Almost all of my monthly bills feature the catchy slogan “save a stamp, pay online” printed somewhere on the return envelope. In many instances, this slogan is 100% accurate. I can save the cost of a postage stamp by paying the bill online. However, saving the cost of a stamp sometimes exposes me to either direct or indirect increases in my payment that make paying online a less than ideal choice.
My credit cards, electric bill, and internet bill all offer true savings. If I pay these bills online, I can wait until the due date and save the cost of a stamp without being charged any late fees or processing fees. In fact, if I pay the electric and internet bill by using my debit card as a credit card, I actually earn one percent cash back. Over the course of a year, the cash back adds up to between $14 and 16 – enough money to pay for nearly two books of stamps for the bills I refuse to pay online.
Save a stamp but pay a fee
The gas company we use is a master of finding little ways to nickel and dime money out of customers. We currently pay close to $14.00 a month for the privilege of having a gas account – a charge that is three times our monthly usage charges outside of the winter heating months. When we first signed up, paying a bill online or over the telephone cost $2.50. The total charge for this service went up to $3.50 in late 2011. Paying online 12 months of the year without setting up a direct debit plan would cost us $42.00 a year. With the same $42.00 we could mail in the full monthly payment for two months of service and cover the price of a stamp with a few cents left over. Saving the stamp doesn’t pay!
Opting out of paper statements
A similar situation can occur for those us with small businesses that opt out of receiving paper statements. This does work out well for those who file their taxes and save PDF copies of their statements on a CD for proof of expenditures in the case of an audit. However, if you prefer to print out a hard copy of the statement to store with taxes, the cost of ink and copy paper will outweigh the convenience and environmental benefits of choosing an e-statement.
Saving a stamp and being environmentally friendly by reducing the volume of paper mail coming into your home can be financially rewarding, but, at other times, can result in increased expenditures. Consider the full cost of paying online before choosing it as a permanent solution.