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Where Is the Money? How to Control Electronic Spending

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Managing Finances Be an early bird.
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Andrew Bannecker

If you pay your credit-card balance online, send the money at least two business days before it's due. Banks have their own schedules for downloading payments and if they receive them even a few seconds late, they shift the transaction to the next business day. "There could be a lag between when the bank receives your e-mail and when that information is passed along to the credit-card company," says Peterson. Either way, your payment could be tardy even if you hit the "submit" button on time, and you could be charged a $25 to $35 late fee, plus interest on the unpaid balance. "Building in a 48-hour buffer ensures your money will arrive on time," he says.

Read the fine print.

Open all mail from creditors like utilities and insurance companies and anyone else you've authorized to make automatic deductions from your bank account. What looks like junk might be notice of a lost or late payment that could generate fees and lower your credit rating, says Davidson. Call customer service right away to clear up any confusion, and a rep will likely update your account and waive the fee immediately.

Fill in the blanks.

When sending e-checks, don't use the feature that automatically fills in the amount of your last remittance. If that figure is lower than your current balance and you forget to change it, you could get stuck with a penalty. This is especially true with large deductions that tap your account once or twice a year, such as home insurance. Always review online checks before sending, then go back a few days later to make sure the payments went through. "If not, call your creditors immediately," says Peterson. "Most are willing to make a one-time adjustment for an understandable mistake."

Manage by merging.

Free online services like Mint.com link your credit card and bank accounts, and give you an updated balance and spending report daily. Iexpenseonline.com also tracks your spending in budget categories like food, utilities, and transportation, but you have to input your purchases into the program. For about a $100 annual fee, Mvelopes.com not only merges your accounts but also makes deductions from the appropriate budget column each time you make a purchase.