Carole Estabrook

I recently assisted an 89-year-old woman who was trying to pay her phone bill but apparently her service provider is no longer accepting checks. As online payment and pay-by-phone are now her only options she came to my office seeking guidance on the matter.

I suggested that she contact a service agency for help, such as Seniors Helping Seniors or that maybe the office staff at her retirement home could assist her.

“I suppose I could ask them,” she said frowning. “But I’d hate bother them with something as trivial as a phone bill.”

Then I suggested that she set up automatic billing; a payment that would come out of her account automatically each month. She blinked astounded. “They can take my money without me seeing a bill or writing a check? I don’t think I’d be comfortable with that.”

Not that I blame her. Frankly, it is sort of horrifying when you think about it. When did paying a bill get so complicated?

I hate having 30 different passwords for 30 different accounts. And even if I can remember my password, for some reason my lending institution won’t take a penny from me until it knows my favorite ice cream flavor.

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Seriously?! Are you taking a survey? My favorite ice cream flavor is “if you don’t log me into my account right now I’m going to climb through this computer and pop you in the nose.”

As for pay-by-phone, I think I would need a full column to adequately describe the torture of trying to pay a bill over the telephone. It’s like; Press 1. (Beep) Press 2. (Beep) Using the key pad, please enter the first three digits of your high school math teacher’s maiden name. Huh?

When I began writing this column I thought I might focus on how ridiculous it is to expect senior citizens to go through all of this red tape just to pay a bill. But as I typed up my thoughts I realized that I hate going through all of the red tape too.

Seriously, I go through a lot of hullabaloo to pay a lot of my bills and I grew up with this technology.

“I’ve been paying my phone bill with a check since 1947 and I never had an issue until today,” the woman told me. I apologized to her for her trouble and sent her over to her bank hoping that they could perhaps help her sort it all out.

Honestly, paying a bill shouldn’t be so complicated, no matter how old you are.

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Estabrook's column appears Mondays and she can be reached at estabrookcarole@yahoo.com