Are Whatcom County residents getting a break on their monthly bills?

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Whatcom County residents pay, on average, less in common bills than others do nationwide, a new study indicates, but it’s not necessarily because they are getting a better deal.

Last year residents in the Bellingham metro area paid on average $1,005 a month for nine common bills, including cell phones, auto insurance and utilities. That’s lower than the national average of $1,037 and well below many nearby areas including Seattle. Doxo, a Seattle-based company that allows people to pay bills through one secure account, put together the report using data from a customer base of 2.5 million and more than 50,000 billing companies.

One factor for Whatcom’s lower average is that residents surveyed pay fewer bills. According to the survey, 88% of Whatcom households have a cell phone bill, lower than the national average of 93%. Other common bills where Whatcom households had a lower percentage than the national average were alarm and security, auto insurance, life insurance, health insurance, dental insurance and auto loans.

There could be a few different factors in play for Whatcom’s apparent austere lifestyle, said Jim Kreyenhagen, vice president of marketing and consumer services for Doxo. One possibility is the high housing costs, forcing people to cut back on extras. Another factor could be the influence of having a university. Enough college students may be having out-of-area parents paying for things like car and health insurance to impact the overall percentage.

Whatcom residents are more likely to pay a cable/satellite bill than the national average, according to the study. The average monthly Whatcom cable/satellite bill is $106, about 9% lower than the national average.

When it comes to average monthly bills, the study shows some interesting trends. The average monthly auto loan payment in Whatcom County is $401, almost 10% higher than the national average and comparable to the average auto loan in Seattle. At the same time, Whatcom’s average monthly auto insurance payment is $178, 21% lower than the U.S. average.

“That tells me (Whatcom) residents tend to drive nicer cars and have fewer incidents,” Kreyenhagen said, noting that the relatively mild weather and fewer urban driving areas might contribute to the lower rates.

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The Whatcom bill that is well above the national average is dental insurance, according to the study. It estimates Whatcom residents pay 52% more than the national average. One possible reason for the difference is that a higher percentage of employer plans cover more of the dental costs, skewing the average toward people who pay full price for the coverage, he said.

The survey also indicates Whatcom residents are slightly more likely to pay bills with a credit card than the national average. It also noted that 57% of household bill paying is done by women in Whatcom County, similar to the survey’s national average.

Along with showing trends in bill-paying habits, Kreyenhagen said the study also shows whether people are paying too much for a service and if it is time to shop around for a better deal.

“I think consumers benefit by seeing what others are paying,” he said.

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Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.