Enabling automatic payments for a broadband or wireless account should be an easy choice unless you maintain a lingering penchant for sending paper checks. But choosing an autopay method may not be so obvious if you’re looking to optimize your returns — starting with providers’ own autopay incentives.
Some providers offer an autopay discount. But some telcos require payments to come from a bank account or debit card — both of which will save them the higher transaction fees of a credit card.
“The main reason for pushing for recurring check or debit payments via credit cards is almost certainly to reduce processing costs,” analyst Avi Greengart, founder of Techsponential, said in an email.
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On the other hand, analyst Mark Vena, founder of SmartTech Research, pointed out that card transactions prevent a provider from recovering customer payments for insufficient funds.
Verizon is one of the pickiest carriers, requiring debit or bank account payments to get $10 off a wireless or fiber service bill — with one exception we’ll cover shortly.
So are Comcast accounts, but only in the company’s central division in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee. There, bank transactions save $10, while debit and credit payments save just $5.
Across the rest of Comcast’s footprint, credit, debit, and bank transactions all qualify for the $10 break. (Comcast didn’t explain this payment policy pattern.) That’s the most common state of affairs in telecom; For example, AT&T and T-Mobile, the other two national wireless carriers, welcome credit cards for autopay discounts.
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And if you pay off your balance in full each month, credit cards make more sense. As Greengart wrote, they generally offer “greater protection and an easier process for disputing and reimbursing charges.”
Plus, many of the better cards offer cash or points back on purchases. Citi’s no annual fee Double Cash, for example, offers a 2% cashback reward, while some small business cards, such as Chase’s Ink series, offer as much as 5% return on telecom costs.
And some card issuers that offer cashback offers on streaming services also occasionally dangle a discount to use their cards toward a wireless or broadband bill.
William Charles, founder of the Doctor of Credit site, cited Chase’s pattern of offering cashback deals with AT&T. In these cases, he said, the issuer hopes you won’t change your payment after the deal has expired: “Once you change your card, the thought is that you’ll keep using that card.”
Charles added that while some of these offers require new registrations, that requirement is not always enforced.
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As always, you should read the fine print below these offers — usually marked on your online account page or on your card’s mobile app — before signing up for them.
You should also not expect your provider to tell you about all payment arrangements in advance. Example: The exception to Verizon’s autopay rule, a Visa credit card being offered to wireless subscribers since 2020 that not only qualifies for the autopay discount, but gives 2% back on those transactions and is also good for payments through fiber optic services.
But while Wave7 Research analyst Jeff Moore said he’s seen Verizon promote this card a lot in its stores, there was no mention of it on the wireless sign-up pages this week.
For telecom companies that often have little competition, perhaps the most cost-effective promotion is one that most people don’t know about.
Vena, a Comcast customer, summed up his provider’s communications about his autopay discounts: “I only hear about that when I call them to complain about something else.”
Rob Pegoraro is a technical writer from Washington, DC. Email Rob at email@example.com to submit a technical question. Follow him on Twitter twitter.com/robpegoraro†