Saturday, January 2, 2010

Not too old for paperless bills—with a little help from my brain

When it comes to technology, I think I’m pretty savvy—or more so than many others in my demographic. I bank online and pay most bills that way. I prefer e-mail to telephone calls. At work, I write and post copy to the company’s web site, using HTML no less. I’m blogging…isn’t that proof of my comfort with 21st century communication?

As it turns out, I’m not as good online as I thought I was, at least when it comes to paying bills. Going paperless for our bills seemed to be the natural step after setting up online payments. So now I’m alerted to our monthly phone statement by an e-mail only. But I’m also inundated with advertising messages from the company, which I immediately delete. It’s not a stretch, then, to imagine me mistaking a bill notification for a pesky ad, and I must have done this twice. Recently, I got a text message on my cell phone from our provider: We were behind in our payments and our mobile phone service was being suspended until we paid up. This was upsetting because we have our home phone with the same mobile service, and we were suddenly without any phone connection. The message also said that, conveniently, I could press a couple of numbers and the pound key and an automated system would take my credit card payment over the phone. I did so, and our service was restored.

For my MasterCard bill, I have no problem recognizing the e-mail announcing that my statement is available online. It’s the payment schedule that confuses me. When we relied on paper, I would get the monthly statement, note the amount due, then write a check and mail it before the due date. Now, when I look online at my card’s activities, I note the amount due on the statement but also see the outstanding balance, which is larger because I’ve used the card after the close of the statement. This may sound like a no-brainer: Pay the statement amount each time, and everything works out, or pay the outstanding balance once a month, as long as the payment isn’t transmitted after the due date. (See, I’m already getting confused by my own ramblings here…)

After the phone incident, I was tempted to go backwards and request paper bills again. But then I'd be living up to the nasty stereotype of older folks who complain about change and refuse to embrace technology, won’t I? No, I will not be those people. I’ll just have to be more vigilant and proactive about monthly bills. (I think a fancy smart phone with a musical reminder app would help…)

I admit the problem is mine and not the fault of the paperless systems. To be honest, I once missed a department store card payment because the paper bill, which I probably saw when it arrived, became buried under a bunch of junk mail, and I forgot about it.

Since it’s only the second day of a new year, I resolve to be more organized in 2010. And this year I really mean it!