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Time-saving strategies for keeping records, paying bills

There are strategies that can reduce the amount of time you devote to paying bills and keeping records. You may have to pay extra for these services, but for many people, it is well worth the cost.

Let the bank do it
Set up a monthly bill-paying system with your bank. Most mortgage lenders and utility companies will work with an automatic bill-paying system. For bills that are variable, you still get a copy of your month's charges so you can keep your checkbook in balance.

Purchase software
You can program computer software packages such as Managing Your Money, Quicken and CheckFree to pay your bills. With an online account, you can check your current balance and even transfer funds to pay bills yourself. You can arrange to transfer funds from your bank to your children away at school or to parents you help support.

Automatic investment
A great help in reaching financial goals is the automatic investment program. In fact, some mutual fund companies allow you to invest initially with a lower amount if you agree to a monthly investment program. One of your monthly transfers from your bank can be to one or more investments. Once you've made the decision, you won't miss the money and it will accumulate with little pain while rewarding you later.

Some brokerages offer combined asset management accounts where you can earn money-market interest rates and write checks of a certain minimum amount. Likewise, if you are using your investments for monthly income, you can arrange to have money transferred regularly from a mutual fund or IRA to your checking account. This may be a good way to start using IRA funds after you are 70-1/2 and are required to make regular withdrawals.

Overdraft protection
Although you don't plan to use it, check overdraft protection can save costly bounced-check charges. Overdraft protection is actually a short-term loan that will automatically cover your checking account if there are insufficient funds.

ATM cards
ATM cards can be a benefit when you need cash. The cards also can save you money when you are traveling. Rather than carrying traveler's checks, you can use your ATM card in foreign ATMs -- the exchange rate is generally much more favorable than at hotels and airports. Your ATM card, though, must be part of worldwide networks such as Cirrus and PLUS.

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