Street Talk: Need some help paying your bills?


Customers of ChoiceOne Bank can now say, “Hey, Alexa. Pay my bills.”

The Sparta-based bank is continuing its expansion into digital financial services with the rollout of voice bill pay with Amazon Alexa.

Using Alexa with the voice bill pay service feature is a secure digital solution to paying bills. Consumers create a unique PIN to prevent unauthorized users from accessing their voice bill pay account.

“We are excited to introduce this new delivery channel to our market,” said ChoiceOne Bank COO Adom Greenland. “We are constantly striving to enhance our banking technology. With voice bill pay using Amazon Alexa, we are able to provide digital payment services that include an exceptional experience for customers who prefer this enhanced level of convenience.”

Alexa allows ChoiceOne customers hands-free bill payments as well as reviews of upcoming payments. In addition, once payments are set up in voice bill pay, customers won’t need their laptops, tablets or smartphones to pay bills. They can just ask Alexa to make the payments. Home mortgages, auto, insurance, utilities and more all work with voice bill pay, Greenland said.

This feature is enabled using the iPay QuickPay skill found in the Alexa App.

More information and answers to frequently asked questions are available at

Price of love

Americans are expected to spend a record amount on Valentine’s Day this year despite a yearslong decrease in the percentage of people celebrating the holiday, according to the annual survey released recently by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

“The vast majority of Valentine’s Day dollars are still spent on significant others, but there’s a big increase this year in consumers spreading the love to children, parents, friends and coworkers,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Those who are participating are spending more than ever and that could be the result of the strong economy. With employment and income growing, consumers appear to be expanding the scope of who qualifies for a card or a box of candy.”

Those surveyed said they would spend an average $161.96 on Valentine booty. That’s up 13 percent from last year’s $143.56 and easily tops the previous record of $146.84 set in 2016. Total spending is expected to be $20.7 billion, which is an increase of 6 percent over last year’s $19.6 billion and breaks the previous record of $19.7 billion, also set in 2016.

The spending increases come even though only 51 percent of Americans plan to celebrate the holiday, down from 55 percent last year and a high of 63 percent in 2007. It is unclear why the number of consumers celebrating has trended downward over the past 12 years, according to Prosper officials, but spending, while varying with the economy, has generally trended up. The lowest spending during the period was $102.50 in 2009 during the Great Recession.

Of the $18.40 increase in average spending, only $4.26 comes from spending on spouses and significant others, which is expected to total $93.24. Consumers said they would spend $29.87 on other family members, up $4.58; $9.78 on friends, up $2.59; $8.63 on children’s classmates or teachers, up $1.37; $7.78 on co-workers, up $2.99; $6.94 on pets, up $1.44 and $5.72 on others, up $1.17.

As in each year of the survey, men are the biggest spenders at $229.54, up 20 percent from last year. That’s more than double the $97.77 women said they would spend, which is down 1 percent, and is within the survey’s margin of error.

Among age groups, those 35-44 are the biggest Valentine spenders at $279.14, followed by those 25-34 at $239.07. Both groups typically have more people to buy for including children and children’s classmates or teachers.

Gifts for pets continue to be popular, purchased by 20 percent. Pet spending is expected to total $886 million, up $519 million since NRF first asked in 2008.

Those celebrating plan to spend $3.9 billion on jewelry (given by 18 percent), $3.5 billion on an evening out (34 percent), $2.1 billion on clothing (18 percent), $1.9 billion on flowers (35 percent), $1.8 billion on candy (52 percent), $1.3 billion on gift cards (15 percent) and $933 million on greeting cards (44 percent). “Experience” gifts such as tickets to an event or a trip to a spa are wanted by 40 percent and planned to be given by 25 percent.

Department stores are the most popular Valentine’s Day shopping destination, visited by 35 percent of shoppers, followed by discount stores (32 percent), online (27 percent), specialty stores (18 percent) florists (16 percent), small or local businesses (14 percent), jewelry stores and specialty clothing stores (9 percent each).

Even among those who don’t plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a traditional fashion, 11 percent plan to treat themselves to gifts like clothing or jewelry and 9 percent plan to get together with other single friends or family.

“Valentine’s Day means different things for different people,” Prosper Vice President of Strategy Phil Rist said. “Whether it’s a day of romance or one of making sure their children have enough cards in their backpacks for each of their classmates, it’s an important day for those who choose to participate.”

Home, sweet home

The SpartanNash Foundation of Byron Center-based SpartanNash is launching a retail scan campaign to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity.

During the scan Feb. 6-17, store guests who visit any participating SpartanNash-owned retail store or fuel center will have the opportunity to donate $1, $5 or $10 at any checkout lane.

Participating stores include Family Fare Supermarkets, D&W Fresh Market, VG’s Grocery, Dan’s Supermarket and Family Fresh Market stores in eight states.

“The SpartanNash Foundation supports community nonprofit organizations that provide hunger relief, secure shelter and support our military heroes,” said Meredith Gremel, vice president of corporate affairs and communications and executive director of the SpartanNash Foundation. “Through our retail scan campaigns, we have developed many strong partnerships with local Habitats, and, in partnership with our store guests and associates, we are excited to continue to support them in 2019.

“By working with local Habitat for Humanity partners, we can ensure that all dollars donated during our retail scan campaign — together with funds granted by the SpartanNash Foundation — will have a significant impact right in our local communities.”

In 2018, the SpartanNash Foundation scan campaign raised $176,700 on behalf of local Habitat partners.

Fund balance

The LGBT Fund of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation recently awarded four grants totaling $100,000 to West Michigan nonprofits that aim to serve LGBT youth.

Arbor Circle, $45,000, to LGBTQ youth host home housing. Through this program, Arbor Circle connects LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness with adults willing to provide safe housing and support.

Grand Rapids Trans Foundation, $2,500, to financially assist transgender students with post-secondary education.

Out on the Lakeshore, $12,500, to hold seminars and develop educational literature to advance the understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ people, while helping facilitate a collaborative and educational process of serving Ottawa County’s youth.

Grand Valley State University, $40,000, to support and provide learning opportunities for community stakeholders and organizations to help advance LBGTQIA+ inclusion and equity through the university’s Social Justice Education Program.

Shelley Padnos and Carol Sarosik created the LGBT Fund in 2014 by to lead the charge against issues faced by LGBT community. It has grown since then with the support of donors throughout West Michigan. LGBT community members and allies serve on a committee that raises funds and recommends grants.

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