Paying Bills: How to Stay Organized
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When you’re dealing with an influx of utility bills, credit card statements and other debts each month, it can be difficult to organize your finances and ensure you meet all of your payment deadlines. If you struggle with keeping track of your bills, these methods may help:
- Store your bills in one place. Whether you choose to receive electronic or physical statements, the important thing is to keep all of your bills in one place for easy access. If you receive both, print out digital statements and place them with the physical ones in a folder. Then keep that folder in the same place as your other important financial documents. If you decide to organize your bills digitally, scan the physical copies and store the files on your computer’s hard drive or upload them to a cloud storage platform. If you’ve opted for all online payments, create a folder within your email to store alerts and digital receipts. Aim to keep statements and related documentation for three years from the date paid to ensure that you can reference them if needed.
- Open all your bills as soon as they arrive. It may be tempting to ignore electronic invoices, throw away letters from bill collectors, or toss unopened bills into your junk drawer, but pretending your bills haven’t arrived doesn’t make them go away. Open all mail from your utility and credit card companies as soon as they arrive to see what you owe. If you’re receiving a notice outside of your usual billing cycle, the company could be writing about an important service change or to inquire about a late payment. Arm yourself with information so that you’re not blindsided down the road.
- Evaluate your expenses and your budget. Whether it’s once a week or monthly, set aside some quiet time to catch up on your financial state. Review your bills for the month and take stock of when each needs to be paid, how much you owe and whether these amounts are consistent with what you typically pay. If you notice that a bill is significantly more than what you normally pay — for example, your gas bill for the month is especially high — do your best to track down the source of the increase. For utilities such as gas or electric, changes can be seasonal and relative to the amount of energy needed to warm or cool your home. Other expenses such as cable and internet are generally steady from month to month; a higher bill might indicate a service change that can be negotiated back down if you’re aware of it. This is also an appropriate time to evaluate the amount that you are paying toward loans and other debt. If you owe less than you budgeted for utilities or other recurring expenses, consider using your spare income to make additional payments on existing debt.
- Decide which bills you can pay online. If you’re comfortable making payments online via your computer, smartphone or tablet, sending electronic payments to your utility and credit card companies is much faster than mailing paper checks. E-payments are also a great option if you’re more of a digital person or can’t stand clutter. Additionally, you decrease the chance of identity theft if someone rifles through your outgoing mail and steals your enclosed check, not to mention you save on postage costs.
Remember: Missing bill payments can lead to late fees and other penalties. In the case of credit cards or loans, it can even negatively impact your credit scores. To avoid these pitfalls, find a system of organizing and addressing bills that works for you and then stay on top of what arrives each month.