Friday, July 26, 2013

Fiscal Fitness and Automatic Bill-Pay

When I moved into my first apartment in college, I happily took on the role of bill-payer.  The phone bill was my favorite part, as I hi-lighted calls made in different colors by roommate and calculated the appropriate taxes and fees on the long distance charges.  (Yes, I was--and still am--a huge nerd).  Something about figuring the bills was extra-pleasing to the control-freak within, and I suspect that monthly opportunity to "be green" probably balanced out college stress a little bit.  

Fast forward a bit.  J bought the MP before we got married, so he set up all the utilities.  Everything was on different payment schedules and over time, practically all of our bills have been set up on automatic bill-pay.  These automatic withdrawals are awesome in so many ways--no late fees, no running to the post office for stamps, etc.)  This week, though, I discovered a way in which the automatic bill-pay is anything but awesome!

July/August is the month I typically call our cable company to see if we can save money.  On Wednesday, I did that as usual ("Incentive" rates typically last 12 months so calling yearly keeps us paying about $15-20 less for our service than the average customer).  Then, in a wonderfully warm-fuzzy flash-back to my college-aged bill-paying self, I decided to check out our other bills.  No change to the phone bill (we're one of the lucky few accounts with an unlimited data plan and trying to pay less for minutes would mean paying much more for data); no change to electric or water; but OH! What a change to our garbage collection!!

Here's the scoop.  Back in 2005, the garbage collection service was set up to bill quarterly.  Then sometime after that, the account was set up on automatic bill-pay.  The in 2009 our company was bought by another company.  Then in 2010 or '11, our account actually migrated to the new company's billing system.  Sometime (seriously, we've no idea when, and neither does the new company), we started being billed (and paying) monthly.  Except, when this change happened the only thing that changed was the frequency, not the amount. Now, if this was some huge bill, we probably would have noticed, but it wasn't and we didn't.  

The thing is, those small amounts add up.  Since we don't know when the change happened, we can't guess how much we overpaid.  It's sickening to think about, really. The good news is that it is fixed now--we won't be paying for garbage collection for the rest of the year and we'll be saving about $250 over the course of the year moving forward at the correct rate.  

So here's the lesson of the day:  Automatic Bill-Pay is not a 'set it and forget it' method for getting fiscally fit.  Check your accounts periodically!

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