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Q-busting pay services

Every month 70-year-old Amarnath Chatterjee stands in a serpentine queue to pay something as simple as an electricity bill. Or, he trudges all the way to another part of the city to drop the cheque for credit card payment at a dropbox.

For all those who quake at the prospect of queueing up to pay their bills every month, help is at hand in the form of electronic bill payment systems. The best thing about it all is that it gives you the freedom from queues in collection centres, from missing bill due dates and lost bills to keeping a record of all your payments. You can pay your bills anytime and from anywhere.

Today, one can choose between an independent bill payment service provider like BillJunction (from the ICICI group), Easy Bill (from the Hero group) and DirecWay Fusion (Hughes Escorts) or opt for similar services provided by different banks. Banks such as HDFC Bank, ABN Amro Bank, Citibank and others provide this service to their customers and bills can be paid over the phone, or through the Net, or via the ATMs (automatic teller machines).

Convenience is the ultimate objective of electronic bill payment portals and each of them has different features. To use the services of a bank, you will need to have an account with the bank; but with an independent service provider you can have an account with any bank.

Although Billjunction is part of the ICICI group, it is not mandatory to have an account with the bank since it uses the Electronic Clearing Service (ECS) mechanism of the Reserve Bank of India to enable bill payments. And you do not need either your credit or debit card to pay your bills.

The service providers send free SMS or e-mails to inform you about any new bill, remind you about due dates and also notify you once the bill is paid. It gives you an up-to-date summary of all your bills in a snapshot. It maintains an online record of your bills and you can generate customised reports of all your bills and payments made over the last 12 months. It provides archival facilities for the last 36 months.

The electronic bill payment systems provide the flexibility of paying either 'manually' i.e. where you give a payment instruction for every bill that you want to pay or automatically, which allows you to authorise the payment for your recurring bills. It also gives you an element of control by allowing you to set an upper limit on the bill amount that can be paid under the automatic pay instructions. If the bill amount exceeds the upper limit, it will inform you about it and then the bill can be paid 'manually'.

While the other independent service providers operate in limited cities, BillJunction offers its services in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Calcutta, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Chandigarh. BillJunction charges a one-time registration fee of Rs 50 and has designed packages you can choose from.

For instance, under the Supremo plan, you will be charged Rs 225 for 20 bills and the validity period is one year.

Compared with these, HDFC Bank charges a transaction fee of Rs 25 per quarter. Citibank provides the service free of cost to the account holders who pay through their savings or current accounts. But for Citibank Suvidha credit card users, there is a charge of Rs 10 per transaction, but there is an offer of payment of unlimited bills for Rs 99, which remains valid for six months.

There is, however, a fly in the ointment: if you have a dispute with the billing company, you will have to handle that on your own. The bill payment service provider will not be able to resolve the problem. You will have to make delayed payment, which will attract the usual charges.

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