Mint Bills would like consumers to be able to pay their utility bills with a whole host of payment methods on mobile devices without a service fee. But when billers can't distribute the costs of certain payment methods, Mint Bills will make sure the fees stay low.

In the U.S., many public utility billers are regulated in a way that prevents them from absorbing credit card fees and then distributing that cost evenly among its customers. Instead customers that use a credit card must pay a service fee.

This is the case with Questar Corp. a natural gas provider in Utah which began working with Mint Bills last week. "Regulators have determined that at this point those costs should be borne by those that use the credit card," said Brad Markus, general manager of customer service and community relations at Questar.

Mint Bills agreed to keep the fee for using a credit card through its mobile application the same as the current fee charged by Questar's online payment provider, Western Union for credit card transactions, Markus said. Questar customers pay $1.99 when they initiate a bill payment with a credit card online.

There's a "broad trend to move away from the service fees," said Steve Schultz, general manager of distribution for Mint Bills and chief operating officer. But policies that involve public commissions or other regulatory bodies can take years to change, he said. 

Some utility providers already have the option to absorb credit card fees and then embed those costs into the price of their service. But groups that advocate for lower-income consumers oppose the practice since consumers who don't use credit cards would pay a higher price for their utilities.

Questar also accepts debit cards as well as electronic and paper checks. But before its partnership with Mint Bills, Questar's more than one million customers had no way to pay from their mobile devices.

"What we're finding is our customer base is changing; millennials are becoming more interested in paying bills with their mobile devices," said Markus.

Questar spoke with several other utility companies about their mobile billing providers before choosing Mint Bills for its "willingness to work with us on what we thought was important, including paperless billing and ease for customers … plus the Intuit name is well recognized," said Markus.

Mint Bills takes its name from Mint, Intuit's bank account aggregation site. Intuit's Mint Bills, developed out of the company's acquisition of Check last year.

Mint Bills has close to 20 billers in its network. The Intuit service is etching out a niche with natural gas providers with New Jersey Natural Gas Co. and UGI Utilities in Pennsylvania also recently signing contracts.  

More than 60% of the deals that have been inked between merchants and the bill pay provider came after Intuit bought Check, Schultz said.

While Mint has historically focused on consumers, the company is trying to get traction with merchants as well. The acquisition of Check and the building out of a payments platform was a natural progression, Schultz said.

"Mint is a great tool for tracking spending and sticking to a budget...but that's backwards looking," he said. "The key driver with the Check acquisition was to be able to look forward, to provide daily use cases. Bill payment is a daily or weekly activity consumers have to pay attention to."

Mint Bills has an "aggressive" plan for integrating the service into the wider functionality of Mint and Intuit's small-business assets, such as QuickBooks.

 

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