Looking for a good automatic bill payment solution
April 29, 2012 7:01 AM   Subscribe

Please give me your recommendations and tips on automatic bill paying solutions. I currently use Bank of America's Bill Pay with my checking, but I'm hoping to find something better.

What I'm hoping for is a solution that can:
- Sort and organize payees
- Show last payment to the payee and when it was payed
- Ability to set recurring bills for fixed and variable bills
- Pay the bills through credit card rather than direct from checking
- Keep records for at least 18 months (ideally longer)
- Doesn't need direct access to any of my logins or accounts

Also, I'm not comfortable with the Mint.com model, and I've heard good things about Chase's Bill Pay, but I would rather use my preferred credit card if possible.

Additional background on why I have these criteria follows for anyone who prefers more detail (the impatient can safely skip it).

My bill paying workflow is essentially I realize I haven't paid the bills in a while and its time to fix that. This generally works for me and I get most bills paid on time, so I'm not looking to change the workflow. However, it means that when I do sit down to pay bills it would be enormously helpful to have an understanding of what's been paid so far. Knowing what's due is helpful, but not really that critical since people wanting money generally are pretty good at telling me when they need it.

For recurring bills, I'm fine with automatic payments if I see what was paid when. This gives me a good idea of where I stand with any particular bill. But I have bills that are not only monthly, but quarterly, semi-annually and annually, so not keeping track of when I paid the bill after 6 months is problematic for me. Also, it is very helpful to have an upper limit for paying bills that don't have a fixed rate (electricity bills, etc).

I prefer having my credit card being the central clearing house for all my bills. In fact, my first choice would be to use a bill pay through my credit card, except that since its affiliated with a bank they want me to open a checking account (and the bills would be taken from the checking account), which then completely bypasses my credit card. I'm good about paying off the credit card each month, so I'm not worried about carrying a balance. I would reluctantly consider getting a new credit card for bill paying purposes, but would prefer not to, since in all other respects I like the one I have.

Regarding retaining data, on several occasions I've needed to track down a bill months, or even a year or two after the fact. Short record retention policies becoming incredibly annoying when this happens.

Finally, I'm not interested in sharing any authentication credentials, so the Mint.com model doesn't work for me. I'm ok giving a bill paying site a credit card to charge for bill payment, but not account credentials.

Any suggestions?
posted by forforf to Work & Money (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I pay bills twice a month, on the 1st and 16th. I setup 2 recurring events, 1 for each of those days, in Google Calendar, with the bills and the usual amounts* in them.

This is very flexible and is enough of a reminder for me. For instance, I recently moved my gas bill from the 1st to the 16th with about 2 minutes' effort.

I use LastPass so that's how I do the online bill paying, but assuming you're not comfy with that, you could just keep links in the Google Calendar event to the online bill pay services of the creditors and use your own password solution.

This is more automating myself than the bill paying, but I haven't missed a bill in many months, an event which was very very common prior to hitting on this solution. Good luck!

*I have attempted to regulate my bill amounts by getting into "budget billing" with my utilities, where my monthly payment is the average of my total over the previous 12 months.
posted by Infinity_8 at 7:14 AM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

All of the bills I pay online let me set up a recurring payment on the site. I put my credit card in there and pay off the credit card after I get paid.
posted by theichibun at 7:51 AM on April 29, 2012

I use a service that you pay for, but offers more features: paytrust.com
You can even use them as your billing address (with a unique post office box number), and they'll scan your paper bills. This cuts down on spam paper mail.

The only thing I'm not sure about is if they can use credit cards for payment.
posted by eye of newt at 8:25 AM on April 29, 2012

I use Manilla to keep track of what's due when and I also set up recurring payments, but mine go to my credit card so I can earn miles, and then I just pay that 1 big bill.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:49 AM on April 29, 2012

Go to Vertex42 and download its Checkbook Register spreadsheet. Making the entries manually is not automated, but gives you most control over the entries.

I use Charles Schwab Bank, and I always do two things when a new bill comes in. (Actually I usually hold them for about 3-4 days, but no more.) An entry in the web page to pay the bill, and an entry in the spreadsheet. The key is to do this 1-3 weeks before the bill comes due.

For recurring bills of identical amount, those can be set up for automatic payment. Some major billers can be set up for automatic payment as well, but for many this is a big pain in the ass so I don't bother.

This system not only keeps me apprised of my current balance, but it also lets me see what will happen to the balance over the next four weeks or so. Like a sailor, I try to keep my eye a little forward.
posted by yclipse at 11:35 AM on April 29, 2012

I was hesitant to answer the OP as the question seemed to hinge on using a credit card. The essence of the problem though, paying bills, was similar to one I faced a few years ago. I wasn't consistent in processing bills each month even though I had the money to pay them. I've not had a good experience in the past with giving companies my credit card or debit for automatic bill payments so I avoid that.

In 2009 I switched my primary bill paying account to ING Direct from BofA. I'll try to run through it without sounding like a commercial.

ING BillPay makes payments either electronically or via paper check. It'll pick automatically based on the biller info. Larger companies send e-bills, other companies send me email with a statement notice. The e-bills can be set to process automatically if the bill is within the thresholds you set. When I get a bill via email (or postal), I log in to my account and set the payment. Once I've set payment I archive the email. If the email isn't archived it reminds me to process it.

Recurring payments like "no interest for 12 months" are easy to configure. I divide the bill by 11 (whatever is 1 month less than the no interest limit) and set my auto-payment to go out each month to be delivered slightly before the due date.

My annual bills like license plates, home insurance etc, I handle by setting up sub-accounts (savings). Each month I have 1/12 of the payment subtracted from my checking (automatic) to that savings account. When the annual bill arrives, I set it for payment and move the money from the sub-account to checking to cover it. This is a powerful tool in planning.

BillPay and sub-accounts are what I use the most. The overdraft protection is a line of credit vs the $35/per item BofA charges so it's much cheaper. They just added remote check deposit via smartphone... I've yet to try that. Once I do, I'll close the BofA account that I only use to deposit checks and transfer to ING.

All of your transaction information is searchable online and downloadable in CVS format for use in Excel.

3 years ago, each month the bill paying was a dreaded chore full of guesswork. Life is more peaceful now that our household has a structured system.
posted by dknott123 at 4:42 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Paytrust and Orange come closest to what I'm looking for. Manilla wants to act as my agent (i.e. like Mint.com), which is fine for lots of people, but I'm just not comfortable with it. Also, Google Calendar and a spreadsheet are also viable options, but aren't able to pay bills automatically.

The only thing missing in the Paytrust and Orange solutions was the ability to pay by credit card.

Thanks all!
posted by forforf at 8:38 AM on May 12, 2012

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