It has happened to the best of us. You go to check your mail and open your bill and it says “AMOUNT PAST DUE” in bold letters. You immediately say, “But I know I paid that!” and rush to find your checkbook, or log onto your bank account to find out. Sure enough, you forgot to pay it. So now, it is not only past due, but you have a late fee attached to it. Ugh! As if paying the original amount isn’t bad enough, you owe them more than when you originally started.
So, what can you do to help yourself stay on top of your bills and important papers so they don’t get lost in the shuffle? Implementing a few simple and inexpensive (most of the time free) tips can save you time, money and STRESS!
If you keep a calendar or day planner of any sort, be it paper or electronic, jot down the date you need to mail or submit your bill. I say the date you need to pay it and not the due date because if you notice it on the day it is due — you’re too late and will already begin accruing late charges. If you use an electronic calender, be sure to set it up to remind you to make the payment. This way, it will pop up on your phone or computer and you will not forget. If you use a paper calendar or day runner, you will notice it when you check your day’s events.
You can save paper, time and money if you sign up for on-line banking. I honestly can’t remember the last time I actually wrote a check myself and mailed it. I set up my bills to be paid on the date that they are due — once every two week period. This not only allows my bills to be paid on time, but I have a transaction number for tracking, should any issues arise. The only caution I add is to be sure to know how long it takes for your bank to mail any payments that can not be submitted electronically, to allow for time for it to be processed and mailed. For example, my water, bill can’t be paid electronically. My bank has to issue a check on my behalf. As a result, the payment can’t be acted upon for 5 days + mail time. This means that if my bill is due on the 11th, I need to set it up for payment by the 4th, which allows 5 days for processing + 2 days for mailing.
If you still like to write checks yourself to pay your bills, get a hanging file storage box. Place tabs in it that say “Bills Due This Week”, “Bills Due Next Week”, etc. Then, as your bills arrive in the mail, place the bill and it’s envelope into the appropriate folder. Then, set aside time each week or other week to pull out the bills due this week and pay them accordingly. Once this week’s bills have been paid, check those due next week as well. This is just another check and balance to be sure don’t miss a due date. Once your bills have been paid, go through the remaining bills in the folders and move them into the correct folder (i.e. take bills in the “Due Next Week” folder and move them into the “Due This Week” folder, etc). By keeping your bills in one central location, you shouldn’t have be searching around to find your bills when it is time to py them (or forget to pay them).
Keep your checking account in order. When you overdraw your account, you must not have had the money to pay the original withdrawal, so how is it that you have money to pay overdraft fees? Simply put – you don’t. In addition, when your check bounces, your payment is considered not received – which means late fees. To keep good records, deduct every check you write and every debit purchase made from your checking account register timely (read – immediately) so that you have an accurate balance at all times. If your bank offers it, sign up for overdraft protection. We all can make mathmatical errors, so this gives you coverage should this happen.
If you do find that you forgot to pay a bill, don’t immediately cut a check for the bill + late charges. Take a moment to call and ask the company if they would waive them for you. Advise them that you have never been late in the past and that it was an oversight on your part. They should be able to pull up your account and see that this is true. I have had companies do this for me in the past, with the stipulation that it is a one time service.
Let’s face it, we are all human and we can forget things such as paying a bill. So, if we put some checks and balances in place, we can help ourselves to stay on top of our financial obligations, which in turn can reduce stress.