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Choosing an Online Fax Service: A Buyer's Guide

image for robuart/Shutterstock
robuart/Shutterstock

It may not seem like a modern method of communication, but faxing is still a viable technology in 2019. Businesses of all sizes around the world still send and receive faxes, especially those that work with government agencies or are in the healthcare industry.

However, fax machines have largely been replaced by digital solutions, as scores of companies provide online fax services that allow you to send and receive faxes through your email account. Rather than having to print faxes and file them for safekeeping, you can store your fax messages securely in the cloud. Some services allow you to edit and digitally sign documents, further reducing the need to print them, which saves you money on machine maintenance, ink and paper.

If you or your company are looking to incorporate an online fax service into your office's workflow, here are some things you should keep in mind as you select a business faxing service.

If you're ready to choose a faxing solution, check out our online fax service recommendations, best pick reviews and comprehensive list of online fax vendors.

For decades, traditional fax machines worked by translating scanned documents into an audio tone that was then transmitted over telephone lines. Businesses needed a separate phone number and a bulky machine to use this technology. Today, faxing can be done online – without a dedicated phone line and extra machinery.

Online fax services take a digital file and send it using a special email address that includes the recipient's fax number (e.g., 18005551234@vendorname.com) or through the vendor's website.

When sending online faxes, your service provider translates the uploaded documents into the proper format so the machine on the other end can read them and then sends them to your recipient's fax machine. Similarly, when receiving faxes, the service provider translates the faxed document into a digital format that you can read online, then delivers the fax to your email inbox.

An online fax service is a viable option for a small business for several reasons, but the main benefit is keeping costs down.

With an online fax service, there's no need to purchase, operate and maintain a separate machine with its own telephone line. Without you having to print documents before faxing them, the process of uploading files directly to the service saves time and money while reducing paper waste. It's also worth noting that if your company sends faxes infrequently, it may not make much sense to invest in traditional faxing methods.

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 installing an app on your smartphone or other mobile device.

Along with the ability to send and receive faxes, online fax services usually offer a number of features to enhance their usability and security, though some features cost extra. Some services offer a mobile app, mobile alerts, integration with existing software like Microsoft Outlook, preset delivery times, electronic signatures, customizable cover sheets, the ability to fax multiple recipients at once, and the ability to forward incoming faxes to multiple email addresses.

Faxes often contain sensitive information, especially if your business works with healthcare providers or government agencies. To safeguard your transmissions, most service providers include some form of data protection, including SSL or PGP encryption as well as password protection. Some also comply with HIPAA. Some vendors charge extra for these features, so it's important to check before making a decision.

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

Some fax providers offer either send-only or receive-only plans, but many small businesses need to do both. Some services also limit the number of faxes you can store, while others limit the amount of time a fax can be archived.

There are many options to consider when adopting a faxing service for your business. How much you intend to use the service and how much you want to spend sending and receiving faxes are important elements to consider.

In our research, we found that nearly every online fax solution operates on a monthly subscription model. Base fees range from $5 to $50 per month, with varying tiers of service providing different features. This price usually comes with a set amount of incoming and/or outgoing faxes ranging from just a couple of pages a month to thousands of pages. If you send or receive more pages or faxes than your monthly limit, companies charge overage fees ranging of 3 to 12 cents per page to your account. Some services charge one-time setup fees, which range from $10 to $25.

As an alternative to a plan with a monthly fee, some faxing services offer a pay-as-you-go plan. In this model, you don't pay any monthly fees, but instead pay for each fax you send. Naturally, this type of plan makes the most financial sense for entities that don't send many faxes each month.

Since faxing is still widely used to send sensitive documents to customers or vendors in foreign countries – including technologically advanced locales like Japan – some services offer international faxing capabilities at an additional cost. The price varies by location, but be ready to pay anywhere from 2 cents to a couple of dollars or more for each international fax you send, depending on the country you're faxing your documents to.

While there are many fax service providers to choose from and the details of each may look similar, there are a few key points to keep in mind when choosing a fax solution for your business. Here are some tips to help you evaluate faxing services and find the best option for your business.

Knowing the volume of faxes that you need to send and receive each month is key to finding the right service provider. If you don't send a lot of faxes, you can choose an inexpensive plan with a lower monthly fax limit. Conversely, if you have a lot of faxes to send, you'll want to spend a few dollars more for a higher limit so you can avoid overage charges. Some vendors offer "corporate packages" for businesses that send a high volume of faxes each month. Consider what you would feasibly send and receive in a month and choose a plan that fits.

Reaching out to vendors is a good way to evaluate not just their product, but their customer service as well. Pay attention to how customer service representatives discuss company offerings. Are they upfront about the costs? Do they succinctly explain the included features? Are they obviously trying to push you into a sale? It's important to know how you'll be treated if things go sideways, and getting some one-on-one time over the phone can help illustrate how that would go down.

Hidden fees and unexpected costs are the worst. While most online fax service providers we examined listed their pricing model on their website, it sometimes took extra digging to find out about other charges, such as setup fees, long-distance fees and overage costs. Be sure to learn all about the costs, both advertised and hidden. Even if the company doesn't require you to sign a contract or long-term agreement, it will hold you liable for all fees – including those you unwittingly incur.

Most online fax providers offer a free product demonstration or trial period. Take advantage of this offer to test out the service before you sign up. A demo allows 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.

Additional reporting by Adam C. Uzialko.

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Andrew Martins

Andrew Martins is an award-winning journalist with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey. Before joining Business.com and Business News Daily, he wrote for a regional publication and served as the managing editor for six weekly papers that spanned four counties. Currently, he is responsible for reviewing tax software and online fax services. He is a New Jersey native and a first-generation Portuguese American, and he has a penchant for the nerdy.