Using Evernote to Organize Your Bills and Stomp Out Late Fees
Are you paying too many unnecessary late fees? Do you want to establish a simple yet flexible system for getting due date reminders? If you’re currently using Evernote, then I highly recommend you take a look at the system I currently use.
A lot of us, even those who are relatively responsible with their finances, feel some level of unease when it comes time to pay our bills. This unease leads to procrastination or even denial which then leads to deadlines being missed, late fees, and even interruptions in service and/or lower credit ratings. This then further leads to lower morale in our personal finances and a vicious circle of late payments and irresponsible money management.
You might think the solution is easy: I’ll just pay every bill as soon as possible whenever I receive it! Unfortunately, unless your brain works like a computer, this approach isn’t sustainable in practice:
- You often end up interrupting other important tasks when deciding to pay a bill.
- You often feel guilty when being reminded of how much you spent especially on the days when you pay a bill.
- Sometimes, especially with large bills due months in advance, you may not have the funds available in your bank account to pay them.
Set Up Evernote
Create a Notebook called “Bills”. (Actually, you can call it anything you want but I’ll refer to it as “Bills” in this article.) Create another one called “Paid Bills” where you archive the bills you’ve already paid. If you live with a partner or spouse and share bill paying responsibility with him/her, then I highly recommend sharing these folders with his/her Evernote account. We’ll be using the “Reminders” feature in Evernote to notify us of upcoming bills which works best if Evernote is installed on your mobile phone. (I actually prefer Google Calendar for reminders but since it doesn’t integrate very well with Evernote yet, we’ll use Evernote’s built-in reminders.)
Although you don’t need to use GTD for Evernote, it helps to understand the principles behind that as this bill paying system shares many similar mentalities of streamlining and batching your routines.
Regular Monthly Bills
Create an Evernote note that lists links to all of your accounts that require monthly payments including:
- Credit Cards
- Auto/Home Insurance
Create a shortcut to this document so you can easily access it any time.
If online payments are accepted, make sure to put a link to the site where you pay the bills. You might also want to include your login ID (but not password) for convenience.
For smaller accounts (besides credit cards) that require monthly payments of below about $100, I recommend setting up auto-pay if possible.
I don’t recommend auto-pay for credit cards since it usually only pays the minimum instead of the entire balance. Even if auto-pay can pay the entire balance, I want to double check if any fraudulent transactions are present before paying.
Monthly Bill Paying Day 1
Designate 2 days of the month when you’ll pay all of your upcoming bills. It’s best to batch them at once if they’re all due before a specific date (rather than interrupt whatever you’re doing and pay right when you receive a bill.)
Day 1 is your main bill paying day. Ideally, you’ll want a day when your paycheck is available for withdrawal but before your rent/mortgage is due and subject to late fees. If you deposit your paycheck on the last day of the previous month and your rent is due on the 5th of the current month, pick the 4th of the month for this “bill paying day”. Check your bank balance and pay all of the recurring bills due within a month on that day.
Monthly Bill Paying Day 2
Pick another day later in the month (say the 20th) as your backup bill paying day. In the rare event some of your payments didn’t go through or you forgot to pay a few of them, pay them on this day. Use this day, especially if you don’t have much to pay, as a time to review your upcoming bills and make sure you’re on top of everything.
Speaking of late payments, I recommend you pay them as soon as possible when notified of the lateness. If it’s a credit card or bank account, use Ramit Sethi’s scripts (here and here) to try to waive the late fee but don’t rely on this as a guaranteed lifeline. Keep in mind the point of this system isn’t to absolutely minimize your chances of getting a late fee (otherwise I would’ve titled it “Never Pay a Late Fee Again!”) Rather, it’s to provide an organized and disciplined system for handling your bills so that you will pay the vast majority of them on time without consuming an unreasonable amount of time, effort, and mental resources. Most (if not all) late payments aren’t the end of the world so don’t fret too much about attaining a perfect record when it comes to paying your bills on time. But do put forth a reasonable amount of effort towards paying as few late fees as possible as long as this effort doesn’t detract you from more important pursuits in your life.
I count bills that recur less than once a month (say an auto-insurance policy billed every 6 months) in addition to those that don’t occur on a regular or predictable basis as one-time bills. If you received them in the mail and can’t pay online:
- Photograph it into Evernote
- Put it in the Bills folder
- Set an Evernote reminder to pay the bill on last Bill Paying Day (generally the 4th and the 20th of each month) before the due date. Set it to 3:00am on that day so the reminder fires right when you wake up but not late at night if you happened to stay right after midnight.
- Pay the bill the day the alarm fires.
- Move the bill from the “Bills” folder to the “Paid Bills” one in Evernote once you’re done.
For one-time bills received through email, forward it to Evernote but add the following to the subject line to add a reminder:
For example, if you receive an email with the subject “Credit Card Payment Due”, hit Fwd and enter your Evernote email address. Let’s say you want a reminder on March 20, 2015. Your subject line should read: Fwd: Credit Card Payment Due !2015/03/25 @Bills .
And afterwards, check the “Bills” folder in Evernote to make sure the reminder registered correctly.
- Designate two days of every month when you’ll be paying your bills.
- The first day is on the 4th (or any day in the beginning that’s convenient for you.)
- The second day is on the 20th (or any day a little over halfway through.)
- When you receive a bill, email or photograph it into Evernote.
- Then set an Evernote reminder on a designated bill paying day.
- For recurring monthly payments, create and shortcut an Evernote note listing them and schedule a reminder on that note every month for the 1st bill paying day.
- After you’ve finished paying a one-time bill, move it to the “Paid Bills” folder in Evernote.
I will discuss Credit Card Hacking in a future post. You WILL need a basic but solid system for managing your monthly payments and due dates before attempting to harvest sign-in bonuses from a dozen credit cards. It’s quite lucrative but also a hotbed for late fees if you’re not careful.