Make Your Life Easier: Simple Bill-Pay

Think paying bills online is easy? There's an even better way.

By: Sherri Dalphonse, Kelly Lusk

Paying bills online is getting more popular--with a few clicks of a mouse, you can forget about hunting for a stamp.

But does paying bills through your computer save time?

"Online bill paying doesn't save you much time," says Jim Bruene, editor and publisher of Online Banking Report. "You can't beat 45 seconds to write a check."

If you really want to make your life easier, Bruene says, try automatic debiting: "That is definitely a bigger time-saver."

What's automatic debiting? You give utility companies and other creditors permission to withdraw each month's payment from a savings or checking account or to charge the bill to your credit card.

Most companies wait until the due date to transfer funds, so you get the full float.

Most utilities still mail you a monthly statement showing your balance and what date it will be paid. But when you get that statement, Bruene says, "you don't have to do anything."

You can suspend auto debiting at any time. If you like to keep a low balance in checking, Bruene suggests adding overdraft protection.

These local companies offer automatic debiting. Call or go online for an authorization form that should be filled out. If you want payments deducted from your checking account, you'll usually need to send back the form with a voided check.

Many credit-card and mortgage payments can be automatically debited; call your credit-card or mortgage company for details.

Comcast

Call 703-823-3000 for an application. Or, to do it all online, go to comcast.com/Membership/Login.asp to first set up a user account. Then choose Automated Recurring Payment Service.

Cox Communications

Go to orders.cox.com/EasyPay/easypay_start.aspx for an EasyPay application, or call 703-378-8422.

DirecTV

To set up auto payment, go to directtv.com or call 888-238-7177.

Dish Network

To set up Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) out of a checking account, call 800-333-3474. Or choose Credit Card AutoPay, to have monthly fees charged to a credit or debit card, at dishnetwork.com/content/customerCare/billing/payment_options/index.shtml.

Dominion Virginia Power

Get an application for Dominion's Automated Payment Plan at dom.com/customer/vabus_app.jsp or by calling 888-301-8700.

Pepco

For an application to the Pre-Authorized Transfer Program, go to pepco.com/hm_payment_frms.htm or call 202-833-7500.

Verizon

You'll need to first set up an online account on verizon.com. Once logged on, choose the Recurring Direct Debit option to register online or to print out the form. You can view your account online as well as on paper. For questions, call 202-954-6263.

Washington Gas

Go to eservice.washgas.com to print out the Automated Payment Plan application, or call 703-750-7571.

Washington Post

Call 202-334-6100 to sign up for Easy Pay, which charges a credit card or debit card the amount due every eight weeks.

Washington Suburban SanitaryCommission

Go to www.wssc.dst.md.us/service/DirectDebit.html to print out an E-Z Pay application, or call 301-206-4001.

Washington Times

Call 202-636-3000 (ask for billing) to sign up for Automatic Pay, which charges your bill to your credit card.