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CheckFree says glitches nearly fixed

The company says it has isolated the problem, but some customers complain they haven't been able to log on to pay their bills all week.

CheckFree Holdings says its online banking and electronic bill-payment services are now running at 98 percent capacity, and later today it expects to be completely free of the intermittent outages that have beset the services all week.

Bill-paying functions for some consumers who use CheckFree's system have been hit by intermittent interruptions since Monday for some users who tried to pay bills using personal finance software such as Intuit's Quicken or Microsoft Money. But CheckFree spokesman Laurinda Wilson said the outages but did not affect CheckFree's Web-based services.

"The connectivity to the system through software front ends versus Web front ends is completely different," Wilson said. "It didn't have any effect on our Web services."

Not all of the 21 banks offering CheckFree's bill-paying service for Quicken and Money users, were affected by the service glitches, she added.

CheckFree spokeswoman Wilson described the cause as "an inefficient piece of software" that created a bottleneck and limited access when too many customers tried to enter the CheckFree system.

But customers who access the service through Quicken or Money suggest the outages have been more than intermittent. Some complain they haven't been able to log on since Monday.

"Since we became aware [of the problem], CheckFree's technical staff has been working around the clock to identify the root cause" and to fix it, spokeswoman Stephanie Norton said yesterday.

Online bill-payers who use the service are concerned about late fees, but at least one bank will waive any fees owing to the disruption.

"The lack of information is a big concern," Robert Dummer, a Wells Fargo Bank customer from the San Diego area who uses Microsoft Money to pay bills, said in an email.

"If the payments are not made, we would get hit with late charges. If double payments are made, other checks would bounce causing even more havoc."

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Wendy Grover said the bank will waive online banking and bill-paying fees for April for any affected users. The bank also will work with billers to reverse any late fees but if extra charges are assessed, Wells Fargo will cover them.

Approximately 150,000 Wells Fargo customers, including those with the former NorWest Bank, who use Microsoft Money or Quicken could be affected. Wells has about 860,000 online banking customers, including those who access their accounts over the Net.

Those affected use a dial-up service, not the Internet, but Grover said those Wells Fargo customers can use Wells Fargo's Web site to access their accounts. But she urged bill payers close to their deadline to mail a paper check.

Grover also said that recurring payments that were scheduled before the outage, such as monthly rent payments, are being made even though the service is disrupted.

The outage also affected Florida customers of Bank of America, according to an email to CNET News.com.

Microsoft issued a statement attributing the outage to CheckFree servers and suggesting customers contact CheckFree directly. "We are ready to support our customers if they have problems." Intuit said it's working with CheckFree to resolve the problem. "It is not a Quicken issue."

"We haven't seen a huge spike in product support calls," said Richard Bray, general manager of Microsoft's desktop finance division. "We understand from CheckFree that it has affected a small subset of their banks."

CheckFree said that it began developing the Genesis platform 18 months ago to replace its current processing systems. It began migrating banks and consumers to the new system last fall.

Since the company began migrating consumers to Genesis, however, CheckFree said it has run into several technical challenges but has managed to find and fix the cause in each case.

"We now believe we have isolated [the root] cause, and have developed what we believe will be the solution," the company's chief operating officer Pete Sinisgalli said yesterday in a statement.

"We have the utmost confidence in the reliability and scalability of Genesis," added Sinisgalli. "However, Genesis is a very large, robust, and relatively new system."

Shares of CheckFree traded up 1.3125 to 48.0625 at mid-day today. They have sold for a high of 69.13 and a low of 5.75 in the past 52 weeks.