Sallie Mae is preparing to enter the ranks of companies sending bills through cyberspace.

The nation's largest source of educational funding has signed a three- year agreement to have Inc. of San Antonio, Tex., manage its on-line billing. With volume of more than 2.6 million statements a month, Sallie Mae is's biggest biller.

The entry of one more large company into electronic billing could contribute to the critical mass of bills that experts have said is key to widespread consumer use.

Reston, Va.-based Sallie Mae said it expects that the number of electronic statements it sends out will increase to more than four million per month next year.

"On-line bill processing offers our customers the most flexible and convenient student loan payment option," said Robert R. Levine, president of Sallie Mae Servicing Corp., the affiliate in charge of mailing bills. He said Sallie Mae chose because it can get clients up and running quickly and send bills to a variety of Web sites. has agreements with Checkfree Holdings Corp. and Transpoint LLC, a joint venture of Microsoft Corp., First Data Corp., and Citigroup, to help distribute the bills of clients.

Checkfree's distribution sites include the Web sites of First Union Corp., Bank One Corp., Charles Schwab & Co., and Prudential Securities Inc. officials said Sallie Mae would begin sending bills after a 12-week implementation phase that "would begin shortly." Both companies declined to reveal what Sallie Mae is paying for the service.

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