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The Young and the Tardy

Monday, 2 Jun 2008 | 5:59 PM ET

Forty-one percent of young adults aged 18-29 do not pay their bills on time every month. That was just one of the kicker survey results released last month from a joint report by Princeton Research, the National Foundation for Credit Counseling and MSN Money.

I get it—piling the mail up every month in procrastination. When you’re on a teeny-tiny, entry-level income, paying your bills can seem like a duty that can only serve to depress. I was there. Then I got hit with late fees and the bills would just grow and grow. A couple months of that and the light bulb above my head said, “Why let them have my $29?" So, I took deep breaths, opened those suckers as soon as they arrived and started to plan out my monthly bill paying.

Now that was a few years back when killing trees to send bank statements and bills was the only way to go. Today, there is little reason, besides catastrophe (job loss, disability, etc.) and bad planning, to not pay a bill on time because the icky part—opening bills and writing checks—can all be done automatically, online. One late payment on a credit card can not only smack you with a charge as high as $39 (which is when you call customer service and ask to have it waived—works 80% of the time) but also can dump you into universal default with other cards and bring your credit score down. U.D., which is nearly as diseased as it sounds, means that if you’re late on one bill, not only can that creditor raise your interest rate but all your other creditors can too—and these days, they tend to. Consumer groups are fighting this practice in Congress now, but until that gets resolved, it has never been so costly to be tardy.

So, move as much of your regular banking online as possible—shop around for a low-fee and low- or no-minimum checking account at Bankrate.comor Interest.com. Sign up for account alerts such as a text, e-mail or call if your account drops below a certain minimum (of your choice) so you don’t bounce any payments. Then get rid of bulky non-eco-friendly mail by signing up to get your bank statements online and monthly bills from your lenders and utilities through e-mail.

So tell me—are you an on-time bill-payer? What keeps you on top of things and what kind of tips do you have for us? And if you find it hard to pay your bills on time, what’s holding you back?


Nice tips ... but I don't even wait for online statements ... I just provide either my credit card info to the agency and they charge me every month and then my credit card bill gets paid every month automatically via e-bill from my bank ... the only thing I have to worry about is that my bank account has enough cash for the bills :-) --Mani, NJ

Posted on: 05 Jun 2008 11:56 A.M.


I hate paper statements. I receive all my bills (cable, phone, Internet and credit cards) online, and I have no problem not paying all my credit card bill at the end of the month. This country was built on credit and if I had to pay up my credit card bill every month, I could never have the things that I want. If I wanted a flat screen TV and it cost $2,000 and I don't have it, I would get it on "credit". The bottom line: "You Can't Take It With Ya." --Sly, MI

Posted on: 03 Jun 2008 2:04 P.M.

Hey Sly - Sure! My career was originally funded by credit (student loans and a trip to IKEA). But what if you want a new sound system next month and a game chair the month after that? There's a point where buying what you want cuts into being able to have what you need--and what is more valuable--security and a future. What happens if you lose your income? Who pays for that flatscreen? Ever plan on retiring? How's that getting funded? Credit is best used when there's going to be some sort of return on it. For example, charging that interview suit will help you net the job that pays best or, you need a laptop to build your new business. Enjoy the flatscreen (I enjoy mine even more because I saved up for it and own it) but know that consuming on credit for 'I gotta have's' puts you in financial risk with money that doesn't belong to you in the first place. 'You can't take it with you' refers to money that's actually yours. --Carmen

Posted on: 03 Jun 2008 5:13 P.M.

I think Sly meant that you can't take massive levels of debt with you, which is of course true. Perhaps when he grows up he would realize that providing for his kids or others in need might have more value than the latest TV he can't afford. --Nick, CA

Posted on: 04 Jun 2004 1:39 P.M.


As for paying bills on time, I have always done that and never incurred any late fees or penalties. It's due to being and accountant and seeing even businesses holding up payments which always irked me.

You get the service, you pay. Disagreement, take it up with the seller, but pay the bill. Now in the last year I fell and am disabled and was paying most of my bills from savings, on time, but that will run out and then how does one pay them at all? Good question, no answer. --Joe, NY

Posted on: 03 Jun 2008 12:34 P.M.


I like a paper statement of my bills for reference. I pay ALL my bills THE DAY they arrive in the mail. I am in the mddle of so many projects and have so much paperwork, if I put something important aside of off for another day, other things then occupy my brain and time. I NEVER pay bills late and I NEVER pay interest charges. My father was a CPA and taught me the "numbers game" - how to make the numbers and math work for you! Has made me a somewhat weathly girl! --Christine, FL

Posted on: 03 Jun 2008 6:20 A.M.