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Simplify your life: Pay your bills online

By By Lloyd Albritton
Columnist
You believe that headline? If so, I know where you can get a good deal on some Florida swampland.
Now listen! I'm not exactly a novice when it comes to computers. I bought my first computer way back in the early 1980's. It was a Tandy 1000 from Radio Shack and it was loaded: dual 51/4 inch floppy drives, 256 Kilobytes of Random Access Memory (RAM) and a 15-inch color monitor. I had been writing like mad for a year or two on the old Royal portable typewriter my wife had used for her tenth grade typing class. Man, was I in a creative streak! I had manuscripts of all my stories stacking up by the day. But they were all full of bad erasures and typo errors and were in bad need of polishing. When I heard about "word processing," I convinced my wife that if I had one of those new computers with the latest word processing computer program I could bang out a best-selling novel in a matter of months. In fact, what really happened was that I got so caught up in the frustration of trying to understand it all that it was at least three years before I entertained another creative thought. If I had thought struggling with a brake job on my old pickup truck was maddening, I had not even begun to know frustration.
Since that time, we have come a long way baby! I have owned several computers since then and each one was obsolete before I could finish reading the handbook. It was only a few years ago when I read an article in the newspaper about this new thing called The Internet. I jumped right in and signed up for AOL service when AOL was still in its infancy. It was all so cool.
Now I'm an old pro at computers and Internet technology, and I often get a kick out of my novice friends who are just now climbing aboard and experiencing the magical thrill of instant Internet communications. My brother, Ronnie, is most fascinated by the audio sounds of the mooing cow or the howling wolf when he sends an instant message on his AOL. My cousin, Travis Barlow, writes everything in capital letters. He can't understand that capital letters in Internet protocol means you are SHOUTING. These two guys are still a long way from knowing how to "surf the net."
Yet, as I have evolved as a computer user at the speed of a snail, computer and telecommunications technology has continued to race way ahead of me at warp speed. The more ground I have covered and left behind me, the farther the journey ahead lengthens. What I have learned and mastered in the past is nothing compared to what I have yet to know.
Even with all of these fascinating advancements at my fingertips, I have continued to pay my bills by check and "snail mail," Internet jargon for letters mailed through the postal system. I can't seem to get past the old-fashioned notion that money is something real. My grandfather used to insist that, if he loaned you money, it be paid back in the same denominations he loaned you. For example, if he loaned you a twenty dollar bill, he did not want it back in four fives or two tens, and certainly not in a check. He wanted it back in a single twenty dollar bill. I always thought that was a humorous quirk in my grandfather's personality, but in my own way, I find myself just as quirky. I also think of checks and cash as being more real than credit and debit numbers moved around on a computer spreadsheet.
When I procrastinated sending in a couple of credit card payments recently, I decided to use the on-line payment method to insure the payments were posted by the due dates. This is a lot like getting through to the right department on a major company's telephone voice mail system, only worse. First, you have to enroll in the company's special plan for making payments on-line. This means selecting a User Name and a Password. Of course, not just any User Name will work, so it takes a few minutes to settle on an acceptable one. There are lower-case and upper-case considerations and the proper number of letters to consider and just when you think you have the perfect User Name, a message returns saying that this particular User Name is already in use. Then, moving on to the Password selection, the Password has to contain a combination of letters and numbers and other parameters and may take upwards of thirty minutes to complete.
After obtaining approval to make the payment on-line, then comes the fun part; inputting all the information for making the payment from your checking account. Being the behemoths in modern world financial transactions, one would think that these credit card institutions would have heard of checking account debit cards by now, which work just like a Visa card and is easy to use to make telephone or on-line payments. But oh no-o-o-o. In addition to your checking account number, they have to have all of your bank's routing numbers and symbols, which are found on your checks. By the time you find your check book and get back to your computer, the program has signed itself off and you have go through the whole sequence again to get back where you were. I got so frustrated with the whole thing at one point that I decided to just call the company's 800 number and make the payment by telephone. This proved to be more complicated than the Internet, plus there was a $15.00 fee for paying by telephone. After two hours of determination, persistence and frustration, in equal proportions, I finally got the credit card company to accept my payment.
As I have oft discovered on my journey along the highway of modern technology, the old folks of my grandfather's generation may have missed out on many new and exciting tools and toys available to us today, but simplicity was not one of them.
Lloyd Albritton publishes The Albritton Letters on the Internet at www.Lloyd-Albritton.com, where he also publishes many new movie and book reviews. Your comments are invited at LloydAlbritton@aol.com