Funny about Money

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ―Edmund Burke

When Electronic Payment…Isn’t!

Yesterday I discovered something that I had NO IDEA even existed. Did you realize that under some circumstances, when you set up an electronic payment through your credit union’s or bank’s BillPay function, the bank may send a check — that’s right, a paper check — instead of direct-depositing the payment electronically?

WHY one would want a function like this escapes comprehension. If you wanted to pay your bills with checks that take eight to ten days(!!) to be delivered, you’d get out your checkbook, write a check, tuck it in an envelope, address and stamp the envelope, and drop the thing in the mail. It defeats the whole purpose of electronic BillPay.

Oh, well. There it is.

And there it was, lurking in my credit union’s online pages.

So now I go to deposit a slew of checks others have mailed to me. By serendipity, I happen to glance at the list of creditors that I routinely pay online and notice  SIXTEEN-HUNDRED DOLLARS outstanding to Visa. Not only that, but last month’s bill, which should have been paid days ago, has not been paid, and Visa wants me to pony up $25 right this minute to avoid a late charge.

I call the credit union’s Visa vendor and ask WTF. The very charming young recent college graduate who answers the phone cannot figure it out, any better than I can, but she urges me to pay the twenty-five bucks. She says it can take eight to ten days for an e-payment to arrive. This, I reflect, seems to defeat another purpose: the purpose of specifying the date on which the bill is to be paid. In this case, I had set the electronic payment to hit Visa’s vaults a couple days before the due date.

We both study the system, but neither of us is really getting a grip on what is going on there and why Visa hasn’t been paid. She remarks that a check was sent. I say no check was sent: I arranged to pay electronically, as I always do. She says sometimes the CU will send a check instead of an electronic payment, and it says right there on the page that it takes eight to ten days to deliver a check. I say I never heard of such a thing, and what would cause them to do that? Neither of us can figure out what would trigger such a procedure. She seems to think it happens at random.

Holy mackerel!!! think I.

I jump into a pair of shoes, grab the car keys and a printout, and FLY out the door, headed for the credit union.

There I encounter yet another excellent young person. One thing you have to say about banking with a credit union: you DO get great customer service. And you get to meet quite a few admirable young men and women.

I explain the whole rigamarole again. New CSR agrees that the payment got made by check. She suggests that if Visa tries to gouge me for a late payment, I should come back, in person (ah, yes: another 40-minute drive!!), remind them of this side show, and they will forgive the gouge.

Just what I need to do with my time.

So I drive through the rush-hour traffic back to the Funny Farm, still puzzled. WHY would the CU randomly decide to write a check for an electronic payment? I most certainly DID NOT ask to have that happen. Making it happen requires a three-step hoop jump, and each step is very obscure.

First, you have to go to the section of your account — three pages into the website — to find the list of payments scheduled for the near future.

Next, you have to click on the yellow-pencil icon beside a current payment-in-waiting to allow yourself to “edit” the payment.

Then, you have to select “pay with check,” in the slot next to “type,” five lines down.

No way could you accidentally do this with a slip of the fingers. So I’m DEAD SURE whatever happened here was not a senior moment.

Whatever did happen, it surpasses annoying. It cost an hour or more of my time, driving through the homicidal rush-hour traffic to get not very much done. It may cost me a late-payment gouge and a ding on my credit report. And it got me freaking upset, no doubt pushing up the blood pressure. Again.

What is do be done about it? That also escapes me. If the CU can randomly decide, out of the blue, to convert an electronic payment to a snail-mail check payment, then that means I either have to schedule EVERY payment about 10 days in advance of the due date (which I can’t really afford to do: that will drain my checking account into the overdraft range before long), or else go online within a few days of EVERY scheduled payment to be sure it’s going to reach the creditor on time.

One thing’s for sure: I’m not giving Visa $25 out of this month’s living expenses as “protection” money against an unfair gouge. So that pretty much guarantees having to schlep back up to the credit union in another couple weeks. I’ll deal with that when it happens.

But it doesn’t make me happy…

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5 Comments

  1. Well, we have all of our credit cards set to pay via ECH payment, so that’s setup with the credit card and not with the bank.

    As far as the paper check thing, for us that comes down to the bank. If the payee has electronic information, the bank will transfer the funds. If they don’t, then the bank will send a check. I don’t think that I get the option to decide. In fact I’ve had some bills paid where the used to send a check but now I notice that it is done electronically. So I’m guessing that maybe they send information for the payee to somehow get setup to receive electronic check transfers.

    Sounds like your setup is a touch more complicated.

    • The manager at the credit union — we have actual human beings who will, of all things, TALK with you — once advised me not to let creditors set up electronic payments from THEIR end. There are three ways you can arrange payments:

      1. Give the company your checking account number and written permission to engross whatever they believe you owe, at their behest. So, say, you owe the phone company $119, the phone company from its end orders up the $119 and has itself paid.

      2. Pay with a check in the mail, in the time-honored antediluvian way.

      3. Set up a bill-pay arrangement through the credit union in which YOU tell the credit union how much to pay a creditor. So, say, you dispute that phone company bill and think they’ve overcharged you by $10; you pay them $109 while you dispute the charge, thereby avoiding having the creditor engross your funds before any confusion is thrashed out.

      He said the CU had customers who had real problems with companies overcharging them or double-charging through method #1, and that once the company had the money, it was hard to get it back. And that sometimes it was hard to get them to STOP engrossing a monthly payment after a service had been canceled. He said insurance companies are the worst offenders in this department.

      Method #3 is very simple. You get the bill. You navigate online to the credit union bill-pay account you’ve already set up for the creditor. You enter the amount you want to pay and the date on which the creditor should receive it. Et voila! If you have a regularly recurring bill, like that $17 Humana premium in the image above, you can set the thing to pay by the usual due date from now until the end of eternity, and never think of it again.

  2. I work in fundraising so we get these paper bank checks all the time as donations. Because it’s usually a few third party companies who actually print the checks for the banks, you can actually receive more than one check in an envelope from different issuing banks (I’ve seen USAA and PNC in same envelope for instance). That might be why the bank can’t figure out why the money didn’t make it as there is another company (or two companies?) involved.

    If your bank has a relationship with other credit/bill companies, you can usually get ebill access with your credit card company and therefore instant payment access to your bills. I have USAA and have ebill with all my accounts except the shitty Aqua water company (ever growing municipal water buying monopoly) and Chase credit cards, who don’t want you banking with anyone except Chase. My bills then reach the companies in like 1-2 business days for ebill accounts.

    • That’s interesting to know. The mystery (at least to my fevered little brain) is how a paper check got ordered in the first place, since you have to click through three hoop jumps, and in the third one must approve what you’ve done — it isn’t something you could accidentally order without knowing something was up, even as senile as I am!!

      Anyway, the bill is now officially paid.

      The Visa card is issued THROUGH the credit union, so the card itself is actually branded Bltzflkk Credit Union Visa. 😀 If you look at what they seem to be doing, it looks like the credit union issued a check and then mailed it to its own address, whereinat to pay their Visa branch.

      Chortle! Next month I’ll be careful to confirm that “send check” is NOT selected. In fact, I’ll make a screenshot of the pane that shows whether you’ve selected electronic or check payment, so if they change it, I’ll have an excuse to throw one of my famous tantrums.

  3. I learned this when I moved to the US and my bank (Wells Fargo) tried to get me to pay to sign up for electronic payments.

    It blew my mind at the time – sure you can do electronic payments, but you need to allow enough time for the bank to generate the paper cheque and mail it to your payee.

    This was 17 years ago – I’m not surprised it still happens – there are too many banks and payees and no centralized or standardized system across them.

    Canada, btw, had true electronic payments for all my utilities back in 2000 when I left – and had had it for at least 8 years, since I started opening utilities under my own name. Course, Canada also has only 5 chartered banks – so they have agreed-upon standards and are able to manage these things.