How can I reduce the amount of paper bills that arrive at my home?

How can I reduce the amount of paper bills that arrive at my home?

—Bill C., via e-mail

Fortunately for the world’s dwindling forests, a growing number of financial institutions, utilities and universities are implementing paperless billing options that not only save paper, but time and money, too.

Students at hundreds of educational institutions across North America are already receiving and paying their tuition bills online, avoiding the hassle of receiving paper bills and paying by mail, while also saving their schools hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in paper, postage and administrative costs.

Forward-thinking companies already offering their customers similar options include Bank of America, BellSouth, Citibank, Qwest, South Carolina Electric & Gas, Southern California Edison, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless, Wells Fargo and Washington Mutual, among many others.

BellSouth offers “e-bills” that you can print out any time but don’t have to. With the click of a mouse you can view your bill, access details and billing history, and make secure payments. You can pre-schedule so that each monthly bill gets paid on time, or set it up so that funds are remitted only when you authorize it. Southern California Edison’s Online Billing and Payment service involves the same routine, with no paper exchange needed between company and consumer, and no need to print out your bills. Both companies send e-mail notices to let you know each time a new bill has been tendered.

At least two companies, PayTrust and XPress Bill Pay, will coordinate the receipt of all of your bills and present them to you online so you can pay any and all routinely from your desktop, even with different bank accounts, and using credit or debit cards or electronic funds transfer. The company lauds this service as one step removed (and paper saved) from “bill pay” services that still require you to “watch your mailbox, collect your bills on the kitchen table and remember to make a payment.”

“Electronic bill presentment and payment via the Internet is one of the fastest-growing areas in business,” says Nick Rini, a columnist for Telephony, a trade magazine for communications service providers. “With more than 63 billion checks written annually where 80 percent is some sort of bill payment—either business-to-business or consumer-to business—substantial cash-management benefits and customer-service opportunities exist for those who use interactive billing and payment,” he adds.

One advantage of paperless billing, says Rini, is that companies can get paid faster than when they must print, fold, stuff, meter, sort and mail paper bills. Rini estimates that, in the U.S. alone, companies could save $200 million collectively each day if they switched to paperless billing.

“The obvious cost savings come from decreasing, and eventually eliminating, printing and mailing expenses,” says Rini, adding that companies usually pay between 75 cents and $2.00 for each document generated and mailed. Meanwhile, the same companies end up paying another $1.25 for each paper check payment they must process, most if not all of which could be eliminated through online bill payment.

CONTACTS: PayTrust, www.paytrust.com; XPress Bill Pay, www.xpressbillpay.com.