We launched MagnifyMoney because we believe people are paying too much in credit card interest, paying too many complicated overdraft fees and not earning enough on their hard-earned savings.
Banks are in the business of borrowing money from people in the form of checking and savings account deposits and then lending that money to people who need it through loans or credit cards. Right now, banks are charging very high rates on credit cards, and paying very low rates on deposits. They sit in the middle and enjoy rich profits.
But how much money are Americans leaving on the table (or in banks’ pockets)? We decided to conduct a national survey to see just how much money people are losing to the banks’ fine print and fees.
Of those surveyed, 73.4% of Americans keep their money in an old-fashioned branch bank account. That means they are likely receiving 0% on their checking account money and 0.01% on their savings account. Yes, the big banks are paying an average of 0.01% on their savings accounts – that is not a typo.
Of those Americans who have a savings account, the average amount sitting in the bank was was $28,696. If, instead of giving money for free to branch-based banks, people switched to FDIC insured online savings accounts, like the ones offered by Barclays, GE or Ally Bank, they could earn close to 1%. Rather than earning less than $5 a year, they could be getting over $250.
An overdraft happens when you spend more money than you have in your checking account. According to our survey, it has happened to 35% of us. But why do people go overdraft?
53% are just forgetful (mistakes happen).
47% of people go overdraft because they need the money: the month lasts longer than their paycheck.
Last year alone, Americans were charged $32 billion in overdraft fees. According to the CFPB, the amount in annual fees, on average, for accounts that had at least one overdraft was $225. Why so much? Every incident of overdraft costs $35 and banks will charge multiple incidents per day. For example, Bank of America could charge up to $140 per day – even if you only were overdraft by $20 (4 transactions).
Our survey showed that people are definitely fed up: 69% would like an account that does not let you go overdraft and charges no fee to decline. Fortunately, such products exist – like the internet bank Simple and Bluebird by American Express. We hope to help people find these products.
Credit Card Debt
42.4% of Americans have credit card debt. The average balance of those surveyed was $10,902.
Now, you will often hear that the average interest rate is 15%. However, at MagnifyMoney we know that credit card companies engage in risk-based pricing. That means lower interest rates are given to people who pay their balance in full every month and higher interest rates are charged to people who are likely (or have historically) revolved. That means they pay less than the full balance, and then have to pay interest.
Our data proves this. 75.7% of those with credit card debt, paid an interest rate higher than 15%. The average monthly payment on that debt is $408. At an 18% interest rate, that means the average American will pay at least $1,707 in credit card interest over the next 12 months.
Think about it this way: banks will pay (savings account deposits) 0.01% for money. So, for $10,902 a bank would pay about $1 in interest. Then they turnaround and charge the average American $1,707 in interest. Not a bad business.
Fortunately, there are options out there to help people save money. Fifty percent of Americans with credit card debt have considered a balance transfer. Of those who completed a balance transfer, 89% would do one again. However, there are still many misconceptions about balance transfers.
People don’t understand how the interest charges work — 31% think interest is charged retroactively and 35.2% don’t know how it is charged.
Some people don’t get the full benefit of the balance transfer because they spend on the card (46.7% of people do that) or by pay late (25% of people fail to pay on time).
Rather than looking online for the best balance transfer offers, an amazing 68.5% of people respond to a direct mail offer.
But, if you choose a market-leading balance transfer, pay on time and don’t spend on the card, the average American could save more than $1,300 over the next 12 months.
Personal loans could also be a great option if you can’t qualify for a balance transfer (or don’t trust yourself with another credit card). Only 36.5% of people with credit card debt considered a personal loan
The survey results are clear
At MagnifyMoney, we believe that people are not getting enough on their savings (less than $4 a year). We think they are being charged too much for overdrafts (an average of $225). And they are paying way too much for their credit card debt ($1,707 a year). We think the results of our survey are clear: people are paying far too much for their banking products and services.
The good news: alternatives exist.
Today the MagnifyMoney Team is Thankful For…
Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Today, our team is taking time to spend the holiday with family and friends, but we’d like to take a moment to reflect on what we’re thankful for (related to financial products of course)!
Nick: Thankful for CFPB, Credit Unions and Startups
As you know, we launched MagnifyMoney in May of this year. Before launching the site, we spent countless hours reviewing financial products and tools to help people save money.
During the past year, a few things have really stood out for me:
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Complaint Service. There are a lot of times when the government creates unnecessary bureaucracy or just wastes taxpayer money building bridges to nowhere. But the CFPB Complaint Service is a true public service. We have all been lost in the complex maze of a bank’s customer service department (even people who worked for banks are not immune to these service black holes). With the CFPB complaint service, you have the ability to get your complaint heard. Two members of the MagnifyMoney team had problems solved by the CFPB. It is truly a great service, and I am thankful it exists.
- Credit unions are looking to grow. Because of their unique structure (credit unions do not have shareholders), they can afford to charge much lower interest rates. Thankfully, over the past year, we have seen credit unions make it easier for people to join, and they have created truly incredible products to help people with credit card debt save money. Some of the great offers we have seen this year include 99% for the life of the balance with no balance transfer fee – which is amazing. I just hope the credit unions continue to invest in better digital experiences so that more people can take advantage of their offers.
- Startups are looking to make bank accounts cheaper and easier to use. I have learned the
name of many small, Internet-only banks that are quietly looking to change the way we bank forever. They are innovating, eliminating unnecessary fees, paying 100x higher interest rates and creating amazing digital experiences.
I am hopeful that, over the next 12 months, we will see even better deals for consumers. And we look forward to sharing those deals with you at MagnifyMoney.
Erin: Thankful for Mobile Deposits and No ATM Fees
As an early adopter of online banking, I’ve been cashing checks with my smartphone since 2011. I probably would have tried earlier, but I was far from an early adopter to the smartphone.
I haven’t needed to step foot in a bank branch for personal deposits for years and I’m thankful I can save my time (and in some cases gas money) by depositing checks and handling my financial life from the comfort of my home, or office or wherever else I’m logged into a secured wireless network.
Speaking of Internet-only banking, I’m grateful for ATM fee reimbursement. It further nullifies the need to go into a bank branch, because I can use any (non-sketchy) ATM and ignore the obnoxious alert that I’ll be charged $3. I can ignore extra fees because my bank reimburses me! No need to fret about losing some of my money to a giant, monster, mega bank.
Just remember, loyalty doesn’t pay. Always be on the look out for the best deals. If your bank used to reimburse ATM fees, but plans to stop the practice — it’s time to switch. If your bank charges you $12 to move money from savings to check to cover an overdraft fee — it’s time to switch. If your bank only offers 0.01% interest on your savings account — get out of there! But probably not right now. Right now you should go enjoy turkey, pumpkin pie and time with your loved ones.
How to Find Big Savings in Small Places
At MagnifyMoney, we believe that Americans can find big savings in boring places.
Consider putting more money into your pocket in one of the following ways:
- If you have credit card debt, move the debt to a balance transfer (if you have excellent credit) or a personal loan (if you have good credit). You can cut the interest rate you pay on that debt.
- If you have a savings account, move your savings from a low interest rate savings account at a traditional bank (paying 0.01%) to a high-yield internet savings account that could pay up to 1.05%.
- Earn cash-back on your everyday spend with a cash-back credit card (you can earn at least 2% on your purchases).
- Stop paying overdraft fees by opening an Internet-only bank account that does not charge overdraft fees
We have run the numbers, and:
- 30% of the population keeps $29,000 in a bank savings account, which pays close to $0. They could earn $300 from an Internet savings account. In addition, they spend $1,269 per month that could earn cash back of $450. So, in total, they could earn up to $750 from savings and cash-back
- 17% of the population has credit card debt (average of $9,500) and excellent credit scores. They could save up to $900 over the next 12 months in balance transfers.
- 13% of the population has credit card debt, a decent credit score (650-700) and pays overdraft fees. They could save an average of $300 over the next 12 months by switching to a personal loan and another $150 by opening an overdraft-free account
- 5% of the country (not counted in the numbers above) heavily uses overdraft and check-cash companies. They could cut $500+ by switching to a branch-free account and eliminating fees.
So, we see at least $450 for 65% of Americans.
We also like to think about it in a slightly different way. Right now, Bank of America has about $500 billion of deposits from consumers, and they pay close to 0%. If Americans moved $100 billion from Bank of America to Internet-only banks, they would receive an extra $1 billion of interest from banks over the next 12 months. And moving money to an Internet-only bank savings account is easy and FDIC insured.
We can put a ton of money back in our pockets, instead of lining the banks’ coffers. Hopefully MagnifyMoney can help you get even a little bit extra, because every little bit helps.
Want regular updates about the best financial products out there? Then sign up for our Price Checker Newsletter. Twice a month, we’ll deliver the best-of-the-best right to your inbox.
MagnifyMoney Introduces the Price Checker Newsletter
You’ve probably taken a few extra minutes out of your shopping excursion or errands to search for the best deals. Whether that’s using an app to see if another store offers lower prices, clipping coupons to save a few bucks at the grocery store or driving a little further down the street to get gas for a few cents cheaper a gallon, we’ve all gone that extra metaphorical (or sometimes literal) mile to save some money.
So, why don’t people apply the same diligent savings techniques to their financial products? Switching banking products can save consumers hundreds to thousands of dollars.
At MagnifyMoney, our goal is to connect consumers with the absolute best deals on financial products. We have Goofski, our consumer watchdog, sniffing out the best deals for you.
But instead of making you take valuable time out of your day to comb through various sites to comparison shop, we’ve created both our tools and now a bi-monthly newsletter to do the work for you.
When you sign up for the Price Checker newsletter, you’ll receive an email every other week highlighting the best deals for:
- Balance transfer offers
- Cash back credit cards
- Highest interest rate savings accounts
- Cheapest checking accounts
- Best 30-year mortgage
The Price Checker email will also include fine print alerts to keep you informed about any sneaky changes your bank may be making.
Got questions? Email us at email@example.com and your inquiry may be selected for the “Question from the Mailbag” section.
We promise to never send you spam, just deals that save you lots of money! We will never share a product that isn’t watchdog approved.
Sign up for the newsletter by clicking here and entering your email address.
We’ll Show You Our Biggest…Financial Mistakes
Today, the MagnifyMoney team reveals our biggest financial mistakes for your amusement and hopefully to serve as a warning of what not to do in the future.
Mild Money Mistake: The Cost of Emotional Attachment to “Stuff”
I loved my first (and only) car. She was a beautiful Toyata I affectionately named Stella – yes, after A Street Car Named Desire.
I owned Stella during my college years. I went to school in Western New York, a full hour-and-a-half away from the closest major city of Buffalo. There were no reasonable public transit options, so I viewed Stella as a necessity for off-campus jobs, internships and adventures (including road trips to Michigan, to New York City, to Charlotte and Atlanta). I saw my car as my ticket to freedom and developed quite an emotional attachment to her.
We had a few expensive issues over the years. Two accidents (one my fault, one not), both of which required a new rear bumper. New tires after a few years of driving around in Western New York snow and sludge.? But overall, my insurance was relatively cheap at $1,000 a year, I didn’t have to pay too much for gas each month and I owned my car out right with no monthly payment or interest on a loan.
After college graduation, I loaded all my belongings into Stella and drove down to Charlotte – where my parents lived. Like many college kids I didn’t have a job lined up and planned to set up shop at my parents’ house while I hunted for a job.
Only a week later, I flew up to New York City for a job interview. Three weeks later I packed my bags to move.
For a delusional 24-hours I considered bringing Stella with me to the Big Apple. Then I realized she would cost me far more than I could afford on my meager salary. Insurance costs would go up, I’d need to pay for parking, gas would be more expensive, I didn’t really need a car to get around and Stella was simply bound to get hit at some point.
But I just couldn’t bring myself to sell Stella. I didn’t know how long I’d live in New York and wanted to have the car in case I threw in the towel after a year. So, I discontinued the insurance and let Stella sit in my parents’ driveway to collect rust.
You don’t even need to know much about money to understand cars do one thing well: depreciate in value.
In the year Stella sat in my parents’ driveway – I lost money – even though she didn’t cost me anything.
Had I sold Stella in the summer of 2011 (a car in great condition with under 50,000 miles) I probably could have gotten $2,000 – $3,000 more than when I sold the car in the summer of 2012. By then, I realized I’d be living in New York City for at least a few more years and didn’t need a car.
For a 23-year-old, the loss of $3,000 just for letting a car sit in a driveway is a lot of money.
I’m fortunate this is my biggest money mistake thus far in my young life, but it still stings a bit to have a few thousand dollars less just because I couldn’t bear the thought of selling my car.
The Painful: The Cost of Missed Bills and Bungled Change of Address Forms
My biggest money failure happened right after I graduated college.
It was a busy summer.
A trip to Italy.
A few weeks at home.
A boot camp at another college across the country.
Back home for a week.
A move to a first job 1,500 miles away.
And one month in a company paid hotel while I found a ‘permanent’ apartment.
That’s five addresses in the span of a few months.
And I handled it as poorly as possible, bungling the addresses of two bills.
I lived on campus, and the University handled the phone services. So when I changed my address with the University for alumni notices and student loans, I thought the phone bill would go along with it.
Of course, it didn’t. Even the finest universities are as well organized as the biggest companies, with departments that don’t talk to each other.
So the bill for my last month of phone service went to my now empty and unchecked P.O. Box on campus. While I had set up forwarding to my parents’ house, our campus post office, like many, is notorious for unreliable service. And that bill was no exception. It was never forwarded. Nor were any of the past due notices.
So I never saw it until checking my credit report about a year later, where it was listed in collections. There was nothing I could do about it then, it stayed on my report for years.
And while checking that credit report I noticed a more serious issue.
One of my credit card accounts had a balance of several thousand dollars run up on it and was charged off by the bank as past due.
I had two card accounts, never actually used this one, and forgot to change the address on it.
Perhaps someone intercepted a statement, figured out the account number (I think back then full account numbers were on statements), charged it up, then filled out the change of address form, and had future bills sent to a mysterious address in Bainbridge Island, Washington.
So I never saw the late payment notices. It took months of back and forth to get that fraud taken care of.
The lesson here is:
Before you move, save every single bill you have over the last month. Put it in a pile. And make sure you call or login to change the address of every single one of them. Then bring that pile with you so you never forget again. Or put them in a spreadsheet and follow up every month for 3 months to make sure they all get forwarded.
If you’ll have several addresses in a few months, send them all to your parents.
All of this was easily preventable. It’s easier to avoid now thanks to full online accounts, but it can still happen if you’re sloppy.
The Expensive: A Homebuyer’s Woes – a Rotting Roof and Busted Boiler
Buying a house is a huge financial decision. It is the biggest purchase most people will ever make. When done properly, owning a home can be a wonderful experience. But, as the mortgage crisis of 2008 shows, there are a lot of ways it can go wrong.
I was very excited to buy a home with my wife in 2008. As someone who had worked in banking my entire career, I felt prepared to make the decision. I had a 20 percent down payment. I signed up for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, because I did not want to gamble on interest rates. I could safely afford a monthly payment that included principal, interest, insurance and property taxes. And, I had enough money for the planned critical fixes as well as an emergency fund.
But, two things happened.
- Every budgeted critical fix ended up costing at least 25 percent more than originally planned, and
- Unexpected things started happening
When the workers replaced the roof, they found rotting that required fixing.
And then, just as winter started, we heard a loud noise in the basement. The boiler had died rather dramatically. If we wanted to stay warm in the winter, we would have to find thousands of dollars right away.
Very early in my life as a homeowner, I started to feel that all-consuming stress. It felt like the home owned me, and not the other way around.
As I spoke with neighbors and friends, I realized that I had made that rookie mistake. I assumed everything would go according to plan. Ironically, I would never make that mistake at work.
I had been advised to set aside one percent of the purchase price of your home every year. But that makes it sound like a smooth monthly expense. And it isn’t. It can come as a big surprise, like a broken boiler three months after you buy the home.
In retrospect, I wish I would have taken every quote for work and increased it by 25 to 30 percent. I should have more aggressively budgeted for maintenance and other accidents. We probably still would have bought the home. But, instead of doing all of the work at once, we would have waited to start some of the home improvement work. And, I would have made sure I had access to low-interest borrowing (a credit union credit card, like PenFed at 9.99%). As much as you plan, really big things can happen. And, having low-cost borrowing options readily available is very important. If you wait until you need to borrow the money, it is always too late and too expensive.
6 Life Lessons From My Father
Eight years ago today, I received the worst phone call of my life. I was told that my father, aged 61, had died unexpectedly. Nothing prepares you for the shock of having to say goodbye to your dad forever. And I certainly wasn’t prepared. The following years felt horrible. I had always been described as a hyper-rational risk manager of a bank. But I would regularly find myself, in the middle of the day, fighting back tears – and feeling like someone had just punched me in the stomach.
As the pain faded (and it still manages to sneak up on me every now and again), I was able to focus on the good memories. I am sure we all say this, but my father was truly unique. I learned so much from him. And in honor of his passing, I wanted to share some of the lessons that have helped me the most.
First, a bit of background
My father was born in 1944, and he entered the world a troublemaker. I think it is safe to say that he spent more time in the pool hall (yes, hustling) than the library. He first met my mother when they were 13. He proposed shortly thereafter. She didn’t say yes until they were 18 years old, and they were together until he died.
My father never went to college. He liked to say that he was a proud graduate of Langley High School (in Pittsburgh, PA).
Fast forward to the age of 61, and he was retired, living near the beach and surrounded by family. Eight years later, my mother does not have to worry about her finances because he continues to take care of her in death as he did in life.
So, how did he do this?
My father once wrote down for me his approach to management. It was on one page, and most important was the advice: no fear. Fear cripples people. My father had to compete with people who had fancy degrees and global experience. The only time I would see my father getting nervous is when he would have to write his biography for a conference, and felt that people would think less of him because he didn’t have a degree.
But he was never afraid to step up and take responsibility. He wasn’t afraid to fail. And he certainly wasn’t afraid of giving credit to someone else. In fact, he seemed happiest when someone he trained went on to even bigger success.
I spent so much of my previous banking career surrounded by people in a constant state of fear. When people are afraid of being fired, afraid of the boss’ mood, or afraid of saying what they really mean – life can be painful. I thank my dad for showing me an alternative way, and given me the confidence to speak up and take a stand.
An incredible sense of responsibility and ownership
My father always put his family first: we were his primary responsibility. I remember when we would move (and we moved often as my dad would be promoted), the real estate agents would always be telling him how much more house he could buy. But he always restrained himself. He never borrowed excessively to pretend to be something he wasn’t. I even remember going to the party of someone who worked for him. His employee had a bigger house than we did, and my father had pride in that, because we didn’t overextend ourselves.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t have dreams. His biggest dream was to buy a boat. Given that we live in the USA, easy credit is always available and people would constantly line up, telling him he could afford it. And that he deserved it. We never bought that boat. But we did get very close, once. I remember seeing him at the kitchen table, sitting with a glossy brochure and a calculator. He told me that as much as he wanted it, he just didn’t think it made sense. So, we didn’t buy it. I often wish I had more of that discipline.
As soon as my father put his name on something, he felt an incredible sense of responsibility. He felt and acted like an owner.
And life wasn’t always easy. I remember when he lost his job. I was in 8th grade. But my father made a routine. Every morning he would go to the office, and apply for jobs. He brushed rejection aside, and ultimately went on to even greater success. He didn’t feel sorry for himself; he just took action.
A sense of humor
My father was always laughing, and always playing practical jokes. He did this at home, and in the office. As a young child, my father brought me to work one day. I was very excited, and dressed up in a suit and tie. In the office, I was amazed by the constant laughter. They seemed to be having so much fun: how could they possibly be working? So many people (especially here in New York) think that success is only achieved if you work countless hours and look like your life is miserable. Stress and misery is worn as a badge of honor. When I saw my father and his colleagues having fun while building a business, I subconsciously learned a lesson. But it wasn’t really until after he died that I truly had the confidence to just have fun at work. Even in a formal British bank like Barclays, we sometimes laughed so hard that my cheeks would hurt.
Don’t stop learning
My father loved history. I had a degree from Stanford in History and Economics. My father had a passion for the subject. He knew more than I did. I was often embarrassed at how much more he knew. If you truly love something, you want to learn as much as you can.
He also introduced me to theater. We would go to a small dinner theater in our town when I was young. What I enjoyed most is that, weeks before the show, we would start reading all about it. Who wrote the play? What story were they telling? What is the history of the story? And then, we would talk about the show afterwards. I loved that my father could be as passionate about the Steelers as he was about the latest play that we watched.
Find what you enjoy, and make sure you balance your life between passions.
Care about the people around you
At my father’s funeral, a ton of people who worked for him came to the funeral. There were people flying in who hadn’t worked for him in more than five or 10 years. Why did they come? Because when you worked for my father, he treated you like part of the family. And it wasn’t an act. He cared about them, and he treated them like people.
He would never force someone to make a ridiculous choice between watching graduation or going to a meeting. He used to tell me that we all overestimate the importance of short-term events, and the impact we have on them. That meeting that looks so critical now will be forgotten tomorrow.
But, in a world where people want to feel important, every meeting is critical. And, in a world where people want to tell their friends how stressed and busy they are (because stress = success), silly things happen.
It may seem odd that I am indulging in this blog post on MagnifyMoney.com
But I would not be working on MagnifyMoney if it weren’t for my father.
I was not afraid to quit my job and give this a go. I am ready to put my name on it, and act like an owner. I want to have fun doing it, while helping people. And I have built close relationships with people over the years. Friends have funded this business, and my co-founder is my best friend of 15 years.
And I was able to afford this, because (for the most part) I remembered my father and his decision to buy the boat. And I understood that short-term material sacrifice is important, because it can give you the ability to do something you love.
I know we live in a world of lists. So, I will conclude with this list.
Six things to learn from my dad
- Don’t let fear control your life
- If you put your name on it, you own it. And behave like that.
- Don’t try to be someone you aren’t on borrowed money
- Have fun. And there is no better way than laughing. And that means laughing at home, laughing at work and laughing often.
- If you are in a position of authority at work, don’t overestimate the importance of short-term events. And never force someone to make a stupid choice (like attending an “urgent” meeting or going to their child’s graduation)
- Life can be taken from you, or someone you know, with little warning. Possessions and promotions are not with you in those final hours. Friends, family and the memories of what you did together are what truly endure.
Discover Your Time Personality, the key to Financial Health
Do you want to be financially healthy? Understanding your time personality is a critical first step on the road towards financial health. And you can find out your time personality here, by taking our quiz.
We gave the time personality quiz to more than 3,000 people in 6 countries. And the results were surprising. Traditional financial literacy skills are not enough to be financially healthy. But your approach to the past, present and future has a huge impact on your financial decisions.
These findings, and the quiz, are the result of collaboration with Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University and author of more than 50 books, including The Time Paradox. He led the 6-nation study. You can learn all about your time personality, and get personalized financial tips based upon your time personality, on our microsite.
And some of the biggest findings are highlighted below:
Our Journey to the Chambliss Center Inspired by Paycheck to Paycheck Documentary
A couple of months ago, we (the MagnifyMoney team) watched the moving HBO documentary Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert. The film follows a struggling single mother as she tries to better her financial situation, only to be constantly knocked down by circumstances largely outside of her control.
In a sea of financial battles, Katrina had one safe harbor: The Chambliss Center for Children.
The Chambliss Center, located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, offers 24/7 extended childcare and early childhood education for children ranging in age from six weeks to 12 years old. Parents are charged a fee on a sliding scale at a substantially reduced rate compared to the typical cost of childcare. Chambliss also provides a residential program for children who have been removed from their homes and are in custody of the State of Tennessee. Some children are placed in foster care, while others live onsite at the Chambliss Center.
Inspired by Katrina’s story, we contacted the Chambliss Center to see if we could help.
Last week, we headed down to Chattanooga to host financial seminars and provide one-on-one sessions to speak with both the Chambliss Center staff and parents who, like Katrina, often deal with immense pressure to make ends meet each month and dig out of debt.
We drove up to the Chambliss Center and were greeted by the sounds of children laughing and gleefully yelling on one of the Center’s many playgrounds. Chambliss’ Vice President of Development and Administration welcomed us with a grand tour of the Center’s extensive facilities including nurseries, classrooms, basketball courts, and a swimming pool. Nearly two, hug-filled, hours later, we settled into a conference room and prepared to give our two lunch seminars for the Chambliss staff.
MagnifyMoney co-founder, Nick, spent an hour overviewing our A,B,C’s and the foundation for financial health.
A – Ask the tough questions (How much debt do I have? Am I consistently going overdraft? Do I have anything in collections? What’s impacting my credit score?)
B – Break up with your bank (Don’t stay in a toxic relationship with a bank, switch to an Internet-only bank or a credit union)
C – Commit to a long-term plan
The attentive participants asked questions about credit scores, balance transfers, overdraft fees and handling their debt.
Nick reiterated over-and-over that one needn’t be rich in order to have a strong credit score; it’s based on responsibility. Prompt by this comment, one listener raised her hand and commented about her shock that her credit score sat in the high 700s even though she had debt.
“Do you pay your bills on time?” asked Nick
“Yes,” she responded.
“Do you max out your cards?” he followed up
“Not anymore,” she said with a half-hearted laugh.
“Well, the credit bureaus see you as responsible. It isn’t about how much money you have, it’s about how responsible you act with your credit,” Nick explained. “You don’t need to be rich to have a good credit score, but a good credit score can save you a lot of money.”
A short time later, the three of us sat in front of two seventeen-year-old boys from the Chambliss Center’s residential program. At the tender age of 18, these young men will age out of the foster care system and be required to live independently.
In an effort to prepare them for their eighteenth birthday, the three of us spoke with the young men basic personal finance, building credit history and why it’s imperative to stay away from predatory lending like title loans, pay day lenders and overdraft fees.
One of the young men, who will turn 18 in four months time, lobbed us question after question about handling his finances including the astute inquiry, “I once heard no credit is as bad as bad credit, is that true?” We answered his questions and gave him our business cards, asking he keep in touch and reach out about any questions when he was handling his own financial affairs.
The next two days were spent in one-on-one meetings with members of the Chambliss staff and parents.
We spent 45 minutes blocks of time sitting down with individuals and discussing their financial situations. Some were concerned with improving their credit scores while others weren’t sure about how to battle overdraft fees and most wondered if they could dig themselves out of debt. We kept our talks conversational and educational before exploring if we could help each individual save some money. We consistently had people tell us they wanted to as much as they could about money to keep their children from repeating their mistakes. One woman went so far as to say, “In my family, bad money habits have been passed down from generation to generation. It will end with me.”
In a few cases, we were able to make a sizable dent in people’s debt and help them learn how to handle future emergencies without turning to title loans or pay day lenders. But those stories will be shared later this week.
The Chambliss Center stands as a pillar of hope for men and women struggling to raise their children while they need to work, or go back to school and often times serve as the single parent. We felt fortunate to speak with their inspiring staff and the parents who work so diligently to ensure their children are provided with excellent care and education.
Millennials Are Better Savers Than Older Generations
As a Millennial (at 25, I can’t possibly claim another generation), I’ve grown tired of the trite adjectives being used to describe my demographic of Americans. We’re generally called a narcissistic, lazy, over-indulged, entitled group of underachievers who were crippled by too many participation trophies and ran home to Mom and Dad after college graduation.
Some of my peers may still be holed up at Mom and Dad’s, unable to face the potential rejection associated with finding a job and growing up. But many of us are in the process of phasing out of the Peter Pan syndrome. An integral part in the process of becoming an adult centers around understanding and properly using money.
Save a percentage of each paycheck. Live below your means. Plan for retirement.
These are all pieces of advice thrown at young women and men, as they strike out on their own. It seems like this advice would fall to register with a generation known for self-centeredness and indulgence.
Millennials aren’t completely failing
According to our recent survey, MagnifyMoney discovered millennials* are the most likely to save money when compared to Generation X, boomers and seniors. 74.8% of millennials surveyed saved money each month. No need for a participation trophy here. Millennials placed first outright.
While tucking away money to build a nest egg is part of the foundation towards financial health, saving alone doesn’t make us financially fit nor does it guarantee wealth in the future.
Millennials’ costly mistake
39.5% of millennials go overdraft and incur the fees associated with this costly mistake. On average, millennials go overdraft 2.7 times in a year and pay $101 in fees. Unlike other generations, millennials cite forgetfulness as the main reason for going overdraft (as opposed to a lack of funds).
The simplest fix would be for the young generation to do a better job of paying attention of their account balances and not make any purchases without sufficient funds. But taking the time to whip out a smartphone and login to your bank app (assuming you even have one) before making a purchase appears to be too cumbersome. The other option is to find a financial product that offers protection for when you inevitably make a mistake with your money.
Embracing the path to reduced fees
Traditionally, overdraft protection doesn’t entirely protect you from paying a fee. Banks can still charge an overdraft, transfer or non-sufficient fund (NSF) fee. If you link your checking to a savings account, the bank may charge you $10 to $12 to transfer money out of your savings account to cover the overdraft. Even worse, linking a credit card to cover an overdraft could result in interest automatically accruing at rates close to 30%.
Instead of sticking with the status quo when it comes to banks and their fees, millennials have started to eye another option.
Internet-only banks offer more than just real overdraft protection (for no added charge), they provide lower fees and much higher interest rates on savings accounts. They even reimburse you for ATM fees and save you gas money and time by letting you deposit checks with your mobile phone.
Millennials have already started to embrace the idea of Internet-only banks with 55.1% considering an online account and 18.8% already making the switch.
Handling the debt factor
Coverage about the Millennial Generation’s issue with debt has become as ubiquitous as the name-calling and stereotyping. Student loans are often the focus of the millennial debt issue, but our survey found 39.5% of young Americans carry $8,864 in credit card debt.
Unfortunately, most millennials carrying credit card debt are also paying more than a 15% interest rate. A high interest rate can cripple the debt repayment process, incurring thousands of dollars spent in interest instead of chipping away at the principal debt.
Instead of throwing away money on interest, some millennials turn to a balance transfer to reduce their interest rates. Our survey indicated that millennials, at 80.9%, have the highest success rate in paying off their debt during the balance transfer period. A whopping 93.6% of millennials would use a balance transfer again (but we hope they don’t have to).
The Millennial Generation’s ace in the hole
Millennials may be ridiculed in the press and the target of jokes about work ethics and becoming independent, but the MagnifyMoney survey shows they’re doing all right when it comes to their finances. And lest we forget, millennials have the distinct advantage their elders don’t: time to fix their mistakes.
Find other details about our MagnifyMoney survey here.
*Millennials were identified as women and men between the ages of 18 and 34.
We Are Here For a Reason
Before creating MagnifyMoney, I spent my career in banking, working mostly with large multi-national banks like Citi and Barclays. Most recently, I ran the consumer credit card business of Barclaycard in London.
Barclaycard has an amazing history. Created in 1966, it was the first credit card company in England and one of the first in the world. What began in a small office in Northampton, became the number one card issuer in the UK – and makes nearly $2 billion a year globally.
I had the privilege of meeting the team that created this business in the 60s. You still see the twinkle in their eyes as they talk about those early years. When they describe what they did, they don’t mention revenue, earnings or market share. They desperately wanted to find a way to make it easier for small businesses on the Main Street to accept payments, and they wanted to make it easier for everyday people to buy things. I could imagine the founders of Barclaycard feeling comfortable working at PayPal, Square or any of the other payments start-ups, because they weren’t afraid to push boundaries, solve real customer needs and have fun doing it.
When the first Barclaycard was launched, it had a one page set of terms and conditions. I met with a woman (still working at Barclaycard) who had cataloged the history of the fine print. For the first 30 years, the product was relatively simple. But, starting in the late 90s, the fine print grew exponentially. The focus shifted from making payments easier to growing profits. Earnings growth would come not only from acquiring new customers. A bigger focus would be making more money from existing customers. This shift was not unique to Barclaycard. The credit card industry – in both the US and the UK – began to adopt tactics that would have made the employees from the 60s cringe.
What were banks adding in the fine print?
- Risk-based re-pricing: the ability to increase your interest rate (on your existing balance) based upon an opaque algorithm. Reasons for being considered risky could include using your credit card.
- Multiple interest rates for multiple types of transactions. A purchase APR that is different from a cash advance APR that is different a go-to rate after a promotional APR. Yes – every new APR added was usually higher.
- Extraordinarily complex definitions of grace periods (the period where no interest is charged) and interest-free periods. With double-cycle billing, it could be very difficult to finally stop the interest from being billed
- Multiple fees, and fees that cause fees (know in the industry as a pile-on). Your payment is late. A late fee is assessed. The late fee causes you to go overlimit. So, an overlimit fee is assessed. Balances are capitalized daily. So, interest starts accruing on the fees.
- Not to mention the shoddy insurance products that were cross-sold on top – the list goes on
A lot of those practices are now illegal, thanks to the CARD Act in the US and the Consumer White Paper in the UK. While a lot of practices have been eliminated, a ton of fine print still exists. Have you read your card agreement? You will still see many fees, many different interest rates, a different version of risk based pricing and more.
Too much of your money gets lost in the bank’s “terms and conditions” At Magnify, we have one goal- show you how to get it back.
Credit card businesses are still churning out record profits, with returns greater than 25% a year. How can a 50+ year old industry, loaded with data and competition, still provide returns of that magnitude? In our survey, 42% of Americans have average debt of $10,902. 75% of them pay more than 15% interest per year. Think about it: over $1,500 spent every year on interest payments.
Why do people pay those high interest rates and fees?
I believe there are 5 reasons:
- They don’t realize how high their rates are. Until the CARD Act, it was easy for credit card companies to increase interest rates without a whole lot of disclosure. People may not even know they are paying 29%.
- They don’t know how to get their rate lower. After paying the minimum due every month and watching the balance stay at the same level – they don’t know where to begin, and feel trapped.
- They are afraid to shop around, because of what it could do to their credit score.
- They don’t understand how the fees work, so find it difficult to avoid them. And trust me – often we in the banks didn’t even realize how the fee was charged, because it was so complex.
- They are just so busy with their life, that they don’t have time to think about how to reduce the interest rate on their debt.
People work hard for their money, so banks should work just as hard as your local shop does for your business.
At MagnifyMoney, we are going to make it easy for people to compare products and save their hard-earned money with confidence. Our brand will be built upon the trust that we must earn. Our success will be measured by the money we save for you. Given that I spent the last 15 years growing earnings and generating fine print, I believe we are uniquely positioned to help you navigate this overly complex system.
I left my job to create MagnifyMoney with my best friend from college. We believe that we can take $1 billion off the bottom line of banks – and put it into your pockets – with over $1,000 to the average American family. That may seem like a big number, but it is just a tiny percentage of the banks’ total earnings.
Right now, MagnifyMoney is not generating revenue. Going forward, we may get paid by some banks, credit unions or new entrants for referring business.
MagnifyMoney will always make the following commitments:
- We always recommend the best product. We have compared over 300 credit cards and 500 bank accounts at the time of launch. And, unlike a lot of websites, we will not put products at the top of our table because of a commission.
- If we are getting paid – you will know. You will see clearly on the table when and if we are getting paid
- If anyone finds a better deal – even if it from some small one-branch credit union – let us know and we will add it. Nothing makes us happier than a small competitor giving the big banks a run for their money.
Since I left my job last year to dedicate myself full-time to building MagnifyMoney, I have spent a lot of time meeting with banks and explaining our plan. The banks have been cordial, some have even been welcoming (because they are working hard to improve). But, during one of my early meetings, someone told me to “be careful. Too much transparency is not a good thing.”
At Magnify, we respectfully disagree.
Meet the Team: Erin
Erin sat down with me to explain why she wanted to join MagnifyMoney and what’s on her mind when she isn’t reading and writing about money.
What made you want to join the MagnifyMoney team?
The moment I started playing around on the site, I knew I wanted to be involved.
Debt is a serious issue in America and has hit the millennial generation especially hard. Between student loans and consumer debt, the average millennial isn’t set to retire until 73. Helping people, specifically my peers, get a handle of their debt and increase their financial savvy has been a personal mission and suddenly I was seeing a website that helped do just that.
When did you become interested in money?
At seven years old — oddly enough it was around the same time I really started hating math class.
I had a genius idea to make some quick cash by setting up a Krispy Kreme doughnut stand during my mom’s garage sale. My little sister helped me out and we used our general adorableness and lure of delicious glazed doughnuts to score big bucks for a seven and four year old. I think we sold them for fifty-cents a doughnut, which was a decent mark-up considering you could get a dozen for about $4.
After we sold out, I started counting up my precious earnings. During my meticulous quarter stacking process, my father came up and taught me a little lesson in net profit.
He had me pay him back for staking me in the initial purchase of the doughnuts and then throw my sister a few bucks for sitting there all morning, luring customers in with her big, baby blues.
Needless to say, I started becoming fascinated with how to earn money, maximize your ROI and keep as much in your pocket as possible.
We hear you had a unique childhood, tell us about it.
Other than going to the financial school of hardknocks, I did end up spending a lot of my young adult life in Asia. My family moved to Japan when I was 10 and stayed overseas for nearly 11 years. I repatriated to attend university and my family still lived in China for several more years.
When you aren’t writing about money, what do you like doing?
Does reading about money count?
I’m kidding — sort of.
Outside of work I actually like acting. It’s really expensive to take acting classes in New York though, so I started doing improv instead. There is nothing quite as scary as getting up on a stage with no clue about what’s going to happen next.
I also try to travel as much as I can and can usually be found plotting my next great adventure.
Now that you live in an expensive city, how do you have fun on a budget?
New York is incredibly expensive when it comes to housing, but there are actually a lot of activities to do for cheap or free — they just usually requiring standing in line and doing some waiting. The summer is a great time to live in (or visit) NYC because there are outdoor concerts, movies in the parks, street fairs and my favorite: Improv Everywhere’s Annual MP3 Experiment.
Meet the Team: Brian
We sit down and chat with MagnifyMoney co-founder Brian who gives us some insight about why he wanted to start MagnifyMoney and a few tips on his out-of-office hobby: reward travel.
Why did you start MagnifyMoney?
It’s rare that everything comes together to let you build a team with a close friend and supportive advisers, so when the chance came I didn’t dwell long. My old job involved calling out some big companies on things that didn’t make sense in order to help investors. Now we get to do it on behalf of consumers.
What is your first money-related memory?
Well, I did always insist on handling ATM transactions for my mom as a kid — but really the first memory happened one summer in the 80s when Almond Delight cereal had a cool promotion. Instead of putting a free action figure inside of each box, Almond Delight put plastic wrapped money in the boxes, usually replicas of old money no longer worth anything.
But 1 in 43 of those boxes had real money in them and I learned the hard way that there wasn’t much to be made stocking up on cereal boxes. Fast forward 20 years and I ended up in brand management for one of America’s biggest cereal companies.
If you could only use one credit card in your wallet for the rest of the year, which one would you pick?
My United MileagePlus Select Visa. It earns 2x points on groceries, 3x on United purchases, and I get miles toward United ‘Premier’ status each year. For all of the bad press United gets, its miles are still incredibly flexible if you know their system. And this card is no longer issued, so I don’t want to lose it.
We hear you like to capitalize on reward travel, what’s the best trip you’ve taken on points?
My favorite was flying to Japan, Germany, and Turkey on one award ticket over the course of 12 days. A little jet lagged, but spending time in each for the price of one flight was great. There’s a whole subculture of people who do much more than that frequently, but I usually put my efforts into getting where I need to go as comfortably as possible for as little as possible.
Do you have a trip you’re planning on taking next using rewards?
I’m looking forward to going to Sicily with my Delta SkyMiles on Alitalia, saving lots on airfare.
Meet the Team: Nick
We interviewed MagnifyMoney co-founder Nick Clements to hear a little more about the origins of MagnifyMoney and what Nick does when he isn’t looking to help save people money.
Why did you start MagnifyMoney?
When I was working in London, a man named Martin Lewis inspired me. He started as a personal finance reporter, and has an absolute obsession with finding people the best deals. He later built MoneySavingExpert.com in the UK – the premier destination for anyone who is confused by complicated financial products or wants to save money.
I think he did two things brilliantly:
1) He made it easy for people to make better financial choices
2) He was not afraid to speak up when he thought products or practices were unfair.
When I ran the largest consumer credit card business in the UK, his words would be listened to and acted upon.
I am thrilled that I have the chance to build something like his business here in the US.
How did people react when you told them about your career change?
I was surprised by the reaction. I thought people would be skeptical. I was lucky to have reached a very senior position at a young age – so why walk away so soon?
But the overwhelming reaction has been support and enthusiasm. Some people still think I was nuts to away from my job, but most people have been incredibly supportive, and not surprised that I took a risk.
How many places have you lived?
Too many. In the US I have lived in 6 states. I have also lived in England (London and Manchester), Switzerland (Zurich), and Russia (Moscow).
And, when I was a student, I spent most of my junior year in Florence, Italy.
Which three are your favorites?
An impossible question to answer! I liked all of them for different reasons.
For best weather, nothing can beat southern California. And I am always happy to visit my mom in Laguna Niguel and enjoy the sunshine and beach.
London was just a wonderful place to live. A beautiful city to live in, and it is so easy to explore Europe on weekends.
But Italy still holds a soft spot in my heart. Who doesn’t want to be surrounded by rolling Tuscan hills, bottles of amazing wine, plates of incredible food and a culture that slows down life a little bit – and focuses on friends, family and the value of time together. (It may have helped that I was a student when I lived there!)
Can you remember the first thing you ever purchased with your own hard-earned money?
I can! When I was in grade school, I started a dog walking business. It slowly morphed into a dog-watching franchise. I would “sub-contract” and play a supervisory role, and had other reputable dog-watchers working for me.
I remember having a few hundred dollars in cash at Christmas time. I was so proud to be able to buy Christmas presents for my family, with my own money.
What was your first credit card?
Wells Fargo for Students. They had a deal with my university, where I could get a totally free checking account and a credit card that came along with it.
I remember enjoying the picture of the stagecoach on the plastic, and the sense of history that Wells Fargo had in their brand identity. (That is a true story. I have always been a nerd when it comes to finance and branding).
Do you still use it?
Absolutely not! I soon learned that you shouldn’t choose credit cards based upon the picture on the plastic. And, bundled products (you have a checking account, and now I sell you a credit card) usually don’t give you the best deals.
You need to look for the best individual product – and I am now earning great rewards!
If you had to spend all your credit card rewards tomorrow, what would you purchase?
I still have an insatiable desire to travel. I would see how far I could go with my points, and then I would go there.
How do you spend your time outside of the office?
Walking, running, eating and reading.
I have two rescue dogs, and my wife and I love our long walks in the park (weather permitting of course). During the weekend, we usually spend at least two hours with them outside.
I love to jog. After a nice run, I am energized and usually have better ideas than when I started.
I love a good meal with amazing people. Italy really taught me that there is nothing better than a few hours sharing food with your friends and family.
And I have always been one to bury myself in books.
Meet the Team: Goofski
Goofski comes to us after a journey from Moscow to London to New York. He desends from a long line of savvy street dogs which gives him the smarts to be the ultimate consumer watchdog. Let us know in the comment section if you have anything you want Goofski to be sniffing out!
Tell us a little about your backstory
I was born in the sleeping district of Moscow. My mother was very sick, and a nice old lady took my mom and all of my brothers and sisters into her apartment. She put an ad online, which was read by Margarita (the wife of Nick). They came to the apartment, and decided to take me home.
I was told they chose me because I was the quietest puppy there. But that was just an act!
How do you try to save money?
I am very bad at saving money. I tend to give into every temptation. I always tell myself that I shouldn’t spend money, but as soon as I see a new bone or a new type of dog food, I find myself indulging.
What exactly will be your role as the Consumer Watchdog?
I come from a long line of street dogs. We have amazing noses – and can sniff out anything. At MagnifyMoney, I will be spending my time sniffing out bad deals and bad practices by banks. I plan to pen (with a bit of help) a weekly article called Watchdog Wednesdays. Please let me know if you haven’t been treated well, and I will try to help!
When you aren’t sniffing out shady business practices, what are you up to?
I love going on long walks with anyone who will take me, and I love good meals. In many ways, I am no different from Nick.