This post is written mostly for the benefit of my local Central Florida readers, but it can also apply to any type of utility bill. Everyone needs to pay very close attention to their utility bills because you may be paying an unnecessary monthly fee. My local water utility (The City of Cocoa) started offering a new "online account" option for its customers about 18-months ago called First Billing. Up until that point I had my monthly water bill automatically pulled from my checking account via ACH (which stands for Automated Clearing House...essentially an electronic debit from my bank). When the City of Cocoa rolled out this new online option I signed up for it figuring that this would be a way to go paperless with them and make it easier to track my water bill electronically. I couldn't have been more wrong and it ended up costing me an extra $2.99 a month (over $50 over an 18-month period).
So here's what happened. This new service called First Billing is an online service offered by the City of Cocoa but it has fees associated with pretty much every aspect of the service.
On their FAQ page it was pretty clear that if you wanted to pay online via credit card, debit card or electronic check you would be paying an additional fee for the privilege. What was not made clear was that the option they called "E-Check" was actually the same as ACH (having the payment pulled directly from your checking account). So when I signed up for the new online service I opted for the ACH pull from my checking account I assumed that I wouldn't be charged the extra $2.99 per month service charge (because that was how I was doing it in the past without an additional service charge). I was wrong. But to make matters worse, my monthly bill did not reflect this additional monthly service charge:
The only way I was able to catch the fact that I was being charged this additional $2.99 a month was to compare my paper bill against the actually value being pulled from my checking account and that was when I noticed the $2.99 difference.
So here is the bottom line. If you get your water from the City of Cocoa there is really only a couple of ways to pay your bill without an additional fee:
- Physically mail in a check each month
- Make a payment in person at the Cocoa City Hall building
- Have the City of Cocoa (NOT the First Billing service) pull the money from your checking account via ACH
Mailing in a physical check to the City of Cocoa is really not an option. By the time you receive your paper bill in the mail you only have a few business days to mail the check back into the City of Cocoa and have the check processed before your bill is due. Their FAQ page even warns you:
"Mailing your bill directly to the City delays the processing of your payment and could result in cut off for non-payment."
So if you want an hassle free way to pay your water bill the only way to go is to have the City of Cocoa pull the funds from your account via ACH...but you must have the City of Cocoa do it and not their new online service provider First Billing. In order to do this you need to fill out the City of Cocoa ACH form which can be found here and physically mail in this form along with a voided check.
Don't make the same mistake I did and miss the hidden $2.99 a month service charge. Paying a 1% or 2% fee for paying via credit card is unusual but not unheard of or unreasonable. However, paying a monthly $2.99 fee on a $40-$60 a month water bill is approaching 7% of your bill, which is absolutely insane and boarder line criminal. There is no way the company providing this service to the City of Cocoa can justify charging us 7% of our monthly bill for their services...it just doesn't cost that much. So be careful out there. This is an example of where people are using technology to make our lives more difficult and more expensive and technology is supposed to make things easier and less expensive (when used properly that is).
See my post a few days back about online ads (I Just Did Something Really Stupid) and take that $2.99 a month you were paying for this completely unnecessary service and put that money towards one of your favorite online sites that takes donations or is gets its funding through services like Patreon instead of blasting people with online ads.