Like most of us, I love/hate banks. We need them, but I definitely don't like being beholden to oneI want the freedom to walk when rates fall or fees rise. So I've worked to free my family from dependence on our bank's bill-paying service, which we access through the Web. The convenience has suckered us into a long list of payees that would be a pain to reconstruct at another bank.
My plan was to use finance software to pay bills through whatever institution I choose. We use Quicken, but Microsoft Money can also make payments through our bank, and like the Web-based service, it's free. Write a payment into the ledger, the software transmits it, and the bank either makes an electronic transfer or cuts and mails a check. Beauty.
Then the catch: oh, always a catch. To start paying through Quicken, we'd have to give up paying bills on the bank's website, customer service warned me. That would mean losing automated payments to about a half-dozen billers, such as local utilities. They electronically present an invoice to the bank, which we've authorized to send payment. No more worries that inattention will prompt the lights to go dark, or at least result in a late fee.
Then came a solution from a friendly bank exec: Use the fact that we have a joint account. My Social Security number can maintain our Web-based payments, and my wife's can authorize Quicken payments.
Voilá! It took several months to get it started, as clerks kept screwing it up (love/hate banks). But it appears to be working, and I've discovered yet another of marriage's many blessings. (See, dear wife, I told you it was worth reading these columns.)
• Quicken's Lessons on Giving Kids Cash (March 9)