An electronic payment is any kind of non-cash payment that doesn't involve a paper check. Methods of electronic payments include credit cards, debit cards and the ACH (Automated Clearing House) network. The ACH system comprises direct deposit, direct debit and electronic checks (e-checks).
For all these methods of electronic payment, there are three main types of transactions:
- A one-time customer-to-vendor payment is commonly used when you shop online at an e-commmerce site, such as Amazon. You click on the shopping cart icon, type in your credit card information and click on the checkout button. The site processes your credit card information and sends you an e-mail notifiying you that your payment was received. On some Web sites, you can use an e-check instead of a credit card. To pay by e-check, you type in your account number and your bank's routing number. The vendor authorizes payment through the customer's bank, which then either initiates an electronic funds transfer (EFT) or prints a check and mails it to the vendor.
- You make a recurring customer-to-vendor payment when you pay a bill through a regularly scheduled direct debit from your checking account or an automatic charge to your credit card. This type of payment plan is commonly offered by car insurance companies, phone companies and loan management companies. Some long-term contracts (like those at gyms or fitness centers) require this type of automated payment schedule.
- To use automatic bank-to-vendor payment, your bank must offer a service called online bill pay. You log on to your bank's Web site, enter the vendor's information and authorize your bank to electronically transfer money from your account to pay your bill. In most cases, you can choose whether to do this manually for each billing cycle or have your bills automatically paid on the same day each month.
Next, we'll discuss some of the benefits of electronic payment.