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Online Bill Pay: What It Is and Why to Use It

Online bill pay lets you make single or recurring electronic payments from your bank or credit union.
Oct. 8, 2018
Banking, Banking Basics
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Online bill pay service, offered by many banks and credit unions, makes it easier to organize your bills and pay them when they’re due. If you juggle rent or mortgage, cable, electricity, credit card payments and more, online bill pay can save time and help you avoid late fees.

Paying your bills online isn’t revolutionary — the service has been around as a way to pay merchants for nearly two decades. But for some people, it means keeping track of merchant websites and various providers to make payments. With online bill pay from your bank, however, you don’t have to. There’s no need to pay a Verizon bill on Verizon’s website, a Wells Fargo credit card with Wells Fargo bill pay and then write a check to your landlord. You could do it all from your financial institution’s website.

An added bonus: Many banks and credit unions guarantee your payments will arrive on time, and will reimburse your late fee if they don’t.

» See our picks of best banks for institutions that offer services including bill pay, digital tools, as well as competitive interest on savings.

How does online bill pay work?

How online bill pay works is straightforward: You log in to your bank account, navigate to its online bill pay feature and then select the bill provider. If you hadn’t set up the provider in your account before, you’ll need to add it by plugging in the account number and billing address, then authorize your bank to send payments for you.

Payments can be sent by your bank electronically or via paper check, so you can pay even if the biller isn’t set up online. That means your bank can send a payment to a person, such as your landlord, virtually eliminating the need for a checkbook. You can also choose a one-time payment or set up a recurring one.

If you’re trying to lower bank fees, signing up for free bill pay service is a good way to keep track of your accounts while avoiding charges.

Many banks offer basic bill pay service for free with their checking accounts, though they may charge for extra features, such as being able to access transactions from Quicken financial software. If you’re trying to lower bank fees, signing up for free bill pay service is a good way to keep track of your accounts while avoiding charges.

» Find checking accounts with low fees on NerdWallet’s list of best checking accounts

Many merchants and service providers offer the option of letting you receive an e-bill, or an electronic version of your paper bill, into your online bill pay account. If an e-bill arrives, you can have your bank alert you by email. Typically, you can choose whether to pay the entire balance, just the minimum due or another amount.

How to set up bill pay

The effort you take in the initial setup can save you time and headaches in the long run. Each bank or credit union will have its own rules, but generally here’s what you need to do:

  • Gather your bills, including account numbers and the addresses to where you mail the payments.
  • Enter each biller’s information into your bank’s online bill pay platform.
  • Choose when to send the payment.
  • Select recurring or one-time payment.
  • Set reminders to track when each bill is due.

Online bill pay helps you organize bills and keep track of due dates. It also makes it easier to see where your money is going, so you can make sure you have enough funds available to cover each payment. You receive and pay your bills all through your bank — one list, in one place.

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