Mobile Computing: Going Away for Awhile?
It happens a lot during the summer, but it can occur anytime. I'm not talking about chigger bites, mind you. I'm talking about people taking an extended leave of absence. You know, the kind where you're vacationing for a month on Cape Cod. Or you're on a three-month assignment in London.
The challenge with an extended absence is keeping up on bills, snail mail, and other necessary intrusions. Here are three ways to use technology and the Web to stay on top when you've out of the loop.
1. Use Online Bill Notification
In many cases, you can opt to receive electronic versions of bills sent to you in e-mail (they're called "ebills"). Before you leave, check the Web sites of your landline and cell phone companies, bank, credit-card issuers, cable TV providers, mortgage loan company, and others from whom you receive monthly statements and bills. Often, these companies offer the option to receive bills electronically rather than in the mail. It saves them postage, and it's more convenient for you when you're on the road.
2. Pay Bills Online
Most banks today offer online bill payment. Some provide the service free, as long as you have an eligible checking account. Particularly useful is the ability to set up automatic payments.
Alternatively, many companies let you make payments to them directly from their Web sites. For example, after setting up online account access, you can pay your American Express bill at the Amex Web site. This is a good option if you need the payment to be received as quickly as possible. (In other words, you're late or about to be.)
Another option is to use a third-party bill payment service, such as Paytrust. For $13 per month, Paytrust lets you view your bills online and pay up to 30 bills electronically from your regular bank accounts (additional bill payments are 50 cents each). You must have your bills forwarded to a unique post-office box address in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that the Paytrust Bill Center sets up for you, according to the company's Web site. At the Paytrust center, your bills are scanned and then posted online for your viewing. You can pay them with your regular banking account.
Tip: Set up online banking at least one month before you leave. That way, if complications arise, you can more easily contact your bank's customer service department.
3. Have Your Mail Forwarded
If you'll be at a U.S. address, you can have your mail forwarded by the U.S. Postal Service using a temporary Change of Address Order. This free service forwards primarily First-Class Mail and periodicals, but usually not Standard Mail or packages. Mail is forwarded one piece at a time. Sign up for a temporary COA at the USPS site.
The U.S. Postal Service also offers Premium Mail Forwarding for domestic mail recipients. This service delivers all your mail in one weekly Priority Mail shipment. There's a $10 enrollment fee and a weekly $10.40 charge.
A third-party service called USGlobalMail lets you choose the mail you want forwarded domestically or abroad. Here's how it works, according to the company's Web site: After signing up for the service, have all mail sent to your regular address forwarded to a US Global Mail address in Houston. Then, from the road, you use your Web browser to view a list of the mail you received. Choose which pieces should be discarded and which forwarded. Mail can be forwarded via FedEx, UPS, U.S. Postal Service, and DHL, at various rates. The service costs $15 per month; shipping costs are extra.
For tips on setting up an office away from home, read "Vacation Office Setup."