I’m a huge fan of going paperless when it comes to bills. I confess that I HATE filing and my previous employers will confirm that filing is not a talent of mine. I’m surprised however, at how many companies still don’t have online billing. I have contacted our electricity provider and credit card company and neither have a paperless bill system, not to mention the rates, body corp fees and water charges.
The downside to online billing is that it can be difficult to keep track of when things are due, instalment payments, receipt numbers, payment information etc. With a paper bill, you have a visual reminder that the bill is due and you can write on the bill when you paid it, how you paid it, the receipt number and how much you paid and you can file the bill away for further reference (unless your filing is anything like mine). How do you record all this information with a paperless system? This is how I manage our electronic bills.
1. Sign up for email notifications and reminders. If you can, set up your bill accounts so that your bills and bank statements are sent to your regular email account and ensure that your account doesn’t filter those emails to the spam box. If bills are in your partner’s name and you manage the household finances, it can be a good idea to have your partner’s bills (like their mobile phone account for instance) sent to your email address so that payments don’t get missed.
2. Set up folders on your computer to file bills and statements. I like to download PDF copies of all our bills and bank statements so that we have our own reference copy. It’s always important to have copies of bills and statements in case of errors. Our internet provider for instance, kept undercharging us on our account. When I rang to tell them, they said it was a computer system glitch and not to worry about it (yes, we’re with Telstra unfortunately, but for good reason). Legally in Australia, a company can’t ‘double dip’ once an invoice has been sent, paid and receipted so I keep all copies of our bills as a reference.
To manage the PDFs I have a folder for bank statements, and one for paid bills. PDFs of unpaid bills remain on my desktop until paid and are then filed in the ‘paid bills’ folder. It is a good idea to rename your PDF files with a relevant name when you save them to your computer so that they are easy to find later on. Something like the date, and what the bill covers is useful, for instance: ‘201105savingsaccountstatement’ or ‘201105phonebill’.
3. Enter the pay date in your electronic calendar. Make the pay date a few days before the due date to ensure your payment isn’t late. This is especially relevant for BPAY which can take up to three working days to process.
For many bills you can record them in your calendar just once and schedule them as a recurring bill. You can also record the bill amount in the title for quick reference. Depending on what calendar you use, you may also be able to attach the PDF file to your calendar task or event. I use Sunbird and it can currently only attach webpages.
The process of recording your bills in an electronic calendar is useful even if you don’t normally use one because you can also record receipt details (below). Of course, you can use a paper calendar and write the details onto that instead, but an electronic calendar is quicker especially if you’re on the computer paying your bills anyway.
4. Pay your bill online and record the receipt number. The easiest way to pay recurring bills is to automate them. Whether you automate them or pay them manually (as I prefer), your internet banking service should provide you with a payment receipt. If your bills are paid automatically, you may need to go searching for the receipt, otherwise it will come up when you have made a payment.
I like to copy and paste this information into my electronic calendar for easy reference. If I ever think, ‘now, did I pay that bill?’ I can open up my calendar and look for the receipt. It also provides easy access to your receipt number if any payment disputes arise (which they do from time to time). You can also change the event heading from ‘Bill Due’ to ‘Bill Paid’ so that you can see at a glance which bills have been paid.
Once the bill is paid, the last step is to move your PDF file into the ‘Bills Paid’ folder.
As someone with an accounting background, I’m a little obsessed with good ‘internal control’ procedures and creating ‘paper trails’ or in this case paperless trails. If you keep adequate records (and, ahem, file them correctly) it makes life so much easier later on if you’re unsure about a payment or if there is a dispute. The above method is my internal control procedure for managing electronic bills.
How do you manage your electronic bills?