Apr 112017
 
City of San Diego Tax Collector

Steven Seamark | SafeBillPay.net

When you’re cutting close to a deadline and have to pay a government bill, you can’t always rely on a government bill pay website, especially when thousands or even millions of other people are trying to pay at the same time.

We all remember the Obamacare website debacle of October 2013, when Healthcare.gov – the Affordable Care Act’s official health insurance shopping website – launched. As millions of Americans flooded the website to shop for healthcare plans, the site crashed. This unfortunate debut left a sour taste in the mouths of Americans and destroyed Obamacare’s reputation.

More recently, the San Diego County Treasurer-Tax Collector’s website crashed just as the deadline for payment of property taxes approached. On April 10th, 2017, residents of San Diego were trying to pay their property tax bills online, through sdtreastax.com.

In California, property taxes are due twice a year, on November 1st and February 1st. For the February payments, the last day to pay without incurring penalties is April 10th.

As residents of San Diego hurried to make their payments online before the deadline, the Tax Collector’s website went down.

The problem was fixed later that day. One would think that bill pay websites would anticipate periods of high demand and increase server resources accordingly. I’m guessing that there is insufficient communication between the people who process the payments and the IT department.

So if a deadline is coming up for an important payment, make alternative plans in case the online bill pay website is down. Don’t put all your eggs in one bill pay basket, or leave yourself enough time to pay the old fashioned way – by check, typically – if the bill pay website crashes.

 

Aug 102016
 
EZ Pass lane

I live in the Central Valley of California now and we have no toll roads or bridges; but when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had to pay a toll every time I crossed the Bay Bridge or San Mateo Bridge. If you’re familiar with toll booths, sixteen U.S. states have several lanes where you can pay cash, and a few lanes where you can speed right through, paying with something called EZ Pass.

EZ Pass uses the same technology in all states where it operates. You sign up and they give you an RFID transponder that you keep in your car, ideally mounting it above the dash or inside the windshield. It comes preloaded with funds. You can buy it at various pharmacies and grocery stores. Then, when you pass through the toll booth in an EZ Pass lane, you don’t even have to slow down. The transponder sends a signal to the toll booth and the toll payment is deducted automatically from your account.

You can also link your credit card to your EZ Pass account so that when your account drops below a preset amount – typically $20 – it automatically gets replenished from your credit card.

Third Party Payment Services for EZ Pass

There are also online payments services and online bank accounts where you sign up, create an account, and can pay your EZ Pass tolls from there. In Maryland, for example, thousands of drivers use an online service called Doxo to pay their EZ Pass.

It’s important to be aware with such services that there can be a delay between the time you make the payment, and the time it goes through to EZ Pass. This delay can be as long as several days. If you go through the toll, then add money to pay for it through a third party service it will be too late, and you’ll get fined.

Then why use such services? Many people like them because they allow you to pay online (rather than going to a retail location) and to track all your bills in one place. Just be careful to have funds deposited at least a week in advance before trying to use these online bill pay services for EZ Pass tolls.

May 112015
 
Power lines

Automatic bill payers consume more electricity.

The Wall Street Journal reports that electricity consumers who use automatic bill pay actually use more electricity each month, and pay higher bills. Dr. Steven Sexton, an economics professor at Duke University, conducted a huge study in which he evaluated the electricity bills of Santee Cooper customers (a South Carolina electric company) over sixteen years. He found that automatic bill payers use between 4% and 9% more energy each month.

Automatic bill pay is safe and obviously convenient. Millions of people pay their electric bills automatically each month, sight unseen. And therein lies the problem. With regular snail-mail bills, you have to open them up, look at the bill amount, and write a check. You know how much you pay each month. If the bill seems high, you might scrutinize your energy usage and work on bringing it down.

With automatic bill pay you don’t even see the bill, so you’re not in tune with how much you’re paying each month. You end up using more each month because you’re simply not aware.

Sexton found that the biggest rise in consumption with automatic bill payers came with new customers and commercial users. The new customers are presumably young and not financially experienced.

I’m not suggesting that automatic bill pay consumers go back to using dead trees (paper bills). But you should make it a point to look at your bill online and review your electricity consumption. You might save more than a few dollars each month.

Feb 142014
 

By Mohammed Waseem

We have heard and read about bill payment services which exist to make our lives easier by enabling online bill payment, payment of all bills at one place, paperless bill management and so on. In this article, I will talk about cross-border bill payment services offered by BlueKite.

First of all, what is cross-border bill pay? It is a bill payment service meant for migrants to pay for the services used by the families they have left behind. Launched in 2012, BlueKite aimed at changing the way payments are made and to improve the way people around the world pay for services and utilities. They began with the proprietary cross-border payment platform, allowing the people to accurately pay utility and service bills from abroad and thus take better care of their families back home.

BlueKite Bill PayMoney service stores were offered BlueKite’s platform to enable them to provide cross-border bill payment services to their customers. The stores charged a flat fee of $4.95 for the payment, which was split in the ratio or 3:2 between BlueKite and the stores. Their service helped the service providers increase collections and also solved the problems of families to pay bills locally. Their target market was immigrants to developed nations who have been traditionally sending money back home using money transfer services. They never intended to compete with money transfer services and in fact, claimed they were a complimentary service. They were like nothing in the market as they took bill payment to the next level. They integrated with many service providers in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Spain and few other places.

If you are wondering why the last paragraph reads in the past tense, it is because BlueKite is no longer an independent company, it is now a part of Xoom Corporation, which recently acquired the former for approximately $15 million in cash and equity. They aim at introducing mobile top-up and cross-border bill payment services which would be offered alongside their already existing money transfer service.

With the boom in the money transfer industry, every other company is coming up with an innovative service to give themselves a competitive advantage. With this acquisition, Xoom can reach new heights by enabling immigrants to pay the bills of their families, along with the money they regularly send through the service. The new services will be called “Xoom Bill Pay” and “Xoom Top Up”.

Development and augmentation is happening at the new development center at Guatemala City. The 30 BlueKite employees along with the CEO – Bobby Aitkenhead will now work under the banner of Xoom Corporation. Aitkenhead is now VP in charge of the Xoom Bill Pay and Xoom Top Up services, reporting to John Kunze, President and CEO, Xoom Corporation.

Sep 052012
 

By Joyce Morse for SafeBillPay.net

Thanks to the improvements in products such as smart phones and tablets, people can do almost anything with their mobile devices that they can do in person or on a computer. Now, you can also pay your bills online. Pageonce is an application that provides numerous features, including bill payment.

Who are Pageonce?

Pageonce is a well-known online bill payer that also provides a mobile application so that you can handle your business on the go. You can add as many accounts as you want, both bank and credit card, to monitor the transactions.

Pageonce was founded in 2007 as an answer to issues regarding multiple online accounts. Guy Goldstein and Ahikam Kaufman were the co-founders of the company, and today, Pageonce is the leading mobile bill-paying application.

When you look up your accounts on Pageonce, you will see each account listed with the name of the company that it is for, type of bill and balance owed, minimum amount due and payment due date. It will also show how many days late the bill is if it wasn’t paid on time.

Benefits of Pageonce

A benefit you will appreciate is that all accounts can quickly be seen with their balances on one page instead of flipping through multiple pages. You can also pull up a screen with a calendar view of when your bills are due.

The app will send you alerts so that you can monitor all of your accounts, including investments. You can get reports to show where your money is being spent.

You can see purchases and any deposits made quickly to make sure everything is correct. Pageonce also allows you to keep an eye on your credit card accounts to prevent identity theft. The sooner you can alert a credit card company of a disputed charge, the more likely you are to prevent further misuse of your account.

Is It Safe?

You may be concerned about entering private information on your cell phone. If you’re like many people and have had a phone call interrupted with interference, you may wonder if it can be safe to have bank account information show up on your screen. Pageonce uses bank level security and meets standards in place by internet security organizations like McAfee.

The Pageonce application is free to download and works on all systems, including iPhone, Android, Blackberry, iPad, and others.

You will find many bill paying apps online that send reminders and allow you to balance your account, but Pageonce takes it a step further by actually sending out the payments for you. Once you set up a payment, you can forget about it and know your bills will be paid on time.

May 172012
 

Millions of American households do not have access to traditional banking services, or choose not to use them. These households are increasingly making use of prepaid cards to pay bills online or over the phone, shop online, and receive direct deposits.

Why Prepaid Cards?

In the current economy, where millions of people have experienced home foreclosures, bankruptcies or are deeply in debt, a lot of people don’t qualify for credit cards. These people might buy prepaid cards that can be used like credit cards to pay bills or shop at regular brick-and-mortar stores.

Prepaid cards

Use of prepaid cards is growing, but watch out for hidden fees.

Others appreciate the ease of shopping online – and the good deals to be found – but are wary of submitting their credit card information or banking details. They worry about credit card theft, bank theft and identity theft. These fears are not baseless. Many online retailers have been hacked and had the credit details of thousands of customers stolen. Many consumers feel that prepaid cards, which do not carry any personal information or link to a bank account, are a more secure alternative.

For all these reasons, the use of prepaid cards is growing. These cards have been around for a long time in the USA, but in recent years their use has mushroomed.

In 2011, about 13 percent of U.S. consumers used prepaid cards, up from 11 percent the previous year, according to a study by California-based Javelin Strategy & Research.

Prepaid card use grew last year even though ownership of other more traditional financial products — such as credit and debit cards — decreased, according to the study.

Concerns About Fees

Consumer advocates point out prepaid cards often have excessive fees for basic activities and transactions, and many cards do not transparently disclose the fees.

There are fees to activate the card, fees to load additional funds onto the card, fees to check the balance, monthly maintenance fees, fees to call customer service, fees to use an ATM, and often fees simply to withdraw cash from the card.

Consumers are often not aware of these fees, and the prepaid card industry is not required to fully disclose them. These fees add up and can make a prepaid card much more expensive than a bank account, which places an added burden on the poor and financially disadvantaged.

“I don’t think everything about prepaid is bad, and I think there is a need for it and a market it makes sense to serve,” says David Rothstein, project director for asset building with Policy Matters Ohio. “I think the biggest problem is that to some degree the product has come out before the protections and the network are in place.”

Rothstein said people commonly treat prepaid cards as gift cards when they are a completely different product that serve a different purpose.

“Moving people away from (the gift card) mentality is really important,” he said.

Mar 212012
 
Young woman paying bills

Make scattered bills a thing of the past by paying and storing your bills online.

Would you like to free yourself from paper bills altogether? How about being able to see and pay all your bills on one website? Not to mention saving trees, and cutting down on the 48 billion paper notices and bills sent by the U.S. Post Office every year.

A new service called Manilla.com claims to help you collect and organize your bills — everything from credit card and mortgage payments, to student loan debt and auto payments.

Manilla.com also has a free smartphone app, so you can see and pay your bills on the phone.

Best of all, the Manilla.com service is free to the consumer. It’s paid for by the billing companies, since they save money not having to send out paper bills. And they can post important notices like required privacy forms or billing practices online for each customer to read in his or her own account.

Terry Savage of the Chicago Sun-Times writes:

No more going to your mailbox or post office box, or risking late payments because you were traveling. Now the bills arrive in your Manilla account, where you can see the exact bill that would have arrived in paper form. You can see the exact details — even more than many billers send in the mail. And you can reach out to contact the biller or dispute a charge, just as if you had received a paper bill.

Manilla will notify you when bills are coming due, so all you have to do is click and pay securely. And if you have several bank accounts (for business and household, for example), you can choose which account to pay from when you are paying your bill.

There’s a handy calendar on your secure home page, showing you regular monthly bills that you receive and the date by which they must be paid. Plus, Manilla will send you reminders by text or e-mail when regular bills are scheduled to arrive — or if you’ve failed to pay a bill on time.

In a way, Manilla.com is also a records storage service, since it saves all your paid bills for years. It also has a search feature to search through past bills quickly.

I haven’t personally tried Manilla.com, but I’ll check it out. If you have used it, please let us know how it’s working out for you.

Dec 302011
 
A Verizon Wireless store in Washington, D.C. Verizon Wireless has angered customers by announcing that it will begin charging $2 to pay bills online.

A Verizon Wireless store in Washington, D.C. Verizon Wireless has angered customers by announcing that it will begin charging $2 to pay bills online.

On the heels of poor network performance this month with three separate data outages, Verizon has angered customers further by announcing that beginning January 15 2012, it will charge customers $2 to make one-time online bill payments, or to pay by telephone.

The company called it a “convenience fee.”

The fee won’t apply to electronic check payments or to automatic credit card payments set up through Verizon’s AutoPay system. Paying by credit card in a Verizon store will also be free, as will mailing a check.

The move was met with heavy criticism. Consumer blog Engadget said charging customers to pay was “downright ludicrous.” Cnet.com said the move “made little sense.”

Verizon Wireless spokesman Thomas Pica tried to justify the online bill payment charge, saying, “The fee is designed to address costs incurred by us for only those customers who choose to make one-time bill payments in alternate payment channels (online, mobile, telephone) and who choose not to use the other options available to them ….”

However I personally find this charge to be outrageous. I have been a Verizon wireless customer for over two years, and although I’ve only paid my bill online once (I usually pay cash using the payment machine in the Verizon store) I would consider switching providers over this. I’m a customer, not a personal ATM machine for Verizon to pad their profit margins.

Verizon Wireless rivals AT&T Inc and Sprint Nextel Corp said they do not charge their customers for any bill-payment options.

Nov 152010
 

Clearly there is some element of risk involved in any sort of online financial transaction. Credit card numbers or bank account numbers can be stolen, passwords intercepted…

I recently had an unauthorized $400 charge against my debit card. Someone used it to pay for a plane ticket. My card is always in my wallet, but I often use it to make purchases online or pay bills. Apparently the card information was intercepted or stolen somehow.

The https prefix indicates a secure website

The https prefix indicates a secure website

The card has been closed and my bank refunded the charge, but the point is that online financial transactions carry a risk. Online bill payment is no exception.

So how do we minimize the risk? How do we know that an online bill payment website is secure? How can we safely transfer money online, or buy a product without worry?

1. Make sure the bill payment website is secure. The website address or URL should begin with https rather than http. https indicateds a “secure socket layer” or SSL connection, which is one in which data is fully encrypted and therefore protected.

Typically with an https website you will see a padlock icon in the corner of the browser window, either at the top or the bottom (or in some cases it may even turn the URL address background light blue or green). Clicking the padlock icon reveals the site’s security certificate and allows you to read about the protection that this affords.

2. Make sure the login process is secure. A quality bill payment website will usually give the customer two options: either to pay instantly as a guest, or to register and save payment information for future transactions. Neither one of these is necessarily better – it depends on your preferences – but both options should be secure.

If you’re paying as a guest, the website will usually ask only for your email address, then ask you to choose a payment option. Payment options could include online bank account, credit card or debit card. If you choose to pay by credit card or debit card, you may have to verify the card through 3D secure-a process used by major credit card companies as an added XML layer for online credit and debit card transactions. Visa call this process “Verified by Visa”, MasterCard call it “MasterCard SecureCode”, JCB International call it “J/Secure” and American Express call this “SafeKey”.

When choosing this option, look for specific statements on the website that credit card or debit card information will not be saved or stored in any way.

If you choose to register, a well designed and secure website will ask you to choose a name and password for future logins, and may also ask for your name, email address, physical address, and telephone number. You may even be asked for your date of birth, driver’s license number or passport number, though in my opinion asking for such information is excessive and carries the risk of identity theft. The same is true for your social security number. There’s no good reason for a commercial website or bill pay website to ask for such info.

You will often be asked to set up security questions in case you lose your login info. This is legitimate and common. Some websites now use cell phone verification. If you attempt to log in from any computer other than your usual computer, the website will send a verification code to your phone by text message. You must then enter the verification code into the website to proceed.

While these procedures may seem excessive, they are part of a good security system and they are there for your protection.

Apr 252008
 

This is a follow-up to the last post, also based on a recent article from the Stockton Record online.

Via the Stockton Record:

Electronic Billing in Your City

• Tracy: Began electronic billing in 2005.

Residents can receive their bills electronically, can use an automatic withdrawal from their checking accounts to pay for services or can go online with a credit card each month and pay their bills. About 15 percent of Tracy’s residential customers are using some form of electronic payment, officials said. That percentage is a little higher than the response in other cities offering electronic bill paying.

• Lathrop: Also began offering electronic bill paying in 2005.

The effort is part of a larger Web-hosted financial package, but it is only within the past month or so that the city could send out bills electronically, said city spokesman Mike Esau. The service is called E-Notification. Initially, customers can ask to receive both electronic and paper bills, or just the electronic version. Payment can be made using credit cards. About 10 percent of the customers are using the system.

• Stockton: Joined the electronic age in 2004, when it began accepting payments over the phone.

The city’s online bill-paying system began last August. Currently, the city sends out bills to all its customers. However, it hopes to begin sending e-bills within the next six months. About 11 percent of Stockton’s utility customers now use electronic payment, about half paying monthly and half using automatic withdrawal.

• Manteca: Began its service in June.

At first, the city only offered the automatic payment option. In August, electronic credit card payments were added. Through last month,

3.6 percent of the city’s 18,133 customers had signed up for the service. All bills are still being mailed at this time. Additional features will be added in the future, according to accounting supervisor Frances Ramos.

• Lodi: Hopes to begin its service in the next 60 days or so.

All that’s left is working out the final details with the city’s vendor, InfoSend of Fullerton. Lodi residents receive a single bill that includes electricity, water, sewer and solid waste. When the system is operational, they will have the option to view and pay the bill online using various payment methods. The city still is deciding exactly what will be available under the new system, said information systems manager Steve Mann. The city is looking for 15 percent participation in the coming months.

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