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The evolution of utility billing.

The processes of billing residents for their utilities, such as water, trash and gas, has advanced tremendously since its advent in Florida in the late 1980s. When submetering and allocation first started, community directors and billing companies would spend many hours shuffling invoices and rent rolls.

"When we first started this process, the paperwork and time spent transferring information to our utility billing company would take hours," said Cynthia McKinney, Community Director, The Dominion, Lubbock, Texas.

In the early days of billing, communities typically faxed rent rolls to the utility billing company, and the billing company would manually re-key the data. When a resident moved in or out, the community would again fax a request and the utility billing company would go through a manual updating process. At that time, billing software programs for submetering or RUBS billing were not readily available.

With customized software, community managers simply export files from their property management software system in an electronic format to the billing company. Billing companies directly import those files into their software systems. After a utility billing company calculates a resident's bill, the company seamlessly transfers the billing information file back to the community for importing payment information into their property management software.

"The process of getting information to our utility billing company now takes only minutes as opposed to hours," McKinney said.

One-Bill Wonder

Collecting utility payments has been a burden for community managers. Community personnel had to spend considerable time receiving and properly posting payments to resident ledgers.

Technology allows communities to consolidate all utilities into a single-bill system, which allows them to bill residents one time for all utilities, such as rent, trash, water, wastewater and gas.

"The single bill program greatly increases our bottom line and gives our community directors better ability to receive payment for all monies due," said Suzanne Comer, Vice President of Corporate Services, McDougal Properties LTD, Lubbock, Texas.

Some communities are allowing utility billing companies to collect for them. By doing this, the community frees its employees to focus on leasing and resident retention activities. However, under this system, most communities do not see their reimbursements from utility billing companies for as many as 45 days.

A Speedy Online Option

An automated collecting process speeds reimbursement time from more than 30 days to only a few days. Today's technology allows residents to pay online via credit, debit or e-check. Funds can be deposited into a community's account within a matter of a few days, as opposed to the 30-day interval for property reimbursement.

Utility billing companies that accept physical checks for payments can scan those checks, update software and deposit funds straight into a community's account within a few days. This technology has eliminated the task of manually processing checks, updating software, physically making bank deposits and reimbursing communities the following month via check.

"Since moving to an automated collection process with our utility billing company, the reimbursements that use to take up to 30 days are now being done within a few days," said Mike McDougal, President, McDougal Properties LTD. "This has a tremendous positive impact on our cash flow at each property."

Paul Anderson, The Singenis Corp., can be reached at 888/746-4364 or
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Author:Anderson, Paul
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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