An Insider's Trick to Avoiding Late Fees

Stack of late billsHere's the scenario: You're in the elevator, or perhaps the office, when the smartphone dings (or vibrates or whatever you have it set to do). It's one of the notices you set up with your bank, where you do most of your business online. The credit card bill is due – tomorrow. Or maybe the mortgage. Or the car loan. And, for whatever reason, you haven't paid it. What do you do?

Well, the first thing you should do is call the biller. If you're never late, they may be willing to give you a few days grace. They may also (assuming this is not a credit card bill) be able to take immediate payment over the phone at no charge. But sometimes these aren't options. Then, you likely have a $35 late fee staring you in the face.That's when it makes sense to consider something called an "expedited payment." The term is admittedly a little inside baseball. What it means is a rushed bill payment delivered the same day or the next day. Most of the big banks and some of the smaller ones offer this service, and there is generally a charge of $10 to $15. More specifically, Bank of America offers a same day rush service that is $10 online, $15 by phone. JP Morgan Chase charges $14.99 to rush a check the next day. And Wells Fargo charges $14.95 for credit card or mortgage payments, $7.95 for other payments, both same day.

Is this just another way for banks to ratchet up fee income for allowing you to effectively speed payments along their rails? That's one way to look at it. But there's also an upside for you. A report out today from Javelin Strategy & Research says that if consumers spent the $10 expedition fee regularly rather than the $35 late fee, they would have saved $3.8 billion in 2010 – and even more if use of expedited payments grows as projected. Plus, as Javelin President and Founder James Van Dyke notes, "they may preserve their credit rating."

The hitch is that, according to Javelin's research, only about 1/3 of consumers know if their banks offer this. And even those who do often confused a true expedited payment with regular online bill pay. Clearly, the banks need to do a better job of separating their offers and lighting a path. In the interim, if you need one, your online banking menu is the place to start looking. If you can't find it there call customer service and ask if it's an option rather than hunting and pecking.
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