Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Medical Flexible Spending Account (FSA)

This is another account which normally requires significant effort to gather up all the receipts so that you can get refunded from the medical FSA. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here are some steps to take:
  • Sign up for a debit card -- this will cost you some money, but is well worth it in terms of reduced time spent managing your medical FSA account.
  • Set up your account online with your medical FSA administrator, such as TeamCornerstone.
  • Use the debit card for all medical expenses, such as co-pays and hospital expenses, or even over the counter medication. There is normally no need to submit receipts for co-pays and hospital expenses, but you will want to hold on to receipts for over-the-counter purchases. (Note that you can always get a yearly summary of all your co-pays from your doctor/hospital and pharmacy -- so don't worry holding on to every piece of paper from these folks.)
  • Sign up for electronic delivery of "receipt request" letters from the FSA administrator so that you can keep track of expenses for which you need to mail, fax, or even email your receipts. (This will typically be required for over-the-counter expenses).

That's it. Go online every once in a while to make sure your account is in good health .

If only we could start using electronic ways of collecting receipts! Some cell phone companies are already working on this -- I will try to cover this at some point in the future.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Push to be paperless at work

I have begun an effort to get more people at work to be paperless with the following points:
  • Electronic submission of all expense reports

  • Make all HR/accounting forms (PDFs) interactive so that they can be filled directly online. Also allow electronic signatures in these PDFs to allow all forms to be submitted electronically.

  • Make all paycheck statements available online.

  • Move away from a paper-based fax system to an electronic system so that incoming faxes come in as PDFs (or other formats). Also allow direct faxing from anyone’s computer without having to print out a copy before faxing it the traditional way. I use and it works out pretty good for my personal (not work) usage.

  • Deploy a desktop search tool (such as that from Google or X1) to make it a snap to locate any document on personal computers. Knowing that it is going to be painless to locate any document will encourage people to store more documents electronically, rather than saving paper copies.

  • Deploy industrial-strength shredders (or other secure shredding) so that people who have accumulated confidential printed material can shred them easily instead of storing them on their desks not knowing what to do. Reduced clutter will make it easier to locate any remaining useful paper documents.

  • Discourage printing multiple copies of a presentation (or other material) for meeting attendees. Provide all attendees with electronic copies in advance and leave it to individual attendees to decide whether or not they need paper copies.

Friday, May 4, 2007

Visa applications

I had to apply for a visa to travel to Europe (don't ask why!) and found that I had to make paper copies of many documents: Letter from employer, letter from our French office, hotel reservations, air tickets, insurance information, etc. I wonder if the consulates should move to accepting electronic versions of these documents, maybe appropriately signed/notarized electronically. I know PDFs can be signed electronically, but I wonder if there is a way to notarize documents electronically. In any case, this would just make it easier for the consulates and for visa applicants.

I believe some consulates (UK, as an example) already accept applications online, but documents need to be sent by mail. So maybe they will soon move towards a paperless application system.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Not so easy...

Well, I thought I had taken care of electronic billing from T-Mobile, but realized that it could be a while before I stopped seeing those paper bills. Here is why. T-Mobile states the following:

It may take us a few billing cycles to set up Paperless Billing for you. You still may receive some paper bills after you confirm your e-mail address.

So let's wait and see how long.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Reducing even more paper

I checked my mail from the past couple of days today and found the following: T-mobile bill (even though I already pay the bill electronically) and proxy cards for some of my investments. I logged on to the t-mobile site and quickly turned on electronic billing. The proxy cards were a bit tricky. One of the sites would not recognize my control number (even though it was the right number because I was able to vote). The other site Proxy Vote allowed me to switch to electronic delivery of proxy materials without any problems.

In fact it appears that the default at Proxy Vote is electronic delivery (which is great). This wesbite also had the following notice on their site:

Dear Shareholder:

Beginning July 1, 2007, new “Notice and Access” rules from the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission give public companies an alternative method of providing proxy materials to shareholders.

Instead of automatically sending shareholders a complete set of proxy materials by mail (typically consisting of an annual report, proxy statement, and voting card), companies may choose instead to mail a simple “Notice of Internet Availability of Proxy Materials” (the “Notice”). Among other points of information, the Notice lists an Internet website address where shareholders may access proxy materials online. The Notice also includes instructions for requesting proxy materials (at no charge) by mail or e-mail, as you prefer. We anticipate many companies will utilize the new “Notice and Access” method because of the timeliness and cost effectiveness of Internet availability.