May 27, 2013

The Computer & Finances: Making Them Work Together

It is unusual to find a business that interacts with the general public that doesn't offer a way to satisfy bills on line. Some banks and airlines charge you to deal with a human being instead of handling your business, by yourself, online. With costs so low, they have determined that the potential risk of upsetting someone or losing a customer who does not have Internet access is worth it in the long haul.

At the same time we read almost every day of some company's computer being hacked with millions of customer files compromised. A cyber-terrorist in China or Chicago figures out a way to steal identities and create havoc for untold numbers of folks. 

So, what are we to do? Being a part of society today just about requires computer access and use. And, nowhere is that more true than in the area of bill paying, and recently, budgeting. You suggest the U.S. Postal Service? Mail is stolen every day creating the same problems. With the budget pressures on the Post Office, it is already taking longer for a first class letter to make it coast to coast. While the proposed elimination of Saturday mail delivery has been taken off the table for the time being, vulnerability to theft and delays are only likely to increase.

I received the following guest post submission from Angie Picardo. She provides a good, basic overview of the subject.

With advancements in technology, you are no longer required to go into a business in person or submit payment through the mail now that paying balls and managing your finances can be done completely through the Internet. The convenience factor should be more than tempting for someone tired of having to rely on brick and mortar stores to help manage their finances. For most bills, you can make payments on the due date without even having to leave the house or write a check, or pay the postage.
Paying Bills
 For just about every bank you can track every detail of your bank account. Since most banks no longer return cancelled checks, if you still write a few of those you'll need the Internet to make sure they were cashed in a timely manner. You can check on your balance at any time and pay bills online and on time so you never have to worry about a late charge. In fact, most banks will pay any late fee and work to get any negative notice on your credit report removed if they don't process a payment properly.
Banks will allow you to set up an automated payment option where you can enter the amount of your bill (no matter what type of bill) and where it’s going. The bank or credit union will withdraw the funds from your account on the due date each month, or the date that you have set yourself.
It’s easier to keep track if you let your bank know how much each bill will be. There are tools for your online bank account that will allow you to set aside a certain amount for bills, reserve and spending. This new dynamic in online banking has made management of your bank accounts easier than ever.
You also don’t even have to go through your actual online bank account to pay bills, either. You can just go to the website of the company that you are making a payment to and enter your debit/checking or credit card number to pay off a balance. Many worry that their information may not be secure over the Internet, but cable, energy and other utility companies provide secure Internet connections that make it very difficult for your information to go missing or acquired by third parties. Of course, sometimes it happens, but most of us will never be affected.
Managing Your Budget

How about help with budgeting? The Internet has a resource and/or a tool for that. Websites like allow you to control every aspect of your financial life. Mint has proven itself to be secure so you will not have to worry about your information being stolen or borrowed.
You just enter some information about yourself and it will automatically pull the information from your savings and checking accounts, automobile and mortgage loans, as well as any investments you may have attached to the account. This type of tool is helpful for seeing all of your money in one single place, how it is spent, and how you might want to budget going forward.
Web sites like this will create a display showing where your income is coming from, and exactly where your expenditures are. It can tell you how much you are spending on gas, restaurants, and groceries—basically anything. It can also offer you advice on what investments might be right for you and what the next steps should be if you are trying to save money or pay off a student loan, for example. Many of these programs, like Mint, are free.

Getting Started
Contact your bank or Credit Union and ask about these services or do a quick online search. Just be sure any fiancial sites like this have a small padlock next to their URL address. This means that those sites are secure and legitimate.
After setting up your budget for each account (savings, spending and bills) you can see where all of your money is going to go in any given month. If you don’t have all of your accounts (including investments, mortgages, etc.) in the same place, you will want to find a tool that allows you to see your information spread out before you. Besides the services offered by Mint, there are several other tools that can help. BudgetPulse and Expensr are another two that will be able to do mostly all of the same things and are offered for free.
Now that you’ve seen what it takes to get started, it’s time to take hold of your finances as tools like this make it easier than ever to control how much money comes in and out. Technology has made our lives simpler, and it is making money management that much more efficient. You no longer have to keep a paper records or files of income and expenditures. Digital tools can easily be embraced to help you budget and manage all of your ongoing finances!

Angie Picardo is a writer for the personal finance website, NerdWallet, providing you the tools for understanding personal finance.

As a follow up, I have used on line banking & bill paying for several years with absolutely no problems. Now that we are spending more time away from home in our RV, it is essential that we can handle bill paying and financial management while on the road. I save quite a bit on postage and supplies each year, too!

For full disclosure Satisfying Retirement has received no compensation for any of the links provided in this post.


  1. About the only thing I don't pay on-line now is doctor's bills. I don't know why they haven't set up something, especially since the majority of them now belong to the same corporation. Of course, USPS losing all that billing material is probably the critical reason that snail mail is becoming extinct. But like everything else controlled by congress we will just not let it die a natural death :)

    You didn't mention any of the self-contained budgeting programs like Quicken or iBank for Macs. I have been using those apps for many years to manage spending and savings. I can't imagine balancing my checking account with it's frequently used debit card or my credit card without it.

    I remember the old times when it was a calculator and a pile of checks each month to make sure everything balanced out. Now it is a weekly input of cleared transactions into my iBank. Life is definitely easier....

    1. I don't pay my auto insurance bills on-line. Since they only come twice a year it seems like too much trouble to go through the set up process rather than to just write a check.

      On those rare occasions when I go see a doctor my copay is all I need to provide. But, you are right. Virtually all doctors use some sort of centralized billing setup. On-line bill paying would seem to make their lives easier!

      I have been using Quicken for years. In fact, I still use Quicken Basic 2002 ! Amazingly, it runs just fine on Windows 7, even though it was designed for Win95. Every time I think it is time for an upgrade, the new program has so many bells and whistles and features I don't want, it is easier to stick with a 11 year old piece of software.

  2. Great article! I wanted to point out a recent blog post about the potential financial benefits for seniors of installing solar. Creates income, avoids utility expenses and hedges against future increases in utility rates. Avoided costs are always tax free, which is nice! Check it out here