When looking at my latest e-bill from Softbank (my mobile phone provider), I saw a message about an impending change in the company's billing system. Apparently, all customers paying their bills a the local convenience store will be assessed an extra "printing fee" (hako-ryo 発行料) starting in a month or two. As it turns out, Softbank isn't the only company that has started penalizing customers who opt to pay the old fashioned way.

Regular readers may recall LP's recent article recent article about how to avoid the 100 yen invoice copy fee. While NTT is one of the more assertive companies when it comes to pushing non-convenience store payments, plenty of other companies have been making efforts to move away from the "pay-at-conbini" method. The impetus for moving customers off the old paper and cash billing system is the addition of fees or, in some cases, the application of a small discount applied to a monthly bill. These fees can be in the range of 100-350 yen a month. While not a huge sum, the can add up over the course of a year.

The official reason for this switch is because paper bills are bad for the environment. However, the sudden corporate interest in ecology is not exactly one-hundred percent altruistic. Everyone from the companies who print out bills to the contractors that handle payment transfers all take a cut in addition to requiring a fixed set of fees regardless of how many people actually use the service. Automated bank transfers (jido furikomi 自動振込), on the other hand, have a very low fixed cost, plus they are relatively hassle free.

Some companies that charge "service fees" and "printing fees" are:
  • Internet carriers and providers (this means two fees if you pay separate bills for each)
  • Mobile phone companies
  • Mail-order companies (if you opt to pay after the product has arrived)
  • Cable and satellite providers
Electrical companies, on the other hand, have started using an incentive system where by you get a small discount on your monthly bill (50-something yen a month, depending on the operator) if you pay by bank transfer. This only applies payments done from a normal or post office bank account, not credit cards.

Keep in mind that you might still incur a fee if you pay by bank transfer but still request a detailed invoice. Also, companies may offer separate discounts for paying via automated bank transfer and signing up for paperless e-billing.

If you are still getting paper bills, make sure to check the itemized charges to see if you are paying extra. Contact your relative company or drop by a branch with you bank seal and cashbook in hand if you wish to change your payment method.

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