The Hazards of Online Bill Pay

Or, How I Paid the Wrong Electric Bill for Six Months

My electric bills.

Last October, I moved out of a Capitol Hill microapartment which was so small it didn’t include a kitchen (the landlord advised me to wash my dishes in a bus tub and dump the dirty water into the toilet) into a Ballard one-bedroom.

I called Seattle City Light to cancel the electricity on the Capitol Hill apartment and start service at the Ballard one.

Then I spent six months paying an electric bill on a closed-out account.

Here’s how it happened:

My bank has an online bill pay feature. Your bank probably has something similar. If a company is in the bank’s online bill pay database, all you have to do is drop in your account number and then, every month, you type in the amount you owe the company and off it goes. (I know that you can also automate your bill payments, but I’ve gotten burned by that before, so I do it manually.)

What I didn’t realize, when I moved, was that City Light changed my account number. What I also didn’t realize was that I’d need to update my bank’s online bill pay feature with this new number.

So I kept getting these bills, and they looked unusually high—like, previously I’d only owe City Light $17, and now the bills said I owed $56. But whatever, I kept logging on to my bank and paying them. Maybe this was just the cost of moving to a larger apartment. Maybe those LED lightbulbs I put in weren’t saving me money.

In retrospect I’m glad they didn’t turn my lights off. They didn’t even send any late payment notices. They just kept sending bills, and I kept opening up Bill Pay.

I figured it out when I got a bill saying I had a $95.46 credit, followed by a bill saying that I owed $79.59. That’s when I finally thought to look at the account numbers and realized what I’d been doing.

I contacted City Light via the customer service form on their website, uploaded photos of my recent bills, and they immediately fixed the problem. All of the payments I’d been making to the closed account were transferred to my current account, which was also—I mean, how often does it work that well, or that quickly? I have to give City Light huge amounts of respect for taking care of this so efficiently.

But, for the rest of y’all: when you move, update your online bill pay accounts. You may not get as lucky as I did.

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