Given the choice between a $30 late fee for a monthly bill and a $5 fee to avoid that penalty: which would you choose?

The answer's obvious, enough so that lots of banks will likely adopt expedited electronic payments over the next year or so. Consumers pay a fee that's a fraction of a late penalty in exchange for having a bill removed from his or her checking account balance in real time-proof that a payment was initiated before a penalty would presumably kick in. "We're seeing great opportunity," says Bruce Cundiff, director of payments research for Javelin Strategy & Research in Pleasanton, CA.

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