However, it is still very important to take some precautions when paying bills online. First, make sure your computer is armed with the most up-to-date anti-virus software, such as Norton Antivirus, as well as some type of security or firewall protection. In addition, you should never select the option to automatically save your password and credit card information as even a novice hacker could crack the site and access your credit number.
For another level of protection, you may want to consider using a temporary credit card number. Some credit card companies, including Citibank, Discover and MBNA, are offering cardholders temporary account numbers to provide them with added assurances that their credit cards will not be misused online. These temporary numbers are linked to the customer's permanent account number and generally expire after one purchase or transaction.
Depending on the issuer, temporary numbers can be attained a couple of ways: the card holder can either download software that creates temporary numbers upon request or they can access temporary numbers on the card issuer's Web site.
While online bill payment offers many advantages, it is important to clearly understand any online bill payment options that you elect.
To ensure your bills are being paid on time, it is important to pay close attention to how long it takes to process each bill.
Payments through a third-party intermediary can sometimes take up to five days to clear whereas those made directly at a company's site can be debited almost immediately.
In addition to process time, if you are having money directly debited from your bank account, it is important to know when the money will be removed in order to avoid overdrafts.
If you are interested in paying your bills online, as always, it pays to do your research. If you decide to work through your bank or another third party, look for online bill paying services at no/minimal cost.
In addition, ensure that the intermediary offers assistance to users by phone and e-mail and make sure you have a firm understanding of the guarantees regarding security and timeliness. Not doing this could affect your credit standing.
E-mail Mellody with your personal finance questions.
Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Capital Management (arielmutualfunds.com) in Chicago, is Good Morning America's personal finance expert. Ariel associates Matthew Yale and Aimee Daley contributed to this report.