After years of debating if consumers would ever feel confident enough in online security to entrust their everyday financial transactions to the new channel, it seems online payments are finally replacing check writing as the preferred way to pay bills. Great stats.

According to the latest "Consumer Billing and Payment Trends" survey from the CheckFree Corporation, conducted by the Marketing Workshop and Harris Interactive, 69% of US online households say they are paying at least one bill online. Last year the figure was 56%.

By December last year, paper checks were used for 37.5% of all bill payments and online payments for 35%. Clearly, online payments are close to becoming the preferred way to pay bills, at least among online users.

"As paying bills online has evolved into a mainstream consumer activity, ironically, face to face interactions such as conversations with account managers or tellers, and brochures given out at the bank branch, remain the most effective way to market the service," said Matt Lewis of CheckFree. "The website must also be easy to use to lead interested consumers through the enrollment process, then on to making payments and receiving bills online."

Consumers who currently pay bills online at a consolidated site, such as a bank, brokerage or credit union, indicate the leading benefits of the service are convenience, ease of use, control and speed of payment. When asked to rate the most important overall benefit, they said paying bills online saves paper, stamps and hassle.

In addition, electronic bills (e-bills) enhance consumer satisfaction. The survey found that of all online consumers, consolidated users with e-bill were the most satisfied with their bank, online banking and their bill payment service. In fact, 61% of consolidated users with e-bill rated themselves as very satisfied with online banking, versus 54% of consolidated users without e-bill and 51% of consumers who use online banking but do not pay bills online.

Another incentive for paying bills online, and perhaps one of the most important drivers of its growth, is the fact that 91% of users who pay their bills from a single consolidated website say they receive the service for free.

More here.