Just what you need: A mobile reminder to pay your credit card bill

Back when I was young and stupid enough to rack up credit card bills that I couldn't afford to pay off every month, I dreaded getting the credit card bill in the mail. Sometimes I wouldn't open it for days, thinking it would go away if I didn't look at it.

Now, Discover Card is offering its customers the chance to get a bill due reminder on their mobile phones, bringing the unavoidable news that their credit card statements are ready to be looked over immediately instead of having to wait until they get home.

As if getting bills in the mail wasn't bad enough, now a text message on your cell phone to pay up will make the unique combination of anticipation and dread of waiting for the bill-delivering mailman a thing of the past.

I'll know before he gets to my door that the payment that I can't afford is due. Yippee. Thanks, Discover.

While the mobile alert texting service is new for Discover (which costs cell phone users whatever their cell plan charges to receive the text messages, so now you're paying to be told you owe a credit card company money, congratulations), it has been sending e-mail notifications to customers since 1999, said Steve Furman, director of design and customer experience for Discover Card.

Overkill? Not really. "Some people want a belt and suspenders," Furman said of e-mail and text message alerts.

To be fair, the new mobile service does more than send out bill reminders. The "statement available" option notifies you that your new statement is available online.

Customers have to opt-in for whatever reminders they want. The other reminders are for: Payment posted, balance transfer posted, merchant credit/refund posted, minimum payment not received, purchase exceeds specified amount, balance exceeds specified amount, and nearing account credit limit.

Many of these will come in handy if you use your credit card a lot. Setting a monthly balance limit, and being notified when it has been exceeded, is one way to try to stop yourself from buying that pair of shoes you've had your eye on for awhile.

Customers who are fairly active with the card will get at least three messages a month, Furman said in a telephone interview.

While not wanting to get into a discussion of if this service would have been more helpful before the recession, when some consumers were spending their way into debt, Furman said there wasn't much interest in the mobile alerts from Discover customers a few years ago. That's apparently changed as the technology has grown and the cost of unlimited text message plans have decreased.

It's one more way to control your finances, which can't be a bad thing in any economy. Now if it could just alert you when you're about to make a dumb purchase.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.AaronCrowe.net
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