Companies Charging Customers To Pay Bills

By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) — When it comes to paying bills, most of us aren’t interested in paying any more than we have to. But some companies are charging consumers an extra fee, if they pay their bill on that company’s website, or on the phone.

Jessica Aguiar thought paying her mortgage directly to her lender over the phone would be easy, but then she found out they would charge her an extra fee.

WBZ-TV’s Paula Ebben reports.

“They said it would be $20, and I was just a little bit angry and shocked,” she said.

Jessica’s mortgage company is one of many businesses now making money by charging customers who pay over the phone or online. It’s referred to as “Paying to Pay.”

“If they’re charging me to speak to a customer service representative that I’m already speaking with, I think that’s ridiculous,” she added.

One survey found cable providers, phone companies, banks, and utilities charging anywhere from $2 to $25 to pay over the phone, or on the company’s site.

Consumer advocate Ed Mierzwinski believes, “It’s just unacceptable that businesses charge you a fee for the privilege of paying for the service that you’re already paying for.”

It is legal, however, for these types of service providers to charge customers to pay phone or on their site.

Credit cards can only charge a fee for paying if a customer service representative is asked to do an expedited payment.

Nessa Feddis of the American Bankers Association explained, “Under the law, they can charge a fee if it’s for an immediate posting, or an almost immediate posting and there’s a customer service rep involved,”

The ABA believes these fees are appropriate, and reasonable. “The fees are intended to help cover the cost of the worker’s wages and benefits. Frankly, $10 doesn’t sound like a lot when you think about how it’s probably 10-15 minutes for that customer rep,” said Feddis.

Mierzwinksi balks at an explanation like that, saying these businesses have always had customer service representatives. “The banks already had those people working on the phones, and if they’re not collecting payments, they’re trying to sell something else,” he said.

The best strategy is to pay your bill early, either with a check or directly through your bank’s online payment service.

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