Target breach shows why you must keep track of your automatic payments

If you’re like a lot of people affected by the recent theft of credit and debit card data from Target, your bank has cancelled one or more of your cards and reissued them with different account numbers.

And that’s a problem if you’ve authorized companies to charge or withdraw payments from one or more of those cards automatically when those payments are due. Trying to remember which companies you need to notify about changes in those card numbers can be a challenge. To jog your memory, you may have to go through all of your recent checking and credit card statements. Miss any one of those companies and you could end up with a nasty fee when your bank suddenly rejects one or more of the automatic payments you authorized however long ago.  So now is a good time to take measures to ensure that you don’t end up in a similar jam the next time your credit card, debit card, or checking account number changes due to a security issue or simply because you closed an account.

Make a list. Start by making a list of every company that you have authorized to use auto pay to pay your bills. Maybe it’s your natural gas, electric, or telecommunications provider or your mortgage company, insurer, or credit card issuer. List which card or account each company uses for those automatic payments. For credit and debit cards, also record the expiration dates, which you may need to update with any company that has your card on file. That way, when there’s a change in a card or bank account, you’ll need only consult the list to see which companies you need to notify. Preparing the list electronically, using spreadsheet or word processing software, makes it easy to back it up so you’ll have additional copies.

For more advice on examining your auto payments and other "systems" for handling your finances, read "Financial housekeeping for the new year: Part III."

Provide more than one payment method. Some companies let you set up a secondary payment method that can be used if there’s a problem with the primary one. For example, the New York Service Center for the E-ZPass toll collection system lets users enter a primary and secondary credit card for toll payments. That can be a handy way of avoiding an administrative fee and other charges assessed because unknowing, you went through a toll with an E-ZPass lacking a payment source, as one of our editors did after her credit card number changed.

Check your correspondence. Don’t ignore or delay reading e-mails, texts, letters, or any other communications from companies with which you do business. It could be a notice that the payment method you authorized when setting up auto pay needs to be updated, such as when the card expiration date has passed.

Anthony Giorgianni

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