Best of the Net: Point. Click. Pay Your Bills
BY Anne Stuart
How easy is it to manage your monthly accounting on the Web? Our CEO panel gives credit where it's due.
Best of the Net
Wouldn't it be great if you could sit at your computer and, with a few keystrokes, pay all your monthly bills? It can be just that simple, according to Web sites that let users do the job on-line. And there are many, ranging from independent start-ups to sites run by Microsoft and Yahoo. Even that bastion of snail mail, the U.S. Postal Service, has jumped into the electronic arena.
That's because millions of consumers still use the Web for a variety of finance-related tasks, including tracking stocks, managing banking, filing taxes, and applying for mortgages. Researchers at Gartner Group Inc., based in Stamford, Conn., expect that 26 million Americans will pay their bills on-line this year, up from 15 million in 2001. The primary attractions: convenience, simplicity, and speed.
We decided to give those promises a virtual reality check. We eliminated non-U.S. sites, those requiring compatible-software purchases, and the ones banks offer their customers.
That still left a diverse group of contenders. Some allow customers to make free E-payments but only to participating companies. Others, like Paytrust, let users send electronic or hard-copy checks to anybody anywhere for a subscription fee of $3 to $20 a month. Some offer paperless management, many offer free trials, most can handle recurring payments automatically, and all require users to provide bank-account numbers and other financial and personal information.
We invited six CEOs, most with little or no on-line bill-paying experience, to evaluate the services without identifying themselves as Inc reviewers. Their conclusions? "This is an up-and-coming type of service, but providers just don't have it right yet," says Nancy Mobley.
Other judges echoed concerns about security. "Those of us who cringe knowing that even the Department of Defense can be hacked will think twice about on-line bill-paying sites," says Brandon Shamim.
But one judge was a convert well before tackling this assignment. Graham Weston already has all his bills sent directly to PayMyBills.com, a subsidiary of Paytrust. That way, he says, "I have a complete record of the statements electronically. Cuts down on all the paper on my desk."
Our panelists, who worked independently, reached no consensus about the best bill-paying service. Four praised Paytrust, ranking it their first or second choice; two others liked CheckFree best. The judges were split on StatusFactory -- two ranked it in their top two choices; two others placed it among their least favorite sites.