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Pay your bills online

The number of Americans who pay their bills with the click of a mouse is on the rise. For 2003, 40 million people were predicted to pay their bills online, a 38 percent jump over 2002.

Here are some guidelines to help you understand how to ditch your checks and stamps for cyberspace banking:

1. Choose a service

• Banks. If you’re just getting started, the easiest place to turn to is the bank that holds your checking account. Look for a timeliness guarantee that ensures your bank will pay late fees as long as you submit payments on time. These two Web sites are free and enable you to set-up your account from anywhere in the country: www.bankofamerica.com and www.citibank.com

• Payment services. Another way to pay your bills is to authorize an online bill-paying service to withdraw money from your bank account. Yahoo! Bill Pay (billpay.yahoo.com) and Paytrust (www.paytrust.com) are examples of such a service.

• Software systems. Computer software programs might be the best option for people who prefer to keep all their finances on a computer. For example, Quicken and Microsoft Money allow you to coordinate monthly bill paying with end-of-year calculations.

2. Register - Regardless of the service you choose, you’ll need to submit your bank account number, and names and addresses of creditors that you want to pay. And, when it’s time to pay your bills, just type in the amount that you want to pay next to each creditor and when.

—adapted from Real Simple

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