Saturday, October 26, 2013

Still Life With Robin: Paper or Bill Payer?

by Peggy Robin

I am trying to live a paperless life. I really am. I would like to spare the trees. But I ended up writing a paper check today to a biller that I pay monthly. I used to pay this first-of-the-month bill (it’s to the same payee each month but for varying amounts) by EFT (that’s automatic funds transfer) as I’ve been doing for years. Then the biller changed its billing address.  The first month that I tried to change the billing address in my online billpayer list, I spent five or ten minutes clicking on various links on the site, but just could not come up with the one that allowed me to edit the payee’s address.  So I wrote a check the old fashioned way, put a stamp on the envelope and mailed it.

The second month, I sat down and went over the bill paying system more carefully and discovered what the problem was. Bank of America thinks it knows the right addresses for the major corporations that its customers routinely pay, and so it does not display their address. But maddeningly, it won’t even let you see what address it has on file for the payee. Okay, I said to the computer, if you’re so sure you know where this bill is going, then you must have been informed directly that the address has been changed. So I didn’t tamper with the payment. I just hit “submit” and let it go where it would.

…And that would be to the old, wrong address. About three weeks later, I receive a notice that the funds have been returned to me. Curiously, this announcement came via snail mail. Why was my bank communicating with me by this slow, outdated method? They have my email address and they know how to use it. The delayed response means that I owe a late fee to the company, and so my first call is to that company to ask for a waiver of that fee. The rep has no trouble accepting my story of how the payment went astray. It seems he’s heard that a lot lately. Since at this point it’s almost time to pay the next month’s bill, I have him tell me what the new amount is, add it to what I already owe, and arrange to pay the total for both months over the phone. I figure I’ll wait until next month to make another attempt to change the address in the system.

Now here it is, four months after the change of address. I’m back on my bank’s bill paying page, looking for a phone number of a human to speak to, and finally find one, lurking in an obscure corner of the site. My call is answered quickly and helpfully by the customer service rep, but the information he gives me is a bit shocking. It’s true, he tells me, there really is no way to change the address once Bank of America thinks it has the right address for a payee. He tells me the only way to fix it is to delete that payee from my bill payer list, and then create a new payee but don’t let the bank “recognize” the company and assign the address. Tell the bank that you are paying an unknown company, and you will be allowed to fill out the address manually.

Done. But as soon as I go back to the main bill paying site, I see that it still does not display the address of the payee. I’m not sure that my changes have stuck. I spend another five minutes rummaging around the site before it occurs to me that I could be done with this whole silly business in a minute and a half if I just get out my old paper checkbook, dash off a check, put it in the return envelope, find a stamp, and stick it in the mail slot for pickup. There, I’ve done it. And it was oddly satisfying in some way, to do things the old-fashioned way. I just may keep doing it…unless Bank of America suddenly changes it web layout and allows users to see where their money is going each time they go the paperless route.


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv,, and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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