. You can track how you’re spending your cash across multiple bank accounts and even manage ATM transactions. Other than the price and the app not actually offering bill-paying features (you can budget here but not pay bills from the app), there’s no real negative to PocketGuard.
You Need a Budget
How it works: This budgeting app uses a unique system. It makes sure every dollar is accounted for, whether for a bill or for fun. YNAB makes sure that every dollar has a place to go.
The cost: There’s a free trial period for 34 days, and then you’ll spend $11.99 a month or $84 a year — and you’re better off paying in full for a year. If you go with $11.99 a month, after 12 months, it comes to almost $144.
Pros and cons: It’s an easy site to use and navigate, and overall an excellent app for budgeting. A negative is that, unlike some of its other competitors, you can’t track investments or do retirement planning (although a good budget will allow you more money to funnel towards retirement), and you can’t actually pay your bills through this app.
More from U.S. News