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(Trevor Hagan/CP)
(Trevor Hagan/CP)

Rob Carrick

E-services are a good substitute for the mailman Add to ...

Never leave your personal finances in the hands of Canada Post.

Nothing against the post office. It actually amazes me that there's still a service where someone comes to your house every day to deliver mail. But as the rotating work stoppages by Canada Post workers remind us, mail can let you down.

Fortunately, there's the Internet. It can't put magazines and postcards in your mailbox, but it can keep you current on your monthly bills and statements. Here are four ways to put your financial affairs online:

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1.) epost

Ironically, it's Canada Post that has come up with this excellent service. Think of epost ( epost.ca) as a system for electronically delivering bills and other financial documents to people via the Internet. You can view and pay your bills on the epost website, or have them sent through to your online banking website.

I've used epost for many years now to receive bills for cable and Internet, home phone, water and city property taxes. More than 100 mailers, or companies, utilities and governments, are signed up for epost, including Bell Canada, Telus, Rogers, The Bay and several bank-issued Visa and MasterCard credit cards.

Don't worry that you'll miss a bill if it comes through epost instead of through mail. My bank website alerts me when I have an e-bill waiting, and I also get e-mails from epost to remind me. Pay your bills instantly, or post-date the payment. Then, store them in a seven-year online archive where you can retrieve them any time to check a detail (seven years is how long the Canada Revenue Agency requires you keep documents).

If there's a criticism of epost, it's that it never really took off to become Canada's one all-purpose online billing service. Lots of big-name billers aren't listed. Example: The natural gas utility Enbridge.

2.) E-billing

The limited inventory of billers on epost means you won't be able to have all your monthly bills sent to you online. However, you may be able to set up an e-billing account directly with some companies or utilities.

I recently set up an e-billing account with Ottawa Hydro. They e-mail me when my bill's ready, I log into the website to read it (and weep) and then pay it through online banking. If I want to compare my current bill against a previous one, I can browse through the online archive. You can even download the brochures that Ottawa Hydro adds to its bills to update customers on service issues.

Other companies to offer e-billing, sometimes called online billing, include Bell Canada, Telus, Vidéotron and Rogers.

3.) E-Statements

If you use online banking and have online access to your investments, then the need for printed monthly statements is less acute because you'll generally know where your accounts stand.

Regardless of how much you rely on printed records of your financial transactions, it makes good sense for a couple of reasons to sign up for e-statements. The first is that instead of accumulating piles of paper in a drawer or filing cabinet, you have an orderly online archive of statements going back years.

Another good argument for e-statements is that they may exempt you from certain account fees. For example, online brokerage TD Waterhouse will waive account inactivity fees on non-registered accounts for clients who sign up for e-statements.

Note: In addition to monthly statements, banks and brokers offer electronic delivery of tax and trade confirmation slips.

4.) Direct deposit and pre-authorized payment

I'm not big on pre-authorized payment, where you allow a biller to withdraw monthly payments you owe directly from your chequing account. I prefer to have some discretion over exactly when I pay my bills. Still, you'll never miss a payment if you use the pre-authorized approach.

Direct deposit is a must for anyone receiving regular benefit cheques such as Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security, and it's the quickest way to receive a tax refund from the Canada Revenue Agency. Direct deposit is also a great way to receive payments of health benefits through your group plan at work.

Setting up direct deposits and pre-authorized payments may require you to submit a void cheque. In some cases, you can go online and set up your transfers or deposits by manually inputting the numbers that appear on the bottom of your cheques.

This goes beyond personal finance, but it's possible to receive a magazine electronically if there's a tablet version of the publication available. Postcards? Facebook can substitute for them if you've got Internet access while travelling.

Canada Post's edge is that right-to-your-door delivery of actual paper. When its workers aren't on strike, that is.

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Strike action



The federal Financial Consumers Agency of Canada offers these suggestions for paying your bills during a postal strike:



Make a list of bills that you normally receive each month. Then look at the dates of these bills from previous months to identify when you would normally receive them. Put notes on your calendar to remind yourself to follow up on each bill around that date.



Use the telephone or online banking services of your financial institution, or visit the branch, to find out the amount that you owe on credit cards, loans or a mortgage and the due dates of your payments.



If you have access to your credit card, loan or mortgage statements online, review them carefully to make sure all the charges listed are correct. If you find an error or have questions, contact your financial institution.



Use the online or telephone banking services, an automated banking machine or a branch of your financial institution to make payments on your credit cards, loans or mortgage.



For other bills, such as utility bills, check the company's website or call for information about your bill and how you can pay it during a postal strike. For example, you may be able to charge these payments to your credit card, and then pay your credit card balance through your financial institution before the due date.



If you use electronic banking services, consider using the online bill payment option that most financial institutions offer to pay a wide range of bills.



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