Bill Pay Gremlin Hits Quicken Users

Problems with online bill paying systems often involve bank computer glitches that cause late payments. If the transaction involves a credit card bill, a late payment could not only mean a hefty late fee, but could also lead to a steep rise in the interest rate on the card.

If you still pay your bills by writing checks, stuffing them in envelopes, and trekking to the post office, you’re a member of a shrinking club. Most bills nowadays are paid online, either through a bank’s bill-paying system, through an online personal finance manager (PFM) like Quicken, Mint.com, or MSN Money, or by authorizing a company to deduct the money you owe from your bank account.

Problems with online bill paying systems often involve bank computer glitches that cause late payments, which in turn trigger late payment charges. If the transaction involves a credit card bill, a late payment could not only mean a hefty late fee, but could also lead to a steep rise in the interest rate on the card. Lately, though, problems with third-party PFMs have cropped up, as several Quicken users have reported difficulties paying bills and updating their accounts over the past few months. According to some financial industry analysts, banks may not be in a hurry to fix the problems, preferring to have a customer switch to the bank’s own online bill-paying system.

The push by banks to peddle their own PFM systems is having an effect on third party software makers. Microsoft stopped selling MSN Money back in June, although it will continue to provide support the software product until early 2011. Intuit, the maker of Quicken, has acquired Mint.com, which has signed up almost two million users over the past two years. Mint.com has a “Ways to Save” feature that compares consumer interest rates and investment yields, which allows users to search for the best rates online, a service that an individual bank would be unlikely to provide.