Record numbers of people are buying their Christmas gifts online. According to a new study, they might pay for those presents over the Internet as well.

By 2005, 20 per cent of all bill payments will be done electronically, with the majority of those reimbursements conducted over EBPP (electronic bill presentment and payment) Internet services, according to a study conducted by PSI Global released Friday.

EBPP transactions will grow to 200 times the 1999 rate of Internet bill payment, reaching a total value of over £3 billion in five years, the study predicts. This year, 18 billion items, or 1 per cent of all bill payments, were transacted over the Internet. Insurance, communications, credit card, lending and utility companies are the most likely to provide online billing and payment options for customers, the study said. That figure is predicted to rise to 23 billion items billed via the Internet in five years.

Electronic bill payments accounted for 1.5 billion items or 7 per cent of all bill payments this year, PSI Global said. Most electronic bill payments are carried out using the Automated Clearing House (ACH), according to the study.

Only 5 per cent of US companies that bill in high volume now allow for Internet payments, though 24 per cent say that they plan to offer Net billing within the next two years, PSI Global said.

This is not the first study to predict rapid growth in online billing. Jupiter Communications published a study in February estimating that 15 million US households will have monthly bills delivered online by 2002.