The $12,000 Design Mistake

Paying bills online may be a time saver to some, but it can adversely impact older users.

Last week, 73-year-old Arthur Simmons decided to pay his home phone bill online for the very first time.

He was supposed to put in $124.14, but he forgot to enter the decimal point. He didn’t notice that the Qwest website added the decimal point and two zeroes for him, so his payment actually went through for $12,416.00.

Simmons and his wife live on a fixed income, and $12,000 is more than they get from social security in an entire year.

The instantaneous withdrawal of $12,000 from his account sent checks bouncing, and left him with nothing to live on.

“I had to get a loan to cover the overdraft, so now that’s costing us,” Simmons said.

One of the benefits to online billpay is convenience, but designers sometimes ignore the other benefit: technology allows for guards against common mistakes.

The designer should ask: “Is there any case where someone would pay 100x their monthly bill? No? Maybe we shouldn’t allow that.”

Of course, the first step would be for the company to have accountability to its customers:

When he called Qwest, he was told it would take six weeks to get him a refund. “They say I can E-Pay them, but they can’t E-Pay it back,” Simmons said.

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