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How to manage credit card accounts online

By Ben Woolsey

So, you have a new credit card or maybe an old favorite that you have managed the old fashioned way (by reviewing paper billing statements sending payments back through the mail). The Internet continues to make our lives easier in so many ways and it only makes sense to leverage technology to its fullest to make your financial life as easy as possible.

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How does one get started in order to manage your credit card account online and pay bills with the push of a button? The first place to start is to determine your bank or credit card issuer's website address. Normally it is not to obscure -- simply look it up through a search engine such as Yahoo! or Google by typing in your bank name to find the exact address. The Web address is also often listed on the back of your credit card. You can call the toll-free customer service number listed on the back of the card as well to access additional help, if needed.

Once you've obtained the website address it's simply a matter of establishing online access to view your information through the credit card issuing bank's website. This requires choosing a user ID and password. Once this is done the bank will usually send the account holder a confirmation e-mail and often a temporary ID is mailed to the permanent address of the account holder. The temporary ID is often mailed because it adds an important layer of security to ensure it is actually the cardholder or bank customer that is requesting online access to the account. Since this process can take over one week to complete, it's important not to wait just prior to a bill coming due before assuming it can be paid online.

Once access is established, financial life gets much simpler. Customers can view available credit lines, recent charges as well as make payment on current credit card balances due. Another great thing about using online account management for credit cards is the ability to pay many third party bills automatically. These types of recurring payments are growing in acceptance by many types of service providers that once only accepted checks for payments. Utility providers such as cable TV, gas and electric, city services and wireless phone and internet now accept online payments by credit card. Even things like mortgage and rent can often be charged by credit card.

If you have a rewards credit card, paying monthly, nondiscretionary bills can really help ad up points, cash back or miles that otherwise would take much longer to accumulate. Smart consumers look for every way possible to move everyday spending from cash or check to a rewards credit card. If you are not able to pay your balance off in full each month it's probably not a good idea to make nondiscretionary core payments like mortgage, rent or utilities on a credit card, however. Credit card purchases can get out of hand really quickly if you add discretionary and nondiscretionary items together. It's best to live within your means -- and some types of cards can help get you back on the road to financial health (like those that offer 0% interest for a year while you pay off the principal).

Online account management is a wonderful convenience of the age in which we live. If you haven't made this transition in your financial life, it might finally be time.

Published: August 18, 2005


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