Friday, September 9, 2016


Some recent stuff I've observed as computers are taking over our lives. Nothing earth-shaking, and known to many already, but just stuff I'm running into more of it now as it seems required to pay bills. So what's the new stuff I've seen?

First, my Primay Care Physician's (PCP's) clinic has contracted out their billing and collection services to a third-party company in Maine (I live near Seattle, Washington). I was curious about this after seeing a bill from specialty medical lab in the Northeast using the same company.

What's even more interesting is the statements from this company offer on-line payment, but through another third-party company. This means you PCP shares your medical billing and financial information (provider) with one other company and two if you pay on-line.

This is not new as larger medical non-profit and for profit medical companies have a separate financial company for billing and collection (had bad dealings with one I refuse to use anymore), but it's moved into the small clinics and doctors so they're absolved of those in-house costs.

Second, is how many companies now allow on-line, even automatic, payment through their Website. But you have to check if that is their Website or a third-party Website under contract. It's important because you're sharing you bank information with these companies.

True, many companies now scan checks and submit electronic copies or digital infomation to your bank. But these companies don't have access to withdraw funds, only submit requests to transfer funds.

On-line banking through these companies requires you give them rights to withdraw funds directly. I get three types of withdrawls now in my banks statements, regular checks submitted by companies, electronic checks, and direct withdrawl requests.

The first two require the banks to process the withdrawls as normal checks. The last, however, is processed as approved by you without further processing. Automatic withdrawls allows them to make withdrawls without approving them individually.

And while automatic withdrawls sound efficient for the consumer to avoid late payments, it's removes the consumer from oversight except after the fact of the withdrawl. So if the company makes a mistake, it's already out of your account before you've had a chance to say, "Hey, this isn't right!"

And now many of those third-party billing and payment companies offer it, you're giving the same information to a company you don't know and worse if you use automatic payment with them. There one example I've seen recently.

I rent an apartment where the tenants pay the pro-rated per tenant cost for landscaping services, water, electricity used for common areas (office, outdoor lights, etc.) for the complex, trash and recycling collection. Those services are provided through the management company from the various service companies through a third-party bill collection company.

This means the individual service provider bills the complex management who then consolidates the bills through the billing and collection company to the tenants with their rent. That company then pays the service companies for the total bill for the complex.

Now that billing and collection company wants me to sign up for on-line payment, even automatic payment. This company provides this services to many apartment complexes in the Pacific Northwest. And this is where I start having issues with it.

The old way was the service provider billed the complex which billed the tenants and then pays the service companies. Now there's a third-party company in between the services companies and the complex, and the tenant, meaning more layers to the whole system.

Right now I just pay the complex management and they pay the third-party billing company which pays the service companies. The billing and payment company doesn't see my account information, only the complex management.

I only have a few companies through on-line payment, companies I've used for decades and trust their computer security is good enough to trust with my banking information to withdraw finds from my accounts.

All the rest I require them to submit paper (only small companies do this anymore) or electonic checks to the bank. This keeps the bank in the loop to review the withdrawl, and whatever level it is, it's better than just granting direct withdrawls.

Anyway, that's the observations. Be careful with on-line banking and payment companies. Check them before you just sign up and share you banking information. It's the way the world works now, but you can be in control to some degree.

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