Monday, July 30, 2007

Scan Your Mail, Save the Earth

Let's say you travel a lot or you've sold your house and you haven't yet found a permanent address. Wouldn't it be cool if you could somehow get your mail on the internet? At first this seems like a crazy idea. It doesn't really make sense to have that book from Amazon shipped to a virtual address. But for a lot of mail it makes sense.

There is a service called Earth Class Mail that allows you forward your snail mail to a post office box at one of their locations. When the mail arrives, they scan the outside of the envelope and send you an email. You can then log into their secure web site and deal with your mail. You basically have 4 options:

  1. Recycle it
  2. Shred it
  3. Open it
  4. Forward it
If it you choose option 3 they will open it and scan in the contents so you can come back later and read what was inside the envelope. If it's a note from your Aunt Sandy, you may just want to file it away at ECM while you ponder your reply. If it's a check from your utility company, then you'll probably want them to forward it to you, since you can't print out a PDF of a check and deposit it into your bank account.

I'm giving it a try. I'll report back after a few weeks and let you know how it goes. I'm thinking that the level of junk mail I get will be greatly reduced. We'll see if that actually happens.

I'm a big fan of a similar service called Paytrust, a part of Intuit, the folks that brought you Quicken. Paytrust is like Earth Class Mail except it's only for bills. With Paytrust you have all your billers send their bills to you at the Paytrust address in South Dakota. They scan in the bill and then send you email when the bill arrives. Paytrust has additional functionality in that they can pay the bills for you. For a lot of the bigger guys like American Express and Cingular they can retrieve and pay your bill electronically. For the little guys they can simply send a physical check. I do this with my local exterminator who sprays our house for bugs every few months.

One of the great things about Paytrust is that you can setup automatic payment rules. If the electric bill is less than $100 (I wish) then pay it automatically. You can also setup multiple checking accounts and have them pay certain bills from a predefined checking account. Finally, Paytrust will also send you a CD at the end of the year with all your scanned in bills and records of your payments. I always file this away with my yearly taxes.