Here's the Scoop: July 11, 2012

It’s a write-off
We all like convenience. For the most part, technological innovations are designed to make life a bit easier. In theory.

It wasn’t that long ago that “expert analysts” were debating whether online shopping would catch on with the public. Let’s see: push a few buttons on the computer and your items arrive in a couple of days. No driving to the mall. No waiting on lines. No time away from eating Cheetos on the couch. For some reason, I don’t think we needed experts to tell us that online shopping would be a hit.

A similar innovation occurred when growing numbers of service providers began offering the “convenience” of online bill paying. This option is similar to online shopping, but has some key differences.

First, shopping online is fun. Bill paying is not. There are no rewards for the latter — unless you consider not getting hit with a late payment fee as a bonus. Or, keeping your electric turned on.

There’s still time
It’s true that paying bills online is a great alternative for procrastinators. You can wait up until the last day before finally dealing with that stack of bills that has grown suspiciously high. Then, with the touch of a few buttons, your obligations are fulfilled.
Well, maybe it’s not quite that easy.

As anyone who has tried paying bills online is aware, companies receiving this money must go to great lengths to protect sensitive information about consumers. The result is often a maze of log-in information, passwords and items to guarantee security. Truthfully, if someone wants to hack into my accounts and pay my bills — go for it.

I realize that the threat of some Good Samaritan paying bills for others is not the reason for the security measures, but the whole setup can be pretty annoying.

I know it’s here somewhere
What I find to be the biggest head-scratcher is when you go on a site for the sole purpose of paying your bill — and it’s very hard to find this option! Isn’t that the point? The term “counter-intuitive” comes to mind. To me, these company sites should have a huge, flashing message on the Home Page that screams out: Get Rid of that Pesky Money. Click Here to Pay. Life would be much easier.

But, that’s not usually how things work. So, each month it’s necessary to scroll through various sites, trying to remember how they function. Sure, many companies offer an automatic deduction option, but that’s a bit risky for those of us who sometimes let our banking accounts run on fumes. A lot.

I know it’s going out...some time
Assuming that one has typed in the proper passwords, bank routing number and account information, the other part of online bill paying that mystifies me is how long it takes for some companies to actually collect the payment from our account.
We have one payment, for the same amount each month, where it takes at least 10 days for the money to make its way out of our account. I guess it’s ironic that we have to keep “checking” on some of our online payments.

Well, vinyl records are making a bit of a comeback, maybe the same will happen with old-fashioned payments by check. I may lead the revolution. Write on, I say.
— Brian Sweeney