Can you rely on electronic bill payment?

I see complaints on the Internet from time to time about people claiming that their bill payment provider made a mistake...typically stating that their service provider did not follow through and pay a bill that the user requested be paid.

I'm not saying that this never happens, but overall, I can attest to the fact that electonic bill payment providers care a lot about quality, and typically have a pretty solid reputation for delivering on what they promise.

I would venture a guess that if you got under the covers a bit on many of these complaints, you would ultimately find a majority of these issues to be user errors as opposed to mistakes made by the bill payment provider.


Pay those bills when you get them

In the old days...way back, long ago, when I used to write checks for all of my bills, I would save the bills that came in the mail and stack them all up in some file folder somewhere.  Then, usually around pay day, I'd sit down and pull that folder out and see which of those bills were coming due, write out my checks, address my envelopes, and send my payments off via the post office.

Not anymore.  I'm one of those types who are naturally working at my computer throughout the day, regardless of whether it's a work day or a weekend day.  My computer is just a integral part of my daily life.

Now when I get a bill, I set it on my desk by my computer, and the next time I sit down to do anything on my computer I go ahead and pull up my electronic bill pay service at my bank's website, and enter the bill payment right then and there.  As part of the bill payment service, I can absolutely control when the payment leaves my bank account and when it arrives at the biller, so just because I add a bill payment instruction into the system right when I get the bill doesn't mean necessarily that I have to tell the system to pay it right away.   Part of the power and beauty of electronic bill pay is that I can schedule a payment to be made way out into the future, sometimes as far out as a year from now.

So, if I know I won't have the money in my account until the 15th of the month, I just enter a payment date of sometime later than the 15th and I know I'll then have the cash to cover the payment, and at the same time I've taken care of that particular bill right away before I forget about it or lose it, and it's just one more thing off my busy mind that I don't have to worrry about.


Old habits are hard to break

I spent over 15 years of my life working for a major bill payment provider, so I had a birds eye view of that industry as it grew and evolved during the period of the early 90's and up until around 2008.  What became very clear to me during this time was just how difficult it is to change a person's financial habits.  How one manages his/her money is usually learned at a very early age and getting someone with deeply ingrained habits to act differently can feel like pushing a big rock up a very steep hill.  

In other words...hard.

This always comes back to me in spades when I find myself standing at a grocery store checkout counter, and discover that the person in front of me in line is paying for his groceries with a paper check.  Sorry, but in 2012, I just don't get that at all.  How that person has not managed to make the leap to a checking account debit card is so beyond my ability to comprehend that I can hardly describe it.

But, one man's ceiling is another man's floor, right?