How I manage online bill pay

As much as credit card companies have made it easier to manage payments online, it can still be tough to keep track of cards when you’re a “collector” like me, and have 15+.

So I figured I’d share the strategies I use to ensure I’m never late on a payment and how I manage bill pay as easily as possible. The last thing I want is to be hit with a fee for making a payment late, or even worse, get dinged on my credit score for it.

With that in mind, here’s what I do, and I’m curious how your strategies compare:

Set all account closing dates to the same day of the month, and pay your balance before that date

Perhaps this doesn’t work for everyone (especially those that want to stagger payments), but I set all my credit card closing dates to the 1st of the month. I almost always pay off my balance before then, though for me it’s an easy date to remember, since I have a bunch of other payments due that day as well. This makes it easy on me because during the last week of the month I’ll log into all my credit card accounts and review charges, make payments, etc., so that I’m all set well before the closing date. Then on the 1st of the month I’ll log in again and pay off any outstanding balance.

Keep in mind that a big part of your credit score is your credit utilization ratio, and that’s typically calculated based on your average balance when your accounts close. By paying my credit cards off before the account even closes I’m lowering my credit utilization ratio even further, which improves my credit score.

Turn on “auto-pay” for the cards I don’t use

Perhaps my logic is backwards on this one, though hear me out. I have several credit cards I keep year after year for the annual benefits but don’t actually put any spend on. Those would be cards like the Hyatt Visa (for the annual free night certificate), AAdvantage Visa (for the 10% mileage rebate on awards, up to 10,000 miles per year), etc. As a result these are accounts I often don’t actively monitor, so I set them up for auto-pay.

I do this so that I’m not stuck paying a late fee or getting dinged on my credit score if I miss the annual fee date or have a charge hit the card that I wasn’t expecting (sometimes I have recurring charges and I forget which card I have them billed to). Of course I’ll always try to get a retention bonus before paying the annual fee, though that’s covered below.

Have a simple spreadsheet with anniversary dates

Some people have really fancy credit card tracking spreadsheets, though I keep mine simple. It has two columns. All I have on there is the name of the card and the anniversary date of the card, so that I can call a month before that either to cancel the card or aim for a retention bonus. I sort the spreadsheet by anniversary date (as opposed to by card name), making it easy to track when a card is up for renewal. I usually check the spreadsheet the same time that I’m paying my bills every month, to see if I have to take any action.

Turn on paper statements

Not saying other people should do this, though it’s what I do. I still like paper statements for a couple of reasons. First, they’re useful for my records, so once I pay off my balances I file the statements away (though I realize I could store them electronically as well). Second, I find it a lot easier to review payments on paper than online.

While American Express has a fantastic website for tracking charges, the other card issuers just aren’t nearly as good. Chase doesn’t list any level of detail about activity until the statement closes, and in my opinion Barclays and Citi are even worse. So the paper statements at least make it easy to track payments.

Again, not suggesting anyone else should adopt my “approach” to managing online bill pay, though I have often been asked how I do it, so that’s a quick rundown.

I’d love to hear what strategies or tricks you guys have for managing credit cards.

Comments

  1. Long time reader, first post, first time I’ve had something useful to share ;]

    I’ve managed to accumulate 18 credit cards (only 3 or 4 are used), and I’ve been using Mint to track all the credit cards. Since it lists all your account balances, you can easily confirm that there are zero balances on all the cards you don’t use. I suppose Mint could be useful for a bunch of other things (transaction details, budgeting, etc), but this is all I use it for.

  2. I use a feature in Mint.com where it reminds you a week in advance of upcoming credit card payments due. The balance is not always accurate and some may not feel comfortable using the service, but it has served its purpose wonderfully for me.

  3. I just have all of mine set to auto pay. That way I never have to think about it. I have Quicken download all of the transactions every day so I keep track of them that way.

  4. Lucky, some really good tips here. I think the idea of setting ones you don’t use much for auto-pay is a especially helpful and something I haven’t thought about before. I’ll be doing that exact thing tonight!

    Another point with the anniversary dates- If you do an App-o-Rama, your anniversary dates for those cards are going to be coupled together, making it much easier to keep track. Instead of having 12 different anniversary dates each year, you’ll have just 3-4.

  5. I use Quicken to manage all my finances. I open the software at the end of day everyday and download all charges. It has a feature that compares the balance online with the one downloaded (sometimes there are pending charges that are not downloaded). I also have auto pay on for all credit cards so I don’t have to worry about missing a payment. With these settings I basically never visit the credit card web pages.

  6. One thing I’ll add that I’ve found useful is to sign up for any email notification services the card offers. Some (most?) credit card providers require you to sign up and give them permission to send you emails, so go ahead and do this and be sure to sign up for alerts for balance due, over the limit, and whatever other baddies they will alert you on.

    This is also good advice for your bank accounts. I’ve been saved from many overdraft fees when I got an email telling me an account was overdrawn, so I knew to put some cash in by the end of the business day or I would get dinged.

    You could setup an email filter to put these into a separate folder, but I found when I did that I forgot to check it, thus defeating the purpose of getting them, so I now have them delivered to my primary Inbox.

  7. Ben, I need another one of your adventures!
    ( even though this was very informative 8) )

    So where are you traveling now? any plans to meet Janesis again?

  8. Mine are scattered all over beginning half of the month in terms of closing and due dates. Mint.com and PageOnce keep me up-to-date on bills. Once a statement cuts I pay off the balance. Toward the end of the month, I check to see where I am using mint.com. I might pay down some balances early if I use a card heavily.

  9. @ Pat — Fair enough, though I’m not offering financial advice. Out of curiosity, what’s wrong with having 15+ cards? My credit score is excellent…

  10. I use yodlee to manage all credit cards. Main advantage is also (similar to mint) that you can see all transactions across all your accounts (checking etc) in 1 view and if something is off you can recognize it relative fast.

  11. @ AJK “@ Pat – #someonewhodoesntgetit”
    From my perspective, I “get it” just fine. I just don’t want “it” or need “it.” You sir, however, can knock yourself out.

  12. I switch the due date on all my cards to fall around the 4th of each month so that i can be done with all the bill pays once i get my paycheck at the beginning of the month. oh, and i do have a spreadsheet to track that i have scheduled payments for all the cards.

  13. @ Pat – knock myself out right into more bank subsidized first class travel. On it. Oh, and a 790+ credit score. #claimstogetitbutdoesnt

  14. @ Pat – If you don’t agree all you had to do was click out of the post LOL : P You don’t need to take a “respectfully … uninformed” shot at Lucky just so you can state a pointless opinion that’s of use to no one.

  15. mint.com to view transaction and get reminders.
    Capitol One Reward checking to pay all credit card bills, 20 miles per bill payment.

  16. I don’t auto-pay anything (except DTV for the discount.) If there is a fraudulent charge I don’t want to take that money out of my account and/or complicate a claim by having paid it.

    Last year my wife had a $6000 hotel charge come through on a card we don’t use. Given, those 20 days in Italy would have been nice, but auto-paying that amount would caused problems with paying other bills.

  17. I agree with Lucky on most of your tips. Everyone single card I have has a payment due date of the first of the month (sometimes it takes a few months to change it to the first after opening a new card). It also helps when you have several cards with each bank, instead of single cards with multiple banks (Chase, Citi, Amex, and 1 BofA).
    .
    I sign up for text alerts and email reminders for all of my accounts, its just nice to be reminded to log in and check your balances.
    .
    I like to pay off all my debts as soon as the payments post to the card, so all my accounts show a $0.00 balance, its a nice feeling).
    .
    Electronic statements are much better for record keeping, just keep the PDF files in different folders and label them by date.

  18. This is a nice bit from CK about utilization in regards to score: http://www.creditkarma.com/article/CreditCardUtilizationAndScore

    They clearly indicate that one big reason for the dip is most likely people who don’t have cards at all (or don’t use them). However, the … uh… picture is clear that having a low utilization is a good thing.

    For those of us with a good number of accounts and a high total credit limit, it doesn’t look like there is any need to pay off the bill early to avoid a running total of a few percent utilization.

  19. Guess I need to start using another site to manage tracking my cards!

    @ Taylor Brooks — Not sure how to attach a spreadsheet, but it’s pretty straightforward. The first column has the card name (Chase Sapphire Preferred) and the second card has the anniversary date (09/01).

  20. I log on regularly but schedule the payment. You have to select a date, so it’s no more work on the outflow side.

    It does take a little more work to project your balance but if you get paid biweekly, it’s pretty easy.

    My goal with scheduling is to schedule it for a few days before so I get the email confirmation of the payment before the due date.

    I also schedule things after payday, not right before.

  21. I use a monthly bill Excel spreadsheet and I put every payment that I have and the expected due date…….then I print it out for the month and as the bills come I write in the full amount due (as I carry nothing except 0 balance offers) and I manually cross out each bill as I pay it each month………while this may sound very manual it is quite reassuring as as I can grab this spreadsheet any time during the month and see where I am…….the goal is to have NO SURPRISES and for that it works GREAT!

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