Electronic transfer my a***.
October 8, 2011 7:00 AM   Subscribe

How do you pay rent? Seriously, how do you physically get money from your bank account to your landlord?

I recently moved to the US and rented an apartment. It blows my mind that the most efficient way I can find to pay my rent is by writing and mailing a check every month. Previously I have always simply paid by automatic electronic transfer direct to my landlord's bank account but I can't find a single bank in the US that allows me to do that. And using my bank's "electronic bill payment" facility (where the BANK sends a check) has been terrible - the check was mailed to weeks ago and still hasn't arrived. I cannot believe that there is not a better way. Please tell me how you handle this routine kind of transaction (preferably in an automated, no-hassle, works-every-time kind of way).
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (60 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've always just written a check for my landlord. I've also always lived close enough that I could drop it off in person and didn't need to mail it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:03 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

At my old place they had it set up so that I could pay online. Worked a lot like buying something from Amazon except I didn't get a package. Just got to keep my home for a while longer.

At my new one we can either automatically have it go to a credit card or drop off a check. We just drop off a check, which is actually not that inconvenient since I can drop it off on my way to the gym.

Are you in a complex or is this a converted house or something? That will make a big difference in what you have available.
posted by theichibun at 7:06 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I write my landlady a check and leave it in her mailbox. However, we bank at the same bank and I also have the option to just do a transfer from my account to hers if I want to. I have billpay at my bank and it does a decent job of telling me when a check will actually arrive. It's entirely possible your landlord thought the billpay check they received [they come in really unassuming envelopes] was junk mail and tossed it. It's quite unlikely that it didn't arrive. If I were in your situation I'd probably give billpay one more try and tell my landlord to be on the lookout for the check this time, or alternately get an account at the place that they bank at and do a direct transfer once a month.
posted by jessamyn at 7:07 AM on October 8, 2011

...all of my banks in the US allow transfers between bank accounts (but I haven't tried automatically). Are you sure that you can't do ACH transfers?

I use (and hate) BofA and PNC, and I also have an account at a little credit union in CA.
posted by Metasyntactic at 7:08 AM on October 8, 2011

I usually just give my landlord six months worth of postdated cheques at a time.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:10 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use Paypal. Use it as a personal transaction, send it to her email address, done. Proof is in my inbox, no squabbles, quick.
posted by amicamentis at 7:11 AM on October 8, 2011

We have our bank mail a check automatically. It's never failed us, and it doesn't seem to take longer than mailing a check manually. At a previous place, they allowed payment by credit/debit card. That was awesome.
posted by WowLookStars at 7:12 AM on October 8, 2011

I write a check and mail it. (And have done that, I think, for every apartment I've ever lived in.) My current landlord also has some other option involving physically going to the bank, I'm not sure what it consists of exactly and I'm lazy about stuff like that, so I just go with the same simple way I've always done it.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:14 AM on October 8, 2011

Our old place accepted credit-cards -- it was great because we got lots of rewards out of the deal. You should probably only do this if you pay it off every month though.

Our current place requires cheques. I think it's really up the landlord what forms of payment are acceptable.

Our renters pay us with cheques, but it would be nice to provide something more modern. Everyone wants a cut though!
posted by clord at 7:15 AM on October 8, 2011

I use INGDirect and transfer the money to my landlord's account and the money disappears from my account as soon as I do it. (It also does for checks I write). The only pain is that you can't schedule it so you have to remember every month.
posted by dawkins_7 at 7:16 AM on October 8, 2011

I hand my landlord a check -- this only works because he is one of my housemates!

When he moves out, I will be mailing him a check. I get to hold on to the cash for a couple extra days that way, too, since rent is considered "on time" if the check is mailed by the day it's due.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:18 AM on October 8, 2011

My bank sends the check...I use BofA. It's worked well for me. I know you said it doesn't work for you -- maybe try a different bank? (NOT shilling for BofA but I'm sure other banks do this better than yours, doesn't have to be BofA.)
posted by sweetkid at 7:21 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Some large-scale property management companies allow you to set up credit card payments, and most banks can do automatic bill payment pretty reliably. I use Bank of America and while it sometimes takes longer than the 5 days they allow when a paper check must be mailed, I don't think I've ever experienced a 2 week delay. I have a couple bills I handle this way and it's been a very set-it-and-forget it system that has worked like clockwork.

But in general, this is just a financial culture difference between the U.S. and Europe--most consumers do not use electronic transfers except to pay large companies (credit cards, utilities, mortgages), and there are more situations where you will need to pay with cash (small sums) or check (large sums). Use of paper checks is dwindling, but it's not about to go away any time soon in the U.S.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 7:21 AM on October 8, 2011

Write and mail a check every month.

rent is considered "on time" if the check is mailed by the day it's due

Only if your lease or state law says so. It generally must be received by the day it's due to be considered on time.

There is nothing stopping your landlord from negotiating postdated checks immediately upon receipt.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:22 AM on October 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ugh I feel your pain. My bank used to let me transfer money to another bank account if I had the routing and account number, so I used to do pay rent that way. Then they switched to a new "more secure" system and do not allow automatic transfers anymore. They use the system you are describing in that they mail a check to the person.* So I just went back to writing my own checks. At least that way I know when the dang thing has been mailed.

*When I called to complain about the changes, their argument was that people no longer have to give out their routing and account numbers for online bill pay so it is more secure. Ummmm what the hell numbers do they think are on the checks!?!?!? That information, printed on every check you write, is not secure anyway. GRAR
posted by ephemerista at 7:25 AM on October 8, 2011

I set up an automatic bill-pay thing so the bank mails a check to my landlord every month. I have don't that with three different banks and three different landlords and have never had a problem. Jessamyn might be right--the checks do look like junk mail at first so your landlord may have tossed the check.
posted by apricot at 7:28 AM on October 8, 2011

Oops. That's supposed to be "have done that."
posted by apricot at 7:29 AM on October 8, 2011

I lived out of the country for many years and I too was surprised when I moved back to see that people even still use checks, which seems like a clunky and antiquated way of paying for things.

That said, I mail my check to my landlord, which is kind of a pain in the ass, but I know that Wells Fargo allows inter account-to-account transfers, which doesn't cost anything. You can also electronically transfer funds out of the bank to another bank for something like $3. I'm sure other big banks have similar setups. Ask your landlord if this is an option.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:30 AM on October 8, 2011

Sorry, I should mention that the electronic transfers that I do at Wells Fargo are not the Bill Pay service, which is the one that mails a check. Instead, I use the "transfer funds between accounts" > "to another person" options on my online service, which sends the money to the other account instantaniously. I don't know if I could set this up to be a recurring, automatic transfer as I've never tried it but I would guess that I probably could.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:34 AM on October 8, 2011

I used to be a landlord, and electronic payment would have been terrific. Go to your bank and see how hard it would be to set it up. If you're in an apt. complex, ask them to put in a dropbox for check payments. The easier they make it for people to pay, the less trouble they'll have getting paid.
posted by theora55 at 7:37 AM on October 8, 2011

In my last apartment, I electronically transferred my half of the rent to my roommate's bank account, and he wrote out and mailed a check to our landlord. (Our landlord lived in Brooklyn, and we lived out on Long Island.)

Where I live now, my landlord is my neighbor. I hand him the rent.
posted by pemberkins at 7:40 AM on October 8, 2011

My bank (Citibank) lets you send snail-mail check payments online to anyone for free. So I go in, write the name and address of my landlord (once), set up a payment for $XXX on [RECURRING DATE] and away it goes. No postage cost. It's great. Never had any problems with it. It's how I've paid my rent, all my bills, and even personal debts (because who actually writes checks anymore, amirite?) for the last several years.
posted by phunniemee at 7:42 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I usually just give my landlord six months worth of postdated cheques at a time.

Careful with that. Landlord* can easily cash those in at any time, regardless of date on check.
*or anyone else who gets their hands on them.
posted by Neekee at 7:42 AM on October 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Chase has a feature called "QuickPay" that lets you send money to someone online (i.e. without mailing a paper check) for free. Either the sender or the received needs to have a Chase account. I didn't know about it until a few weeks ago when my landlord said that some of his tenants used it to pay him, so it's possible that your bank also has this functionality but it's not completely transparently described on the website.
posted by enlarged to show texture at 7:44 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

My last tenant had her rent deposited automatically into an account of mine. It required two separate transfers each month because her rent was more than the limit for a single transfer. It also required me to trust her with my accounting and routing number, which I was not excited about. I could not set it up--she had to do it. Prior to setting up electronic transfer, she wrote me six months' worth of post-dated checks at a time, which required her to trust me with six months' worth of rent checks.

My new tenants put a check in the mail every month. Sometimes, they drop it off instead of mailing it.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:45 AM on October 8, 2011

My last rental complex switched over to an automatic-pay system after "losing" several people's rent checks (including mine) twice. (I suspect, though I can't prove, someone was stealing them, as they took down their rental check deposit boxes soon after.) I jumped at the chance to pay online - it was so easy it was squeezy.

I believe more and more large rental companies are allowing automatic payments of some kind. With a mom-and-pop landlord they usually still want paper checks. There are banking and PayPal ways of getting that check there more easily, as earlier posters have mentioned.

I feel your pain about paying with checks, as long ago I lived in an apartment building with a senile owner who half the time would hold on to the rent checks for 15 or 20 days and THEN cash them, which wreaked havoc with my account balance and trying to budget for the month. And sometimes he'd lose them. Most landlords are good about cashing the rent checks right away - it is a substantial sum for them - and not losing them, but automatic deposit or pay-online eliminates a lot of uncertainty.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:55 AM on October 8, 2011

I write a check each month --- but I'm somewhat of an old Luddite, I guess, and absolutely hate the idea of automatic withdrawals (giving them free access to my bank account! argh!) and/or paying online (still not entirely sure I trust this here newfangled interwebs thingie). To me at least, writing a check keeps me in control.
posted by easily confused at 7:55 AM on October 8, 2011

Used to mail a check, now use online bill pay via my bank (Wells Fargo) - this is the service where the bank will mail a check to my landlord. Have not had a problem with it, been using the service for ~3 yrs now. As a general rule of thumb, even if your rent checks are due on the 1st of each month, you usually have until the 10th to pay before it counts as late.

It's rare to find a landlord that takes anything other than the above options. While it may seem backwards to you, this is really pretty standard in the US. Direct bank->bank transfer never caught on here the way it did in Europe.
posted by reptile at 7:55 AM on October 8, 2011

I also came in to say Chase Quickpay. In fact, I don't think you even need to have a bank account there to use it. (I use it to transfer between my Chase and non-Chase accounts.) It's a good thing to have, really. When my friends and I all owed each other money from a road trip, for those of us who had a Quickpay account, it was super easy to pay everyone back and get paid. It's basically like Paypal but faster and less annoying.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 7:57 AM on October 8, 2011

My complex doesn't allow for online rent payment, or payment of rent by credit or debit card. Since I haven't had a checkbook in more than a decade, I get a money order for rent every month. I know where I can go get one by swiping my debit card (rather than carrying an obscene amount of cash).

Once I have the check in hand, I walk into the complex office, fill it out & sign it, & hand it to the manager.
posted by AMSBoethius at 8:13 AM on October 8, 2011

My landlord, a large multi-building corporation, drops off a bill on the last day of the month and asks me to mail back part of it with a check which they then don't cash for several weeks. Its kind of annoying because I pay every other bill online.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:14 AM on October 8, 2011

I've paid by cash, check, and credit card, in that order. Needless to say, I preferred the credit card. Getting a check every year from the credit card company for half a month's rent is freakin' awesome.

Presently, we have a tenant (and sadly can't pay the mortgage with a credit card..boo Wells Fargo) who pays by check. I try not to let them pile up, but I only rarely go to the bank. Sorry tenant, I know it's a PITA when checks don't get deposited for weeks.
posted by wierdo at 8:17 AM on October 8, 2011

I have ING Direct send my landlord a check every month, which is pretty easy for me. They have a bank transfer option but she prefers the check for some reason having to do with her accounting system.
posted by ghharr at 8:17 AM on October 8, 2011

I'm in Canada, so not sure if you have email transfer in the US. It's great - you'd need your landlord's email address, and nothing in the way of banking info, account number, etc. Here it costs $1 per transfer. You just email the money (it's an option in online banking), the landlord gets the email, logs in to his/her online banking account and the money gets transferred. In Canada it's limited to the bigger banks.
posted by lulu68 at 8:21 AM on October 8, 2011

My bank's bill pay system isn't terrible like yours. I tell it to send a check for a certain amount to a certain address and person on a certain day, and it does so. Easy. No charge. Are stamps free for banks? I have no idea. It's like magic, and I love it.
posted by jsturgill at 8:22 AM on October 8, 2011

This sounds incredibly analog and is possibly the anti-answer to your question but: my bank and my landlord's bank are across the street from each other. This happens a lot in large cities. I withdraw the rent in cash from my bank and walk it across the street and deposit it in his bank, using his account number.

Now, this is not "automated" nor is it mindless (I do have to go to the bank!) BUT it has the benefit of being credited to his account immediately, nothing gets lost in the mail and it's nice to get outside once a month. Also I figure the chance of me getting mugged crossing the street are low. Also I get a lollipop at each bank. Two lollipops! I do this instead of online bank checks, paper checks (who has STAMPS) and wire transfer (fees!) because it just seems better.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:25 AM on October 8, 2011 [5 favorites]

Unfortunately, I write out a physical check (or money order) and drop it off in the building's rent drop. It was awful having to come back to the US and use physical checks, but the country really is behind the times on this. Bank-to-bank transfers are not super widespread for paying small things (banks and credit unions still don't have good interfaces for it, some charge fees, and some people are actively suspicious about the method anyway), and many landlords don't allow transfers or credit/debit cards, so we're left with checks. I write my own checks rather than letting the bank do the mail-a-physical-check thing because that way at least I know that I dropped the rent off (and on what day I did so) - I've always worried about your situation happening to me.
posted by ubersturm at 8:30 AM on October 8, 2011

I write a check and put it in my building's rent drop box.

If you don't have a rent drop box, I recommend trying a different bank with a online bill payment service that doesn't suck.

My bank's bill pay system isn't terrible like yours. I tell it to send a check for a certain amount to a certain address and person on a certain day, and it does so. Easy. No charge. Are stamps free for banks? I have no idea.

Processing hand-written checks isn't free, stamps are cheap, and the bank gets extra float this way. I bet they either save money, or it costs them only a little, by mailing the check for you.

Echoing what was said above: postdated checks can be cashed at any time.
posted by grouse at 8:36 AM on October 8, 2011

Another vote for Chase's Quickpay, but one of you does have to have a Chase account, and both parties have to have a U.S. bank account. My landlord likes to be paid with checks, but I've used Quickpay to send money to other people and it's good. I've known a couple people who couldn't figure out how to sign up for it, though.
posted by wondermouse at 8:44 AM on October 8, 2011

Easy. No charge. Are stamps free for banks? I have no idea.

The bank gets to hold your money in bank-limbo for a day or so for "processing". The interest they collect on the money this time (or, I suppose, the interest that you are not collecting on the money during that time) is enough to make up for the cost of the stamp.
posted by phunniemee at 8:47 AM on October 8, 2011

Two leases in England and three in Ireland paid by direct debit, automatically every month. In every case the landlord or agent insisted on it. Now In Doha I have to hand over a stack of post-dated cheques (and yes I know that all that's stopping the landlord depositing them immediately is a condition in the lease). But it's standard here. I could pay by direct bank transfer but I would have to send the agent a screenshot of the transfer screen every time.
posted by Logophiliac at 8:57 AM on October 8, 2011

Ask about ACH payments at your bank. Overnight and no cost.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:01 AM on October 8, 2011

I moved from the US to the UK and so I feel your pain - though I also think its not as bad as you think.

In the UK it is very common for landlords, utilities, etc to have all your bank account details. You then negotiate with them the monthly amount they are allowed to "PULL" every month. The system is based on trust. You can designate of course who is allowed to pull from your bank account. But you can leave the amount open. For those who are wondering how it works with utilities where usage is not fixed: Every 6 months or so, you settle the difference either paying them extra or getting a credit.

The US, by contrast, has a "PUSH" system. Generally, this means nobody is doing an automated anything with your bank account. You are initiating transfers. You are writing checks.

The UK system is very convenient, I've found. That is, until you have a dispute. Like we have several times with utility companies, especially BT. In these cases, they withdrew more than they needed. So, as you are arguing with your provider, well....they already HAVE your money. You can imagine how much that stacks the odds against you in any argument. It is easy to think the US is behind the times until you realize there are advantages and disadvantages to both ways.

So, to answer your question: The answer in the US to automation is an automated PUSH. Automatic transfers, Automatic Checks, etc. Things like that are by far the most common solutions. What works best for you is best negotiated between you and your landlord. In my case, I once sent him post-dated checks and he agreed not to cash each one until the exact Nth day of each month.
posted by vacapinta at 9:04 AM on October 8, 2011

Currently, I write a check and stick it in a slot in the landlord's office. My previous landlord before that had some sort of direct debit scheme. My roommate and I had a bank account that contained our rent money and (I think) nothing else. (This did break horribly once. The building was sold, direct debit was stopped, we were told it was restarted, but it hadn't been. Cue us scrambling to write a check on a Saturday (when the landlord's office was closed) and making sure the debit wouldn't also go from the bank late. Of course, my current landlord stick a note through the door saying 'Hey, you're late on the rent.' when that one leaves the 'Notice to Pay or Quit' which is very alarming when you've never seen such a thing before.) Before that, I lived in a shared house. We handed a check to the 'owner' of the house bank account and she went online to have the bank mail a check to our landlord.

To be honest, of all of these, I prefer walking the rent to the office. I do however have an exceptionally good landlord and their office happens to be in the same building as my apartment (but not technically--it's a different street address, which is amusing and makes it hard for people to find my apartment).
posted by hoyland at 9:11 AM on October 8, 2011

Our apartment only accepts checks. I write a check and drop it off at the office. Since our late rent penalty is $50, I'd rather just do it myself rather than trust a bank to mail a check on my behalf.

I only write 12 checks a year now. All for rent.
posted by ladygypsy at 9:47 AM on October 8, 2011

In the UK, you can do an automated push too. It's called a standing order, and is different from direct debit.
posted by grouse at 9:49 AM on October 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thats true, grouse. In fact, I have several standing orders. I think the Push/Pull thing is still true in general. When I arrived in the UK I was a bit shocked that it was standard to hand bank account withdrawal details so readily.
posted by vacapinta at 10:23 AM on October 8, 2011

Rent is probably the only monthly bill I have to write a check for. It makes sense in my current situation, as I am renting a house from its owner, so I wouldn't expect him to be set up for automated or electronic payments.

But my previous apartment only accepted checks as well, and it was part of a pretty large company that owns numerous apartment complexes. Why the old-fashioned ways? Who knows.
posted by The Deej at 10:27 AM on October 8, 2011

At our last place our landlord was kinda shady so I liked to have the bank send them a check because I had proof that it was sent. I'm surprised that you had trouble with this with your bank - FWIW I do this with Wells Fargo all the time and have never had a problem.

At our current place the landlord lives across the street so we just drop the check while walking the dogs.
posted by radioamy at 10:37 AM on October 8, 2011

When I arrived in the UK I was a bit shocked that it was standard to hand bank account withdrawal details so readily.

Part of that is because of the Direct Debit Guarantee.
posted by grouse at 11:45 AM on October 8, 2011

We also do the automatic bill pay thing where the bank physically mails a check to our landlord. This is great, because on our end, it's all online, and on our 70-odd year old landlord's end, it's completely not.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:03 PM on October 8, 2011

I write a check and hand it to my landlord, who drops by once a month to collect the rent. Even if there was a more 21st-century option widely in existence in the U.S., we wouldn't be able to use it, because our rather dotty landlord -- who still occasionally seems baffled by his land line telephone (sans voice mail, answering machine, or call waiting, naturally) -- most assuredly wouldn't be able to deal with it.
posted by scody at 12:30 PM on October 8, 2011

I put a money order in my building's rent deposit box. I find it annoying that I can't do an automatic deposit every month, and I refuse to order checks just to pay rent. My last few landlords have had the dumb habit of waiting 3-6 weeks to actually cash my rent checks, which is extremely annoying to me, so I just walk to the PO across the street and get a money order so I can be done with it.
posted by bradbane at 1:25 PM on October 8, 2011

Don't be so sure the check hasn't arrived yet. It could be the landlord just hasn't cashed it yet.
I set up a separate account just for rent which I pay using the online-mail-a-check. No writing, no stamps, no checkbook. This way the money is put aside and I can't use it up, even if the landlord doesn't get his ass down to the bank for weeks.
posted by bleep at 2:14 PM on October 8, 2011

Always written a check. Either delivered in person or picked up by the landlord. Never had a landlord live far enough away to justify mailing it. On one or two rare occasions, I've paid cash in person.
posted by sonika at 3:59 PM on October 8, 2011

Incidentally, my husband owns and rents out a property in Portugal... to a Japanese woman. Since the money is going between not only different banks, but different currencies, she sends him a number of post-dated checks made out in USD. He's absolutely the most trustworthy person in the world where financial matters are concerned and wouldn't ever even consider thinking of cashing a check early, so this works out fine for everyone. I can see how with a less scrupulous landlord this might be very problematic though.
posted by sonika at 4:05 PM on October 8, 2011

I obtain a cashier's check from our bank and have it made out to the landlord, then I hand deliver it to the post office where his property manager picks up her mail.
posted by Lynsey at 11:37 PM on October 8, 2011

I've tried to set up auto-pay but none of my landlords have been willing to give me their routing information. I've mailed monthly checks, given my landlord post-dates checks (since he was trustworthy not to cash them early), and my current landlord has a locked mailbox in the basement, which is nice because I don't need to mail it.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:21 AM on October 9, 2011

I don't know how big a complex or number of properties your landlord manages, but I live in a giant complex owned by some faceless corporation back east and they don't take checks at all. Everything is directly debited from a bank account or credit card through a third party company called Paylease. I'm sure there are other companies doing the same thing, but they're the one I know about.
posted by calistasm at 11:12 AM on October 9, 2011

i hate cheques as they often take forever to clear, and my bank had a nasty habit of erroneously bouncing cheques.

I do interact email transfers. no account information needed -- just send it to an email address and the recipient can deal with all that stuff themselves. if it's going to an accounts recievable person in the rental agency, i don't see what the problem would be in sending it to a company. you could inquire.
posted by custard heart at 10:16 PM on October 9, 2011

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