August 25, 2010 by Leah
Our internet stopped working the other day, and the error message was such that I had to call Verizon Wireless. After not too much sleuthing, the automated system told me that our account had been suspended for non-payment and that we owed $176, which I relayed to Aaron. We looked at each other, baffled, that a) the bill hasn’t been paid and b) we could owe that much already.
Technically, I’m in charge of paying the bills. We decided that this is how it would be during one of our many discussions about money before we got married. Realistically, this is a lot trickier than one might think. Before we got married, I managed all my accounts and bills online and had even opted out of as much paper mail as humanly possible. Aaron was more of a paper bills and checks kind of a guy, although he also had online access to all of his accounts. We have something like five bank accounts in three states and eleven credit cards between us (I even closed two of mine when we combined finances). We have a car loan financed through Toyota, student loans with Sallie Mae and the Alaska Student Loan Corporation, a gym membership that insists on billing us twice each month (once for Aaron, once for me), cell phones with AT&T, and internet with Verizon Wireless. This is a LOT of information to keep readily available, and it really should be available somewhere.
My mom has a dear friend who recently lost her husband to a sudden illness. In the days following his death she and her stepson not only spent time arranging the memorial service and penning the obituary, but trying to gain access to the couple’s joint bank accounts. The husband was the one who dealt with all the finances. Do you know the name of your spouse’s childhood best friend? Favorite teacher? I understand that one can send a copy of a death certificate to a bank, but if it’s anything like the process I underwent while changing my name, avoiding that route would almost always be easier.
In that circumstance, as well as in Aaron’s and my much happier newly wedded circumstance, communication and sharing information is key. To properly manage our funds, it would be best if I had full access to all of our accounts, but I’m not a part-owner on most of Aaron’s credit cards (although I do have cards on those accounts in my name), and I’m not on the car loan account. I can deal with that, since I at least have the means to see the activity on the credit card Aaron actually uses (a United Airlines mileage plan card) and the car payment is automatically deducted from our checking account every month. I LOVE automatic deductions, although up until about the past year the system wasn’t really feasible for me as I navigated from paycheck to paycheck. (Once, several years ago, I had to call my stepdad and ask for a three-day loan of $400 when I discovered I’d paid a bill early and had less than half the money I needed for rent. It was a learning experience.)
The problem with automatic payments, at least for us, is that even if we know they’re set up, tracking them can be tough. Do they deduct from our bank account? Which one? Maybe a credit card? After I moved out of Alaska, carefully leaving the minimums needed to avoid fees in my Alaska USA Federal Credit Union accounts, I discovered a couple of things were still deducting from that checking account (PayPal and Amazon.com, I believe). Fiscal guru types say that having your bank account or credit card information stored on favorite shopping websites is a bad idea, since it makes it far too easy to make an unnecessary purchase. I seem to have hit upon another reason this practice can be a bad idea.
In the case of the non-payment (I hate that word – it makes me feel like a delinquent) of our Verizon bill, I think I was just assuming that Aaron had set up automatic payments like he does for almost everything else. He ordered the USB modem we need to get internet at our oh-so-remote house in Los Angeles County and set up the Verizon Wireless account at the same time. As I should know by now, assumptions need to be regularly tested, because somewhere that ball had been dropped.
What about an invoice, you ask? This is another area in which our lives are very tricky. We live in a house on federal property and we can’t get mail delivered to our house. So we have a post office box. Some people don’t like post office boxes (I am a big fan of the USPS and don’t understand this) and want a physical address. We have a physical address that would allow you to locate us if you were up for some wandering, but to get anything mailed to our physical address it needs to go to Aaron’s name and in care of his specific office. Anything not addressed perfectly can take ages to get to us. Like the two Verizon Wireless invoices that were waiting on Aaron’s desk when he got back to the office from lunch the day our service was cut off.