Our View

During the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies are waiving fees for online payment of bills. And that is the right move.

A number of businesses and municipalities already allow online payment without added fees. But with the need to limit transmission of the novel coronavirus, public health concerns make online bill paying the safe and sensible move across the board. Companies should encourage it by removing fees that are a barrier for many residents.

The city of Joplin offers free online bill payment. Neosho has waived all processing fees for online payments such as water/sewer/trash and permit fees. We urge other communities to offer the same options to their residents.

Offering this service is especially needed in the case of utilities. Residents generally have multiple utility accounts to pay. The payment process offers multiple opportunities for COVID-19 to spread.

Some companies offer free online bill pay by using an electronic check option but continue to charge a fee for debit and credit card use. Those companies should waive those fees, at least for the duration of the national emergency. Other utilities allow free autopay enrollment, but charge fees for any other form of online payment. Some offer an online payment option only through a paid third-party provider. Again, we urge those utilities to find a way to suspend or waive those fees.

The practice of charging customers to pay online is becoming an anachronism that companies are only retaining because it has become a profit center. A majority of consumers today prefer electronic payment methods, such as card-based payments, shifting away from cash or check to make purchases and pay household bills. Frankly, businesses can handle online payments with less overhead than required to handle paper payments in person or by mail anyway. Utilities can reduce the need for customer assistance and the costs associated with managing and processing paper-based payments while improving customer satisfaction.

It makes sense to make online bill paying free to reduce transmission risk during the COVID-19 crisis. Really, it is time to make fees for paying online a thing of the past in any case.

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