Norcross' CheckFree hopes to cash in on postage rate hike

NORCROSS - Clearly, Norcross-based CheckFree wants to help companies and consumers do away with checks. Their name kind of gives it away.

But the company, which helps financial institutions and businesses process online bill payments, can also help people avoid having to buy stamps, which increased Monday in price from 39 to 41 cents.

Sheryl Roehl, director of public relations for CheckFree, said the average household can save $60 a year on postage if they have a bank that doesn't charge for online bill payments, which most don't, and they start paying all their bills online.

"It's good for these consumers that they have this option and they don't need any stamp whatsoever," said Lori Stepp, managing executive of E-Bill adoption services for CheckFree.

But the effects of a postage increase aren't just limited to consumers sending their bill back to a business. Companies also have to mail their bills out to the customer.

Stepp said they estimate the average cost of a business mailing a bill - including the paper, ink, stamp and everything else involved - is around $1.10 to $1.15.

Despite that, companies seem content to let customers move to online bill pay as they please.

"There's no pushing to pay your bill or get the bill to you one way or another," said Anita Lamont, spokeswoman with Charter Communications. "We stress to our customers they have a lot more ways to pay than they used to."

The recent postage increase has not changed any of her company's efforts to get people to move online, said Lolita Jackson, a spokeswoman for Georgia Power.

"We always encourage our customers to go online, but we're not doing anything different with the postage increase," she said.

Recent surveys have indicated that online bill payments have increased over the past several years. The 2007 Consumer Bill Payment Survey showed online bill payments exceeded bill payments made by paper checks among online households for the first time.

CheckFree believes more people will continue to move into online bill pay as technology-savvy kids get older.

"We've really seen positive growth," said Stepp. "I think a lot of that growth has been driven by Generation X and I think Generation Y is going to continue to drive that growth."

But at the same time, many customers will continue to pay bills like they always have.

"This is such a personal sort of business, we still have a lot of people bring their mail in to our local offices and it's not to save on postage," Lamont said.