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Bill Paying Service Makes Taxes Less Taxing

by Larry Magid

I don’t prepare my own tax return, but I do create a report for my accountant (who happens to be my brother). That means gathering all sorts of records about earnings and expenses. Fortunately, practically every bank on the planet now offers online bill paying, which, in addition to paying your bills, keeps an online record of your payments. That can be very handy at tax time.

Most credit cards also come with online access, which lets you view, print and in some cases even download your credit card usage records to import into Excel, Quicken or Microsoft Money. The trouble is that these services typically keep your data for only 90 days, which could be a problem at tax time.

If any entrepreneurs out there are looking for an idea for a new business, how about a Web service that scrapes all that data and stores it indefinitely for a small fee or for looking at ads?

One solution I’ve been using for years is Paytrust. The company, which was acquired a few years ago by Intuit, doesn’t just pay your bills — it collects them and presents them to you.

With most large billers, you get an electronic copy of the bill. With paper bills, it sends the biller a letter asking them to change your billing address to their drop box in South Dakota. When my dentist sends me a bill, it goes to Paytrust, which scans it and presents it to me online. You can program it to pay bills automatically or set rules, such as to pay just the minimum due if the bill is over $1,000. Thanks to this service, I have a clean credit rating — no more accidentally forgetting to pay a bill.

The big benefit at tax time is that Paytrust not only saves payment information but also the bills themselves so you can figure out what you actually spent your money on.

Eventually the graphic images will be dropped from the server, but for $20 a year, they’ll send them to you on CD. Even though it collects details from credit card statements, it unfortunately doesn’t let you import that detail into a spreadsheet or financial management software — not even Quicken or TurboTax, which are also owned by Intuit.

I keep expecting Intuit to develop a full-service Web-based personal financial record-keeping service, and they keep disappointing me.

Paytrust costs $4.95 a month plus 50 cents per transaction, or $12.95 with 30 transactions.

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