Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Website Wednesday: On-line Bill Paying

Every Wednesday I write about websites that I visit often.

One of the questions we are often asked about full-timing is, “How do you get your mail?” When we answer that we have the mail forwarded from a service about once every 4 to 10 weeks, the inevitable follow-on question is, “Then how do you pay your bills?”

The answer is that we don’t get any bills in the mail. None. That’s right, we haven’t received a bill printed on paper in over three years.

Long before we actually hit the road, I signed up for a on-line service called Paytrust. It is not free; we pay about $13 per month for it. However, I think it is well worth that price. This is one of the most important websites that I visit several times a week.

Paytrust customers are assigned a unique post office box number in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. That is the address I give to all our vendors as our billing address. The vendor then mails their bill as usual. When Paytrust receives the bill, they scan the paper document into electronic form and send me an email telling me I have a bill. An actual human has matched the bill to my list of vendors (or “payees.”) The email tells me something like, “The XYZ Health Insurance Company has sent you a bill for $ABC, due on September 1, 2007.” I then visit my Paytrust account on-line to view the details of the bill and pay it.

I can set up payment rules for each payee. For instance, if my health insurance bill is supposed to be $ABC per month, then I can establish this rule: if the bill is $ABC, then pay it each month 10 days before the due date. If it is more or less than $ABC, do not pay the bill until after I have looked at it. This flags any bill that is not what I expect it to be. Bills that change every month, such as credit card statements, are flagged so that I can double check all the charges and watch for identity theft.

I can also use Paytrust to automatically pay vendors that don’t send bills, such as charitable contributions. Those can be made monthly, yearly, any one date sometime in the future, etc. When I know we may not be able to get on-line for a while to check bills, I temporarily change my rules to pay all bills in full as they arrive. I did this when we were on a cruise for 35 days, and then checked all the bills when we returned to make sure there were no discrepancies.

As part of the initial set up, I sent Paytrust a voided check from several checking accounts. I signed a document that allows them to pay bills on my behalf using those accounts. They either issue a printed check or use electronic funds transfer, depending on what the payee accepts. I can select which checking account to use for each bill. For instance, I use our Wells Fargo checking account to pay for all our expenses on our rental income property to keep those transactions separate.

At the end of the year, Paytrust produces a CD for our account that has the year’s bills easily accessible on it. These CDs become my permanent record of the year’s expenses.

One of the benefits of this system is that it eliminates a huge amount of paper junk mail. If one of my credit cards sells my billing address to another company, the junk gets sent to Paytrust. They have my permission to destroy all that junk mail. Any legitimate mail that accidentally gets sent to the post office box in Sioux Falls is handled in one of two ways. If it is something that is easily copied, such as a newsletter, Paytrust scans the document just like a bill and notifies me. I view the electronic version and either print it out or file it with Paytrust (filed documents end up on the yearly CD.) If it is something that cannot be scanned, such as replacement credit card or an official document such as a vehicle title, Paytrust puts it in an envelope and mails it to our physical mail forwarding address in Richland, Washington. Eventually it will end up in my hands.

This brings up the issue of “home address” vs. “billing address.” Most companies understand the difference and will gladly send your bill to the latter and newsletters/magazines/important notification to the former. I had a credit card company that refused to make the distinction when I first started with Paytrust. Guess what? I dropped that card. There is too much competition in that industry to put up with a vendor with picky mailing rules! You may find, however, that certain important services (such as insurance) will not allow you to have a separate billing address. In that case, you will have to receive a paper bill in the mail. Paytrust can still be helpful in this case. For instance, if you are going to be traveling a lot and are worried about getting your insurance bill in time, you can have Paytrust make a payment automatically so that your account isn’t delinquent.

Paytrust does all the work of contacting your payees and asking them to change their billing address to the new Sioux Falls one. Their letters are very clear that this is a bill-paying service and that you haven’t moved to South Dakota (unless you do live in South Dakota, which is a popular choice for full-timers.)

I have been using this service since sometime in 2001, and have been completely happy with it. When I started, there were banks offering bill paying, but not the bill receiving/scanning/forwarding benefits that Paytrust offered. My two banks still do not offer this, but some may.

Paytrust has never sent me any email or paper spam. There has been no evidence of identity theft as someone views my mail during the scanning process. I have never encountered an outage on their website. They have never failed to pay a bill on the date that I specified. This has been tremendous financial peace of mind for me as we travel and I highly recommend it.

Disclaimer: I don't work for Paytrust or receive any kickback for this review. I'm just a satisfied customer.


  1. Wow, first the great list of travel guides, and now the online bill paying. You're a font of much-appreciated information. Thanks!

  2. Double agree with the first poster. My wife is very (cough, cough) anal about bill paying and will absolutely love to hear about this service. Thank you ever so much.

  3. I've gotten some feedback that $13 per month is expensive for this service. That $13 buys me up to 30 transactions. Considering that the postage alone on 30 checks to be mailed is $12.30, that's a pretty good deal.

    The number of checks I write ranges from a low of 11 per month to a high of 28. Factor in the cost of envelopes and even at 11 per month it is worth it.


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