Postage rate increase may encourage electronic bill paying

Monday, July 8, 2002

NEW YORK -- With the price of a first-class stamp up to 37 cents, many consumers are taking a fresh look at reducing their mailing costs by paying their bills electronically.

The average American pays about a dozen bills a month, so a postage increase of 3 cents per letter isn't going to break the bank. Still, experts say, it might be the final nudge for many to shift to e-payment options.

A phone survey conducted for the Direct Marketing Association found that more than one-third of respondents indicated they would look for bill paying alternatives to first class mail. Fully 42 percent of those 25 to 34 said they would seek alternatives.

DMA economist Peter Johnson said it bodes poorly for U.S. Postal Service efforts to increase its revenues.

"This is the first generation that can say, 'I don't like your 3-cent increase. I don't like standing in line to buy stamps. I'm going to move my bill paying online, and I don't care what happens to your finances,"' Johnson said.

The quickest way to reduce the cost of paying bills is, of course, to cut down the number of bills you pay each month. That generally means getting rid of unneeded credit cards or paying insurance premiums quarterly or annually rather than every 30 days.

William Nelson, executive vice president of NACHA-The Electronic Payments Association, said there has been tremendous growth in the use of electronic payment since last year, when the grounding of jets after Sept. 11 and the anthrax scares interfered with mail delivery.

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