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Should You Automate Your Parents’ Bill Paying?

Handwriting checks is time consuming. Many of us no longer write checks to pay our own bills. If you are helping a parent or an older loved-one with bill paying, he or she may be resistant to newer methods. Paper checks are familiar to many seniors and make them feel safe.

Should you transition your parents to electronic bill paying?

It depends.

If Mom is managing the bill paying and checkbook register without problems, I believe you shouldn’t interfere. Unless, of course, she wants to make the transition and needs help.

If your parent can no longer pay bills independently or you have taken over this task completely, handwriting checks may take more time than you have. Although the final decision is your parent’s, you can suggest changing to electronic bill paying.

How can you make the transition?

  • Begin by understanding people’s comfort level with current technology varies. I have met people in their 90’s who are computer whizzes and are active on line. I have also met people in their 70’s who refuse to use computers even to send e-mail to the grandkids. The idea of electronic payments can be scary, especially if the person doesn’t understand how they work, feels he or she has no control, or is concerned about security breaches prevalent in the news.
  • Explain the advantages of electronic payments. They save money on stamps and checks. With banks’ encryption techniques, they can be safer than leaving a check in an unattended mailbox. When set up properly, they ensure the bills will be paid on time, avoiding late fees. And, the time savings may be good for your relationship.
  • Explain to Mom and Dad they can still review a paper copy of their bills before payments are made.
  • Discuss the various ways to pay bills. Talk about the methods you use, your experience, and steps you take to keep your money and personal information safe. Mom may already be familiar with some of them. Together, you may find that a combination of methods, including writing some checks, works best.

Automatic or direct debit is where service providers take the funds directly from the bank account. Dad may already be making some payments, such as supplemental Medicare insurance premiums, this way without realizing it.

Online bill payments are where you log on to the bank’s website and instruct the bank to send payments to vendors. Regular payments can be set to go automatically, which works great when the amount of each payment is consistent.

Mobile bill paying is where, through the bank’s app, you take a photo of the bill on your smart phone and click a “pay” button. The bank sends the payment from the customer’s account.

Credit card payments are where vendors automatically charge the amount due to a card number on file. Credit cards have strong consumer protections in the event a charge is incorrect or there is fraud. The information service providers have on file needs to be updated every time the bank issues a new card.

  • Start small. You could begin with transitioning one or two payments, and once these prove successful, add others.
  • Take the time to review each bill and locate the matching payment on the bank statements. Verify the correct amount was paid to the correct company.
  • Finally, keep in mind, even though the technology is available, it does not have to be used.

In the end it is your parent’s decision whether to pay bills electronically. When working with another person’s money, you need to acquiesce to their wishes – including when you are agent by power of attorney. This means you need to accept and follow Dad’s decision on how to pay his bills even if you disagree.

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.