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Paying bills on the road

George Mullen had these suggestions in response to a question about paying bills on the road and choosing a financial institution.

Picking a financial institution is like shopping for a major item of merchandise such as an automobile. Personal preference plays a large part. Your current financial situation also plays a large part. If your finances are pretty much limited to basic things such as management of a savings and checking account, a line-of-credit, a couple of credit cards, etc., it's pretty straight-forward.

Here are some suggestions:
  • Have all recurring deposits such as retirement pay, Social Security payments, etc., sent automatically to the same bank or credit union. (I use a single credit union for almost everything.)
  • Select a bank or credit union with national offices (but not necessarily in every city or state you plan to visit). Ensure they have toll-free numbers you can call to take care of necessary business. It also helps if you can call a toll-free number and use an automated system to check account balances and transfer funds between your checking and savings account as needed. If your bank/c.u. allows that make sure you know if there is a limit on the number of transactions per month you can make that way.
  • Set up your recurring bills so that all, or as many of them as you can, are paid automatically, at no cost to you for each transaction. There's two principle ways to do that: direct debit from your checking account or charge to a credit card. Use a credit card which can be paid from your checking account either automatically (if any will do that) or when requested by you via telephone or the internet (For automatic credit card charging for bill-paying, I use American Express; they have my checking account number on file and I can either call a toll-free number and use their automated payment system or use the internet to pay my monthly bill.) Another way is to have bills which cannot be paid automatically sent to a relative or friend who has the legal power to pay those bills for you.
  • Carry a debit card for your checking account. The most common example is an ATM card but some financial institutions issue VISA cards which act like a credit card but are, in fact, a debit card. Ensure the card uses a common ATM transaction link to your financial institution.
  • Carry with you (in the RV) the name, billing address, account number, phone number, billing closing and payment-due dates for all accounts. (I have two systems: one in my computer and the other is a set of 3x5 index cards with the necessary info.) Having that information is particularly important for those bills which you cannot pay automatically. While traveling the bill may not catch up with you in time to mail off the payment by its due date. You shouldn't need the bill stub with your payment. All you should need to do is write the account number on the check and mail it to the billing address. A note of explanation might help but my guess is it will not be read by anyone who cares.
  • Plan to minimize cash withdrawals at ATMs, mostly to avoid the transaction costs. Get your pocket money from merchants who will give you cash back with purchases. Wal-Mart is very good at that. Many grocery stores will also do it.
  • A computer money-management program such as Microsoft's Money or Intuit's Quicken can be a big help in keeping account and card balances straight.
  • To prevent bounced checks or automatic payments refused due to insufficient funds I strongly recommend the checking account carry its own line-of-credit. That way, if the checking account balance is reduced to zero for any reason, future debits to the account generate a line-of-credit transfer from the LOC account to the checking account to cover purchases which otherwise would have resulted in a bounced check or refused payment. In effect you're writing yourself a loan for the balance which the checking account can't cover. Make sure you know the LOC terms, repayment requirements and especially the interest APR.