The Cost Of Convenience

Every once in a while, I grudgingly agree with a curmudgeonly rant from my husband.

This particular rant is about bank-by-mail–our ability to authorize payments online and have the bank write the check and send it to the payee. It’s enormously convenient; no need to address envelopes, buy stamps, find a mailbox…

In fact, if there is a signal aspect to life in our digital world, it is the convenience that comes with our networked existence. Amazon visits my front door far more than the milkman used to–and thanks to the Amazon Key, the delivery person deposits whatever the package is in my front hall. If I don’t have time to go to the grocery, I can shop online and have Instacart or a similar service deliver what I need. If I don’t want to cook, but I’m not in the mood to go out, Clustertruck will bring me dinner from my favorite restaurant.

If I need information of virtually any kind, Doctor Google provides it; if I am curious about the status (or political opinions) of a friend or family member, there’s Facebook to fill me in. When my children or grandchildren are traveling, emails reassure me of their safety.

It’s a brave new world–but the old saying is right: there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Amazon, Facebook and Google have made themselves indispensable to most of us–and in return, we provide them with reams of our personal information. They serve us, and we pay for that service with our privacy. Ditto the other convenient services we use.

It’s slightly different–and much more blatant–with the banks.

When my husband goes online to make a payment, the bank immediately deducts the amount of that payment from his account. The bank then produces and mails a check to the recipient. In the “olden days,” the amount of a check would be deducted from one’s account when it “cleared.” That is, the money would come out of your account when  payees presented the checks and received their money.

Now, in return for the convenience of online bill paying, the bank has the use of the float– the period of time that elapses between your online direction to pay X and the presentation by X of that check.

(This little trick also makes it incredibly difficult to stop payment; since the money has already been deducted from your account, the bank has a convoluted process that wasn’t there before.)

I hear him grouse about this every time my husband pays a bill, and although I’m willing to chalk it up to the cost of convenience, I know he’s right. It’s just one more clever way that one more business has figured out how to “monetize” the processes that have moved online. And I also know that I’m one of the “marks” who enable it all–I am perfectly willing to trade my information for the convenience of shopping from home. I’m addicted to the ease  of accessing any and all information from my laptop.

And I don’t want to hunt for my checkbook and stamps when paying a bill.

I’m the patsy that makes the ripoffs possible.


  1. I use electronic payments through my bank, which accomplishes the same thing, but same or next day. No ‘check in the mail’ so it’s green, and the float is practically nonexistent. If I wanted to stop payment, there would be the same issue described, but I do have a brief period of time to stop or adjust my payment if I’ve ‘fat-fingered’ my attempt. Overall, I’m pleased with this system; what used to take me 1-2 hours, is now done in a few minutes, and I think that covers the ‘float’ (especially at today’s interest rates).

  2. I look at it like this:
    (1) Amazon uses my info to try and sell me more stuff irritating, but I can live with the trade off.
    (2) Google uses my info to let other people try to sell me stuff. I am not as comfortable with this, and have set all my Google privacy settings as high as they will go, but it’s still troubling. If any Google competitors were as good, I’d switch. For example, some day relatively soon I hope Apple Maps improves. But this is still a tradeoff I’m willing to make at least for now.
    (3) Facebook uses information for all kinds of reasons and lies about it. I deleted my Facebook account a couple of years ago.
    With respect to banks, they don’t all do it that way. Mine shows payments as “pending” until the check clears. Not that it makes a lot of difference. After more than 10 years of electronic bill payment, I’d bet I’ve earned about a dollar in extra interest.

  3. Y’all people who obviously always have a ready amount of money in your bank accounts can easily cover automatic deductions and bank-by-mail. Not those who are in the majority of this country – those of us lucky to have a bank account – must often juggle by amount of bill and payment due date vs. available amount of money in our account at any given time. The electronic check deduction for checks written today in most stores or to pay regular bills is a good thing unless some cashier maintains your check without the register “voiding” it during the process and later submits it to the bank which is required by law to honor the check and pay them twice. This happened to me and required 2 appeals through my bank; I had not submitted and paid for the required “stop payment” order to prevent this because I didn’t know they were going to submit my check the 2nd time. Because I reconcile my checkbook as soon as I receive my bank statement, I caught this and took immediate action.

    I also know that many people use their cell phones to accomplish everything in life but dressing themselves and deciding where their money should go that day. What happens if you lose your cell phone, if it is stolen or you drop it in the toilet? What happens if there is a power failure during your transaction…or the bank’s? Is it still convenient to deal with this 21st Century progress in banking?

    And; haven’t you been watching the news; “THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!”

  4. It’s just the further evolution of what we call money, from leaving the gold standard to Bitcoin and electronic transfers. Soon, there will not be any so-called money anymore, no printed or minted currency, it will all be virtual credits and such. Now, you can get an implant in your hand to pay your bills, nice? You won’t have to worry about dropping that phone in the toilet anymore, LOL. ?

  5. There are other costs to the conveniences offered by on-line transactions, mostly in the purchasing of goods via the internet.
    How much fuel is used when gas guzzling trucks of all sizes run helter skelter all over town bringing customers more, more, and more to their doorsteps. How is such easy consumerism affecting climate change? How is the use of millions of boxes (mostly then tossed away) contributing to the destruction of forests? And before you say “what about” does it occur to anyone that recycling uses a large amount of energy too?
    IMO the drive to have more faster has only increased the waste in finite materials and sped up climate change. We’re going backward.
    And finally, what are all the on-line shoppers using their “saved time” for? Facebook?

  6. What we have discovered is that when we as consumers and we as workers are more connected and able to collaborate things go smoothly and conveniently. This of course is as old as the marketplace but the inconvenience of having to travel there has been replaced by more workers who handle the logistics for both buyers and sellers.

    The threat and opportunity this brings this about is from make more money now regardless of the impact on any others ever. The opportunity for buyers and sellers is motivated by it as is the threat that now exists because of it.

    Capitalism is the tension between competition and collaboration which has consumed our culture including our politics. Competitive capitalists thrive on our new robust virtual marketplace but collaborative society is threatened by the monetization of what used to be neighbourliness.

    It could become the next big advance towards utopia or the destruction of the social network that brought us out of the wild.

    At the moment, here, the threat outweighs the opportunity so we have to decide between collaboration and competition as the foundation for our society.

    20/20 vision in 2020 could re-inspire collaboration. Vision clouded by advertising/propaganda/fake news/brainwashing could consume us in competition.

    Our future awaits our decision.

  7. The power company down here in the Panhandle wants to make automatic withdrawals from our checking account. So, every month I get an email notice that a withdrawal will occur on the 2nd of the next month. The money stays in the account until that day. The bank doesn’t take it out and send it when convenient for the bank. That is as far as I will go with this new-fangled, so-called convenient, digital economy.

  8. Theresa; with the new “norm” we are faced with, we are “hurrying” in place. Our days are spent in the Republican ordered hamster’s exercise wheel and filling our lungs with emissions from those delivery trucks.

    And about those millions of boxes tossed away; they could be (and often are) placed in recycle bins to be picked up by those big trucks. This country sells the recycled cardboard to China to manufacture all forms of boxes which they sell back to the United States…except China is now refusing to buy the dirty recycled cardboard as useless. Who is profiting from this ridiculous turn of events and why can’t Americans use the recycled cardboard to manufacture new boxes to sell to American companies and citizens? Is it not convenient? And who is being inconvenienced? There is no longer “Buy American” or “Made In America” products available on the market…not even on line from Amazon.

    In the words of he Wicked Witch of Oz, “What a world, what a world!”

  9. Theresa Bowers – your comment provides some interesting thoughts to contemplate. They seem worthy of research to see if your points actually prove that our convenience creates more waste.

    JoAnn – excellent point about money management for people on limited incomes.

    Neal – you mentioned that you deleted your Facebook account a couple years ago. I am not positive about this, but I recall reading a few years ago that even if you delete your account it is never truly deleted and that they somehow manage to continue collecting info on you via your other internet activity. You may want to check this out.

  10. So let’s do a little math on that float:

    In today’s interest rate environment you would get ~ 2% apy on a money market account.
    That amounts to roughly 27 cents for a 5 day float on a $1,000 payment (even though most people aren’t getting money market rates on their checking anyway).

    For that 27 cents you don’t have to buy a 55 cent stamp, or an envelope, or remember to mail it. You don’t have to pay for checks either. What’s more – you don’t have to balance your checkbook and you avoid overdraft fees when you forget to write down a check. By automating payments I avoid being late on bills – and the late fees that go with that. What a deal, seriously!

    There is far more “leakage” happening in investments and savings – such as mutual fund fees, HSA fees and 401k administration fees. Those aren’t just a 1% problem… many lower-middle class people have some savings that are being eaten up by these fees also.

    Me thinks your husband is barking up the wrong tree.

  11. Yes; I’m back again! The automatic deductions and bank on line is cutting out jobs; the Chase bank in the 1200 block of North Arlington is closing due, THEY say, to the amount of banking on line reduces the need for bank employees. The surrounding neighborhood, MY neighborhood, is comprised of low to middle-income people who do go to the bank to get needed cash to have on hand. That included me again. Where will they obtain needed cash now. The same is true of the self-checkouts in stores; depriving cashiers of jobs. One person’s convenience is too often paid for by others being inconvenienced or put out of a job.

    After my attack and robbery 5 years ago I discovered that automatic deductions and electronic banking is attended to first; those of us who pay with paper checks returned in the mail are processed last which could result in late payment. This can cost a fee and work against our credit rating. Just sayin’

  12. Yeah Brave New World aint it ? or as my old dad would say (often BTW), “It a great life if you don’t weaken.” I am getting tired. Mr 3 sticks Marine Mueller looked pretty tired yesterday but he soldiered on succinctly. God be praised. IMO 🙂

  13. I hate to be in the position of defending Bank of America but they long ago changed their online policy to give the customer more control over when a payment is deducted. You list the date of “pay by” meaning the date the company should receive your payment and the amount is deducted on the “pay by” date regardless of when the check is mailed. At least it works this way for my account and I realize there may be different rules on different types of accounts.

  14. I wonder how many people periodically take an accurate personal accounting of the money they receive, the money they spend, and the money they owe in this day of rapid connectivity and convenience? It used to be once a month with paper bank statements, etc. Now it is so rapid and easy, perhaps we are headed for a major wakeup and more personal bankruptcies……I have heard stories….

  15. “One person’s convenience is too often paid for by others being inconvenienced or put out of a job.”

    Indeed, virtually all of the wagon wheel makers, blacksmiths and typewriter repair folks are out of business.

    Look, I get it that things are changing… and that sometimes is difficult… but it’s a lot more difficult when you are on the platform and the train is passing you by than when you are on the train. This saves the customer money, and it makes it less likely that they will have late fees.

    Poor people all over the globe bank by phone. And banking with a legit bank is bank cheaper than the poor people’s bank right down the street at 10th and Arlington.

  16. SK: “They serve us, and we pay for that service with our privacy.”

    Not hardly. Not if you know what absence of privacy really is. Spend some time in Asia and Southeast Asia to learn what paralyzing privacy we still possess in America and the western world.

    For instance: I booked a private room in the Caravel Hotel, reputed to be the finest in Saigon. That evening, exploring the city, I had never seen so many people in one place in my life. Nor had I seen so many people using the bathroom in public at curbside along the streets. Or sharing transportation, even three and four people piled on billions of single mopeds. Or sharing food from a single pot. Or group-bathing in a pond or river. Or sharing sweat (touching each other) in team-labor endeavors at building sites.

    But at 2:00 AM, I learned the core lesson about privacy. My hotel door opened, and a Chinese family entered with a baby and two suitcases. With hand-signals, the Chinese man indicated that he was to sleep with his wife in the other single bed, and the baby was to sleep with me in my single bed. I called the desk and complained. Very politely, I was informed that that is the way it is done. There is no such thing as “No Vacancy” in densely populated countries. Privacy means no one is sleeping on top of you, sort of, or under you. The lust for privacy to them was the ultimate sin of the elite.

    The next time I booked a room in the Caravel, I unlocked “my” door to find Eric Severeid, the journalist, already settled in and typing at the desk. Having had abundant experience working in Asia, he acted as if he had been expecting me: very gracious. Very enlightening.

    In my book, we Americans’ idea of privacy has been both adulterated and spoiled since the beginning. Frankly, I don’t care if people know my purchasing history, my credit score, my habits, or almost anything else, and it is liberating. Even for an unadulterated artist.

    Most of all, letting loose of my little privacy blanket enables greater ability and willingness to be part of the team and to realize the finer rewards of cooperation. Republicans, especially, need to acquire that skill.

    If I were a Reductionist, I could boil all of America’s current problems down to our elite and sickly sin of coveting privacy. Maybe down deep we Americans share the same ambition– walls, razor wire, moats and crocodiles.

  17. About that big brown truck delivering packages:

    Say that truck delivers 100 packages to 100 homes in your neighborhood. It seems to me that the brown truck saved the fuel, time and pollution of 100 separate people making 100 separate trips to a brick and mortar store. Maybe more than 100 trips; for instance, if the first store happens to be out of inventory.

  18. Larry Kaiser, interesting comments, especially about Saigon!

    I’m still sad about the loss of brick and mortar establishments. They provided good entertainment for me in my younger days.

    About bill pay – I used to work at a credit union and we changed our bill pay system. The old system had deducted the amount immediately.

    The new system did not deduct until the bill was actually processed by the payee. With the new system, users needed to track their payments as if they had written a check.

    People complained. They preferred the old way because their balance showed the funds were already gone.

    With our new system, members could see the evidence when the payment has been processed. (Check wasn’t lost!)

    I love bill pay either way!

  19. I agree with Theresa and Pete in their conclusions but disagree with Larry Kaiser in that I still cling to the idea of as much privacy as can be had in this age of digital spying while agreeing that overpopulation can be (though unwanted) a factor in establishing a new more in socialization.

  20. My credit union removes the funds from my account on the date I have told it to “deliver by”. Just today I got notification that a rather large amount I had sent to my mother, who gets the funds by check rather than by electronic transfer. That check was cut and mailed a week ago,she got it yesterday (7/24) and the funds were taken from my account the same day. Your bank is waaaaay behind the times,

  21. Mark me down as one of those who believes that the convenience is worth it. I started banking at an online-only bank (NetBank) decades ago. Unlike conventional banks, they (and the banks that took over from them) never changed their zero minimal balance policy.

    In terms of privacy, I share information, but not freely. When a Facebook app or game or whatever wants access to my Friends list, I turn it down. I don’t want my friends hassled for something that may (or may not) benefit me. In terms of information, I sell it. I have answered many online surveys that “reward” me with gift cards for various merchants (of my choice). I’ve gotten a lot a free merchandise that I would have otherwise paid for. In older days, I got cash for being in “focus groups” until they blacklisted me. (I was too honest about their ad that said Amtrak never has snow delays — they do and some are very long — and I told them.)

    In any event, if they want my information, I want more than the convenience (and I do enjoy it) of keeping in touch with friends and family. If Facebook and Google want to make money with my information, I want a cut. It’s only fair.

  22. It seems that Americans identify as it’s “all about me” or “it’s about us”. We compete or collaborate. We’re exclusive or inclusive.

    Our illegitimate President is king of the “me’s” and offers them what they crave which is power, the freedom to impose what’s best for them on others, the diametric opposite of the freedom defined by our Constitution. Rights for some without responsibilities instead of equal rights and responsibilities for everyone regardless of…….

    He will end the republic or we will fire him by electing someone like us who values rights with responsibilities.

Comments are closed.