This question originated from listening to a Dido song. "Got bills to pay" is a pretty common expression in English. It expresses the sentiment that we all have our expenses and in more general sense obligations / responsibilities that affect what we do and how we live. In Russian, however, there are two expressions that are similar, but not the same. Can you compare / contrast them?
"Платить по счетам" can both have a direct and figurative meaning:
- To pay bills in the direct meaning (used in formal speech). It is used when there are many bills to pay:
В связи́ с повыше́нием тари́фов на электри́чество, газ и во́ду не все жи́тели города смо́гут плати́ть по счетам. Due to the increase of the prices of electricity, gas and water, not all the inhabitants of the town will be able to pay the bills.
- To pay the bills in the figurative meaning. It means something like "the time has come to pay for something wrong you did in the past".
Пришло вре́мя плати́ть по счетам за оши́бки про́шлого. And now the bills are due to pay the errors of the past.
"Оплачивать-оплатить счёт (счета)" is more often used in singular and it means "to pay one concrete bill":
Мне ну́жно оплати́ть счёт за Интерне́т. I have to pay the Internet bill.
"Платить по счетам" is equal to "payback time". "Оплачивать счета" can be only used when you are literally paying bills.
However - first one can be used equally to second one sometimes. But it is very rare. If you say "пора платить по счетам" - it can be translated only as "payback time has come".