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Choosing an Online Fax Service: A Buyer's Guide

Choosing an Online Fax Service: A Buyer's Guide
Credit: robuart/Shutterstock

Faxing might seem like the antiquated vestige of yesterday's business world, but many companies still have the need to send an occasional fax, especially if they work with partners or government agencies that require faxing capabilities. Whatever your reasons for requiring a fax service, you don't need a bulky, expensive fax machine to do it in the digital age.

Online fax services allow you to send and receive faxes through your email account, as well as store those faxes digitally. Most services offer a low monthly subscription fee with little to no money down, and if you select a reputable vendor, these services are reliable and secure.

If you're looking for an online fax service for your business needs in 2018, here's everything you need to know about how to choose one. You can also see a full list of online fax service vendors, including our best picks and a breakdown of how we chose them, here.

Online fax services digitize the entire faxing process. There are two primary ways to send a fax using one of these services: by special email address that includes the recipient's fax number (i.e., 18005551234@vendorname.com) or through the vendor's website. Many services also offer a mobile application.

To send and receive online faxes, your service provider will translate uploaded or faxed documents into the proper format so the machine on the other end can read them. The fax will then be delivered to your recipient's fax machine (for outgoing), or to your email inbox (for incoming).

Online fax services are viable options for several reasons, but its main benefit is keeping costs down, particularly if your company faxes infrequently. Convenience is another major selling point; you don't have to be in your office or near a fax machine to send and receive documents. Managing your incoming and outgoing faxes with an online fax service is as simple as having access to a computer or mobile device.

Many services offer features to enhance usability and security, though sometimes these come at an added cost. These include mobile alerts, integration with Microsoft Outlook, preset delivery times, digital signatures, customizable cover sheets, the ability to fax multiple recipients at once, and the ability to forward incoming faxes to multiple email addresses. Some security features include SSL or PGP encryption and password protection to guard sensitive information. Most services offer these features, but it's important to check ahead of time and find out whether they cost more.

Another common option offered by vendors is the use of a toll-free fax number or a local fax number. Most services also offer long-distance and international faxing as well, though it often comes with an additional fee.

There are some online fax services that offer either send-only or receive-only plans, but many small businesses require the ability to both send and receive faxes. Some services limit the number of faxes you can store, while others limit the amount of time a fax can be archived (usually about a year).

Typically, online fax services operate on a monthly subscription model, with base fees ranging from $5 to $50 per month. This fee usually includes a set amount of incoming and outgoing faxes that is anywhere from 100 to 2,000 pages each, with higher amounts included in more comprehensive plans. If you eclipse the monthly limit, you'll trigger overage fees, which often range from 3 cents to 12 cents for each additional page beyond the allotted amount.

Some online fax services offer pay-as-you-go plans. These services don't charge any monthly fees and don't require a subscription. Instead, you pay only for the faxes you send as you send them. Generally, these plans make sense only if you very rarely send faxes. Otherwise, it's more cost-effective to purchase a plan with a prepaid number of faxes.

If you want to send faxes internationally, expect to pay an additional cost. The price varies, based on location, but be ready to pay anywhere from 2 cents to a couple of dollars more for each international fax you send depending on the country you're faxing your documents to. Some services charge one-time setup fees, which range from $10 to $25.

Most vendors offer more than one plan, so you can select whichever one works best for your business. Some plans cater to infrequent users, while others are made for businesses that send out faxes regularly. If you don't send a lot of faxes, you can usually pay less for a lower monthly fax limit; if you have a lot of faxes to send, then it's worth a few dollars more for a higher limit. Some vendors will also offer "corporate packages" for big businesses that send a high volume of faxes.

Most online fax services offer similar pricing and features, but there can be significant differences between vendors. Here are some tips that will help you evaluate services and find the best one for your business:

Assess your needs: Knowing the volume of faxes you'll need to send and receive each month is key to finding the right service provider. If you reliably only send and receive a few faxes each month, a pay-as-you-go plan might be a good choice. If your business requires more than that, it's best to pay for a package that includes a larger number of included faxes.

Ask for recommendations: Talk to other business owners who use online fax services and see which ones they recommend. What are some things they like about their service? Is there anything they would change? While there are many competing vendors, finding recommendations from other entrepreneurs is a great way to narrow down your choices.

Contact vendors: After you've gathered recommendations, contact the top contenders on your list to get a sense of the service you can expect. How a company handles the initial call from a prospective client is always telling. Is the representative upfront about all the applicable fees and the included features? Is the rep willing to spend the time to explain how the service works? Are they overly pushy and aggressive in trying to make a sale? Is the representative friendly and attentive? These are all questions to consider before choosing a vendor.

Understand fee structures: Always ask for a detailed breakdown of all monthly fees and any additional costs, including setup fees, long-distance and international fees, and overage costs. Some vendors will offer low rates but then sneak in additional, hidden costs. Reputable vendors are straightforward about their fees, no matter how they are structured. Make sure they're willing to give their fee schedule to you in writing.

Request free demos: Most online fax services will offer a free product demonstration or a trial period. Take advantage of this offer to test out the service before you sign up. A demo will allow you to find out which service is the most user friendly, because there can be vast differences between two seemingly similar services. You won't know which is best unless you try it out for yourself.

Evaluate customer service: Before you have a problem, you'll want to know that the vendor's customer service department will be there for you. Find out what the vendor offers in terms of customer support. Are there live agents available 24/7? Does the vendor offer live chat support or just email support? Again, look for recommendations from other small business owners who have experience with the company's customer service department.

Ready to choose an online fax service? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:

Additional reporting by Jill Bowers and Ashley Smith.

Adam C. Uzialko

Adam received his Bachelor's degree in Political Science and Journalism & Media Studies at Rutgers University. He worked for a local newspaper and freelanced for several publications after graduating college. He can be reached by email, or follow him on Twitter.