Paying bills online can save your business time, money

So you took a deep breath and plunged into the world of online banking for your small business? Congratulations! It helps you keep better track of your cash flow and accounts.

But banking online without taking the next step of using online bill pay is like driving a sports car at 30 miles an hour. You’re just not taking advantage of all that the speedster – and your online banking – can provide.

Some financial services providers offer a specialized online bill pay service for their business customers that enables them to make payments from either their business or personal accounts. The business version of online bill pay also provides the company owner – or other signer on the account– a secure method to send money to any other company or individual in the United States.

A quality billpay service for businesses also enables the user to review and change pending payments, set up automatic recurring payments and make one-time payments for different amounts. Online billpay helps a company reduce its risk of check fraud by reducing the number of its paper checks in circulation. Paying bills online also facilitates a company’s record keeping. IRS studies show that poor records, not dishonesty, cause most small business owners to fail audit reviews or fall out of compliance with tax-reporting obligations – which could result in considerable fines and penalties.

If you’d like to drive your company’s accounting and bill payment processes into the fast lane, here are factors to consider when choosing an online billpay provider:

Transaction Limit. How large of a payment will the financial services provider allow you to send online? The highest-quality providers enable their customers to send as much as $50,000 at a time, depending on the customer’s account balance.

Stop Payments. Does the financial services provider enable you to place a stop payment order on a check online? According to bankrate.com, the majority of banks don’t. However, some do, and it’s a valuable service to have.

Multiple Accounts. Can you pay both your personal and business-related bills online by sending checks from different accounts that are appropriately identified? This service is available from some providers.

Payment Guarantee. Does the financial services company provide you a payment guarantee? A guarantee should ensure no late fees or finance charges if you complete bill payments on time, in the correct amounts and that your account is in good standing.

Payment Records. Once you pay a bill, how long is that payment record accessible to you online? Some online systems will make that information available for up to a year. You should also be able to easily generate customized reports of your payments.

Online Bills. Can you receive and review bills online from select vendors, such as your phone and utility companies? Receiving and paying bills online helps reduce the amount of paper in the mail and decreases your risk of mail theft and fraud.

Support Services. What will you do if you have a question about a bill? Ask the financial services company if it provides 24/7 support by phone and/or e-mail.

Fees. Does the financial services provider charge you a monthly fee for paying bills online? Some providers charge a minimal fee, but will waive it if your business and personal account balances total a minimum amount. That’s a great reason to consolidate your financial services with one provider.

If you’re still cautious about turning the key to online billpay, talk to other company owners. Ask them if they pay their bills online and what they think about it.

The number of businesses that pay bills online keeps zooming up every month – faster than an Indianapolis race car – and for good reason. Online billpay is not a future trend. It’s here and already helping businesses become better, faster.

Steve Johnson is a vice president and business banker for Wells Fargo in Vancouver. You can reach him at 360-696-5782. Wells Fargo provides online billpay services for business customers at Wellsfargo.com/biz.

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