How to Get Rewards for Paying Your Electric Bill -- and Avoid Fees

AC unit
AC unit

The downside to blasting the air conditioner all summer is a monster utility bill at the end of the month. During the hottest times, a medium-sized home with central air conditioning in Phoenix, Ariz., can generate a monthly electric bill of between $250 and $300. (Check out this free tool to compare your own utility bill with your neighbors'.) Nationwide, the average monthly electric bill is $116, according to utility analysts Chartwell.

So why not make that big electric bill work for you? Devotees of credit-card rewards programs use bill paying to their advantage, earning points for every dollar they spend.

No-Fee Payments with Discover

More than 90% of utility companies offering credit-card payment options, according to Chartwell, but most are done through a third-party vendor that charges a convenience fee, which can range from $1.50 to $6.95. Less than half of the utility companies surveyed by Chartwell offered a fee-free card acceptance program and of those, only three were large investor-owned utilities. Most were small, rural electric cooperatives or municipalities.

Online bill-pay platform ChargeSmart, which processes payments to more than 500 utilities, is now offering no-fee payments for customers using Discover Card to pay their energy and water bills. The card's consumer-reward program is one of the top ranking for credit cards.

But if you pay with plastic, there is one catch: Consumers who don't pay their credit-card bill in full each month end up paying interest on the bill. Not a good thing.