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Automated Bill Payment Service Comes to Okinawa

By: Kelly Smith

Date Posted: 2000-02-04

It's that familiar chore. Get off work early or take time on your day off, go to the bank, stand in line, and buy yen. Then you drive off base and run around paying bills. Sound familiar? If you live off-base, this probably describes a ritual that you or your spouse dutifully perform at least once each month. Maybe you have returned from a long vacation or TDY, only to find your utilities cut off and your mailbox full of late payment notices. Or perhaps you are new to the island, and have not yet learned "the ropes" of paying rent, electricity, water, gas, phone and other off-base bills. Even if you live on one of Okinawa's military bases, you may have a car payment, cellular phone, cable, or other bills that you have to go and pay in person.

Stateside, most military members are accustomed to paying their bills from the convenience of their kitchen table - they write out a check, put a stamp on an envelope and mail it off. Or, they may have their bills automatically deducted from their bank accounts, through the same automated bank system that the military uses to deposit their pay.

When they come to Japan, however, many service members are surprised to learn that they must physically pay most bills - especially off-base bills - in cash. When they go on a long deployment or take extended leave to the States, they are disappointed to learn that they must make arrangements with their creditors, often paying bills beforehand or giving a friend access to their accounts so that they can pay their bills for them. Checks are not accepted in Japan, and there is no simple way to deduct bills from their American bank accounts - until now...

G.I. Bill Pay Service, Inc. was established by Americans very familiar with the problems incurred with paying bills in Japan. They recognized a pent-up demand by Americans for an easier way to pay their bills. Ironically, the Japanese banking system actually has a system in place to automatically pay bills, but to take advantage of it, one must have a Japanese bank account, and more importantly, a reliable way to get yen into that account each month. With international wire fees ranging between $15 and $35, and with the difficulty of setting up and maintaining an account in Japan, most military members don't find this option very attractive. G.I. Bill Pay has solved this problem by teaming up with the Bank of Okinawa and Sanwa Bank California to combine the best of both the American and Japanese systems.

Clients of G.I. Bill Pay pay up to $5 a month to have their off-base bills directly debited from their U.S. bank accounts. G.I. Bill Pay monitors the payment of each bill, then sends a monthly statement to the client, as well as a copy of certified utility receipts to both the client and his/her unit. This helps keep the member in good standing with his/her unit, since G.I. Bill Pay guarantees timely delivery of all utility receipts. But G.I. Bill Pay also makes your car, cable, and cell phone payments without you having to leave the comfort of your home.

The president of G.I. Bill Pay, Joe Plott, is a businessman and retired Air Force officer who has lived on the island since 1991. He says: "When I first arrived in Okinawa, I lived in the local community until I could move on base. After I retired I had to move off base again. I always felt that it was such a hassle to have to buy yen to pay my off base bills. There just had to be a better way.”

According to Mr. Plott, "the idea for G.I. Bill Pay has probably been around for a long time, but we found the right partners to make it happen." After nearly a year of negotiations with banks in Japan and the U.S., the company succeeded in breaking through conceptual and cultural barriers that had impeded it. G.I. Bill Pay now offers its services to any U.S. military member, DoD, NAF, DoDDS, university or contractor employee living in Okinawa. In addition, with the tremendous response it has received here on island, G.I. Bill Pay plans to expand to other mainland Japan bases in the near future.

For their customers’ security and piece of mind, the nice thing about G.I. Bill Pay is the fact that “the money transfer is safe.” All of the money transactions are guaranteed by the banking system and G.I. Bill Pay is bonded for financial liability.

They have already had customers come in and say things like, 'I can't believe no one has ever offered this service before. I've been praying for something like this since I arrived on the island."

Interested persons may contact the company at 936-9640, or visit them in person at their office outside Kadena Gate 1.

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