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How Weight Loss Helped This Couple Pay Down $22,000 of Debt

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Photo courtesy of Brian LeBlanc

Brian LeBlanc was fed up. The 30-year-old policy analyst from Alberta, Canada, had struggled with his weight for years. At the time, he weighed 240 pounds and had trouble finding clothes that fit. He decided it was time to change his lifestyle for good.

LeBlanc started running and cutting back on fast food and soft drinks. He ordered smaller portions at restaurants and avoided convenience-store foods. About a year into his weight-loss mission, his wife Erin, 31, joined him in his efforts.

“The biggest change we made was buying a kitchen food scale and measuring everything we eat,” Brian says. “Creating that habit was really powerful.”

Over two years, the couple shed a total of 170 pounds.

But losing weight, they soon realized, came with an unexpected fringe benefit — saving thousands of dollars per year. Often, people complain that it’s expensive to be healthy — gym memberships and fresh produce don’t come cheap, after all. But the LeBlancs found the opposite to be true.

Erin, who is a payroll specialist, also managed their household budget. She began noticing a difference in how little money they were wasting on fast food and unused grocery items.

Photo courtesy of Brian LeBlanc

“Before, we always had the best intentions of going to the grocery store and buying all the healthy foods. But we never ate them,” she says. “We ended up throwing out a lot of healthy food, vegetables, and fruits.”

Before their lifestyle change, Brian and Erin would often eat out for dinner, spending as much as $80 per week, and they would often go out with friends, spending about $275 a month. Now, Brian says if they grab fast food, they choose a smaller portion. Now they might spend only $22 on fast food per month, instead of over $200.

What’s changed the most is how they shop for groceries, what they buy and how they cook. Brian likes to prep all his meals on Sunday so his lunches during the week are consistent and portion-controlled. They also buy only enough fresh produce to last them a couple of days to prevent wasting food.

Losing weight — and student loan debt

Photo courtesy of Brian LeBlanc

Two years after the start of their weight-loss journey, they took a look at their bank statements to see how their spending had changed. By giving up eating out and drinking alcohol frequently, they were spending $600 less a month than they used to, even though they’ve had to buy new wardrobes and gym memberships.

With their newfound savings, the LeBlancs managed to pay off Brian’s $22,000 in student loans 13 years early. Even with the $600 they were now saving, they had to cut back significantly on their budget to come up with the $900-$1,000 they aimed to put toward his loans each month. They stopped meeting friends for drinks after work, and Erin took on a part-time job to bring in extra cash. When they needed new wardrobes because their old clothing no longer fit, they frequented thrift shops instead of the mall.

When they made the final payment after two years, it was a relief to say the least.

Now the Canadian couple is saving for a vacation home in Phoenix, which they hope to buy in the next few years, and they’re planning to tackle Erin’s student loans next. They’re happy with their weight and lives in general, but don’t take their journey for granted.

“There were times we questioned our sanity, and we thought we cannot do this anymore,” says Erin. But they would always rally together in the end.

“There are things that are worth struggling for and worth putting in the effort,” Brian says. “Hands down, your health is one of those things.”

Other Ways Getting Healthy Can Help Financially

Spending less on food isn’t the only way your budget can improve alongside your health. Read below to see how a little weight loss can tip the scales when it comes to your finances.

  • Spend less on medical bills. Health care costs have skyrocketed over the past two decades, but they’ve impacted overweight and obese individuals more. A report on the “state of obesity” in America found that obese adults spend 42% more on healthcare per year than those of normal weight.
  • Buy cheaper clothes. Designers frequently charge more for plus-size clothing than smaller sizes. Some people claim retailers add a “fat tax” on clothes because there are fewer options for anyone over a size 12. It might not be fair, but it’s the way things are.
  • Save on life insurance. Your health is a huge factor for life insurance rates. Annual premiums for a healthy person can cost more than for someone who is overweight, because BMI (body mass index) may be a factor for determining pricing.

Getting Healthy for Cheap

Still worried that an active lifestyle will require you to spend more money? Here are some tips on keeping costs low while you improve your lifestyle.

  • Get a family membership. Gyms often provide a discount if you sign up for a family membership instead of an individual one. Most of these deals are only beneficial for households with children, but some might offer a lower price if you sign up with a spouse or partner. Always ask the gym about any special deductions they might have.
  • Skip the fancy gym. Many would-be exercisers skip the gym pass because they assume it will be expensive. Before you give up, call around and compare prices. Try your local YMCA, as they often have income-based membership.
  • Shop at thrift stores. Finding inexpensive workout clothes can be another barrier to exercising. Who wants to spend $75 on yoga pants? Don’t visit the mall for your new duds. Your local thrift shop or consignment store will have running shorts and tank tops for only a few dollars. Secondhand clothes also make more sense if you’re in the midst of losing a lot of weight and changing sizes frequently.
  • Go vegetarian. Meat is often the most expensive item in your grocery cart. If you’re trying to eat healthier and concerned about money, try vegetarian protein options like lentils, beans,and quinoa. You don’t have to fully adopt the vegetarian lifestyle, but just reducing your meat intake can have a significant impact on the grocery bill.
  • Buy frozen produce. Frozen produce is often as healthy as buying fresh, but it can be significantly less expensive. Frozen veggies and fruit also last longer, decreasing the risk of food waste. You can often find coupons, and the long shelf life makes it easy to stock up if there’s a sale on your favorite green beans.
  • Cut back on eating out. Ever wonder how restaurant-quality food can be so much better than what you make at home? You guessed it: more salt, more sugar, more butter and more fat. By limiting the meals you eat out, you’ll avoid all that — as well as those outrageous restaurant markups. If you do eat out, you can do your best to pick the healthy choice. You may also choose to take advantage of cashback credit cards that may reward you for your healthy dining out.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Zina Kumok
Zina Kumok |

Zina Kumok is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Zina here

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News

What to Know Before You Buy a DNA Test

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Thanks to at-home genetic testing kits, the future is now.

But it can be difficult to know which of these spit-and-send tests to trust and which ones are trying to make a buck off our saliva. Read ahead for an overview of three popular testing services and important factors to consider if you decide to buy.

What are personal DNA tests?

More than 10 years ago, 23andMe was founded to provide consumers with direct access to their genetics. Patients could buy one of the California company’s kits without a physician’s approval at cut-rate prices. Since then, the DNA testing landscape has exploded, with at-home tests running around $100.

What to know before you buy

Direct-to-consumer DNA tests do not require a doctor’s note, but the American Medical Association recommends using them under the guidance of a doctor, genetic counselor or licensed health care professionals who help patients, including couples planning to have a baby, discover genetic traits. A word of caution: Genetic testing neither guarantees the likelihood — or absence — of disease.

To find a reputable at-home kit, genetic counselor Scott Weissman of Chicago Genetics Consultants says you should verify that the company does confirmation testing, meaning it will run your test twice to confirm the result. He also says reputable companies should have a genetic counselor on hand to answer customer questions. “If the company can’t put them through [to] a genetic counselor and they talk to a sales rep or customer service rep instead, I’d be worried,” Weissman said.

DNA tests can be purchased through a company’s website directly or through a third-party vendor like Amazon. Weissman, however, strongly recommends buying through the company itself.

Insurance generally won’t cover direct-to-consumer DNA tests, Weissman says, only paying for genetic testing if your doctor recommends it and you meet the criteria designated by your insurance provider. Because every insurance company has its own policy, contact yours directly to find out if DNA testing will be covered.

Read the fine print on privacy. Patients worried about privacy have reason for concern, but Weissman says most test providers do not sell or share your information for malicious reasons. Instead, they’re likely to use it for further research. Be sure to read the fine print when you sign anything from the test provider — that’s where they’ll disclose how they plan to use your information.

23andMe vs. AncestryDNA vs. Helix

DNA test

Cost

What information is included?

What can you do with the information?

How they use your data

Best for

23andMe

$99 for the ancestry option and

$199
for health and ancestry information

The ancestry portion shows your DNA’s geographic history.

The health option includes carrier information and diseases you’re more susceptible to, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s

The ancestry information can be used to build your family tree.

The health results can be shared with your doctor for further screening

23andMe shares your results for research

People who want a mix of ancestry and health information

AncestryDNA

$79

Ancestry information, including your ethnic makeup and when your ancestors arrived in America

If you have any potential relatives in the system, you may be able to contact them for more information about the family tree.

AncestryDNA doesn’t store data with names attached. You can request destruction of your sample and records.

People who are primarily concerned about documenting their family origins


Helix

Start at $80 and vary based on what you purchase

Extra tests come from outside partners, which are reviewed by Helix.

Fitness and health information, such as what foods you’re sensitive to, if you have a rare form of diabetes or what kind of exercise your body responds to best

Tailor your diet and exercise to fit your genetic makeup

Helix only shares your data with the companies that service the extra tests that Helix provides. Helix doesn’t sell your data and you can revoke access any time

People who want to discover the intricacies of their body, including what foods are best for them and specific weight loss strategies

The unexpected consequences of DNA test results

A rare, but significant consequence of taking a DNA test is finding a new relative. That was the story of a biologist who gave his parents a 23andMe test as a gift, only to discover a family secret.

In this case, the scientist discovered a half-brother born from an extramarital affair, as the DNA Relative Finder option notifies users if their DNA is a match with someone else in the 23andMe database. The reveal was so damaging, the scientist’s parents divorced. If you don’t want to find any long lost relatives, skip that option.

Buyer beware. It’s also possible that test results could be used against you. Life insurance companies, for example, may deny coverage based on your health risks, including genetic information. The good news: The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) made it illegal for employers to discriminate or fire you because of your genetic makeup. GINA also prevents health insurers from denying coverage based on your genetic information.

How to interpret your results

If an at-home test reveals important information about your health, it’s time to contact your doctor. Most test companies will be happy to forward the results directly to your doctor or allow you to share them yourself.

Once you get your results, your primary care doctor may ask you to retake the genetic test, depending on the kind of DNA test you took. If you found out you’re at risk of high cholesterol, it may be as simple as watching what you eat or taking some medication.

The Angelina Jolie effect. However, if you find out you have a mutation for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene (which increases one’s risk of breast and ovarian cancers), it might be more complex. You’ll probably need to take more tests and meet with a clinical geneticist. In some instances, women may even have surgery to remove their ovaries and breasts (à la Angelina Jolie, who famously opted for a double mastectomy after discovering she carried a “faulty gene”). 23andMe recently became the first direct-to-consumer DNA test to start screening for BRCA gene mutations that increase the risk of breast cancer. However, the tests only screen for three mutations on the BRCA genes out of multiple possibilities. Some diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, have limited treatment options, so many question the value of knowing ahead of time.

The bottom line

Genetic testing is one piece of the health care pie. Many diseases, including cancer, can be traced to environmental conditions and personal choices.

“Genetics is amazing,” said Mayo Clinic researcher Matthew Ferber, “but for most healthy individuals, it only tells a part of the story. You still need to eat better, exercise, avoid smoking and alcohol, regardless of what your genetics tell you.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Zina Kumok
Zina Kumok |

Zina Kumok is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Zina here

Advertiser Disclosure

Reviews

Everything You Need to Know About ChexSystems

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Most consumers are aware that they have a credit score and credit report, used by lenders to decide if you represent a borrowing risk.

But did you know that banks and credit unions have their own method of determining if you’re a good prospective customer — or a potential problem? It’s called ChexSystems and it’s a reporting system that tracks your closed checking and savings accounts. Many people who have had a bank account at one point in time will have a ChexSystems report. Accounts stay on ChexSystems for up to five years after closure.

What is ChexSystems and how does it work?

The information ChexSystems tracks is used to create your Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA) report. Think of this as a sort of banking version of your credit report.

chexsystems
When you apply for a new checking or savings account, the financial institution will often run your ChexSystems report to see if you have any negative marks. These can include overdrawn accounts, negative balances, closed accounts and more.

It takes five years for negative marks to leave your ChexSystem report. However, if you find incorrect information, you can dispute it and ask to have to it removed.

Like a credit report freeze, you can freeze or place a security freeze on your ChexSystems report so no bank or credit union can view it. This could block someone from stealing your identity and opening a new account in your name. It can also make it more difficult for you to open a new checking or savings account. (You’ll need to thaw your report first.)

4 reasons you might be denied for a checking or savings account

#1 Not paying your fees.

When you overdraw your account, the bank will usually charge you a fee. Overdraft fees can be as high as $35 at some banks but the national median is $30, according to the research firm Moebs Services. Even if you’re only overdrawn for one day, you can end up owing significantly more than that if you continue to spend money before you realize the account is overdrawn. It can be difficult to repay these fees, especially if you can’t afford to bring your account current.

However, if you end up closing the account with a negative balance or if the bank decides to close the account for you, ChexSystems will list this on your report. This is one of the most common reasons a bank or credit union will deny your application, since your report reflects that you may struggle to pay your debts.

If you do get a fee on your account, call your bank as soon as possible. Sometimes it’ll waive (or reduce) fees for good customers. At the very least, ignoring the problem won’t make it go away and can cause you to get a negative mark on your ChexSystems report. Usually banks will give you a deadline to pay your fees before closing your account and reporting to ChexSystems.

#2 Overdrafting too many times.

Even if you pay your overdraft fees when you go over your account balance, you can still be denied a new account if ChexSystems shows that you overdraw too often. Doing it too many times can signal that you’re irresponsible and aren’t aware of how much money you have in your account.

Consider setting up safeguards to prevent overdrafting:

  • Keep all of your money in one account that you use solely for daily transactions
  • Allow your bank to decline purchases if you don’t have enough available funds (which may mean declining to enroll in overdraft protection).
  • Speaking of which, we highly recommend you use caution with overdraft protection. With this service, banks will allow transactions to go through even if you have insufficient funds, but they will almost always hit you with overdraft fees at the same time.
  • Avoid using checks, which may be cashed at a later date.
  • Set up bank alerts so you’re notified if your balance dips below a certain amount, such as $50.

#3 Committing fraud

It’s one thing to write a check for $100 and assume you have $100 in your bank account, only to have that check bounce. But it’s quite another to write a check knowing that you don’t have the funds in your account. That constitutes fraud and is a serious offense, sometimes resulting in criminal action. Other types of fraud include opening an account with someone else’s information, and trying to write a check to yourself from another person’s account.

#4 Bouncing checks

A bounced check is when you write a check for an amount that you don’t currently have in your account. When the recipient tries to deposit the check, the bank will reject it and charge you a fee for nonsufficient funds.

Too many bounced checks and it’ll show up in your ChexSystems report; that could cause you to be denied for a new account. Bouncing checks makes it seem like you’re not on top of your finances, especially if it continues to happen over a long period of time.

How to get your free ChexSystems report

what to know about chexsystem
iStock

To get your free ChexSystem report, go to www.chexsystems.com and click on “free FACTA report”. As with a credit report, you’re legally entitled to one free copy of your report every 12 months.

However, unlike with your credit report, which you can access online after answering a series of questions, you have to wait for your ChexSystems report to be sent to you through by mail. You should receive the report within five business days after submitting your application.

You know how people have both credit reports and credit scores? Well, consumers also have ChexSystems reports and ChexSystems scores. You may request your ChexSystems Consumer Score by mailing or faxing this form. It can take up to 15 business days to get your score back. Scores range from 100 to 899. The closer you are to 899, the better you look to potential banks.

Disputing and reporting errors

To dispute and report errors in your ChexSystems report, you may submit a form via this website, by fax at 602-659-2197, or by mail at the following address:

ChexSystems Inc.
Attn: Consumer Relations
7805 Hudson Road, Suite 100
Woodbury, MN 55125

ChexSystems recommends you include the following information when you submit your dispute:

  • Full name
  • Social Security number
  • Current and mailing address
  • Consumer ID number if available

Also, identify the information being disputed and provide the specific nature of your dispute

It usually takes 30 days for the investigation to be finalized, and the results will be mailed to you.

Alternatives to checking accounts

If you’ve had a hard time keeping track of bank accounts in the past and your ChexSystems report is a less-than-spotless one, you may have trouble qualifying for a traditional bank account

Unfortunately, that leaves you in a precarious position. There are many ways to get around not having a traditional checking account, but many of those options can be time-consuming and loaded with fees that can eat away at your earnings.

“A bad ChexSystems report can mean paying more for banking services if you’re unable to switch,” says Jason Vitug, a former retail banking executive and author of “You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and aa Second Chance account Purposeful Life.”

“It can also mean relying on nontraditional services such as cashing your paycheck at check cashing outlets [which can easily] cost you more,” Vitug says.

If this describes your situation, you have a few other options. Here are some alternatives to checking accounts that can work until you improve your ChexSystems report.

Prepaid cards

A prepaid card works like a gift card. You load it with money and then use it wherever cards are accepted. Some popular providers include the American Express Serve® card, which also provides 1 percent cash back to consumers.

You can send money with your prepaid card, pay bills online and set up direct deposit. In many ways, it acts like a debit card you’d get with a checking account.

However, there are downsides to these cards, mostly fees. Some prepaid cards charge a fee for buying the card, while others also have a monthly fee. They can also charge every time you withdraw money or reload the card. If you use the card often, you can face high fees every month that cut into your ability to save and improve your finances.

Prepaid cards have been targeted by consumer watchdogs like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which has gone after companies that charge consumers exorbitant fees.

In our review of the AccountNow Gold Visa Prepaid Debit Card, we found that consumers could spend more than $100 in fees per year just to maintain the card.

Fresh start/second chance bank accounts

Typically, Fresh Start or Second Chance checking accounts are a better option than a prepaid card. That’s because they often have many of the typical features found in a traditional checking account, like ATM access.

Like prepaid cards, these accounts sometimes have extra fees. For example, the BBVA Compass Easy Checking account comes with a $13.95 monthly fee as well as a $10 fee for opening a debit card. Most traditional checking accounts have smaller monthly fees that can be waived if you have direct deposit or a minimum account balance.

If you decide to use a Second Chance account, try to find one that offers to upgrade you after a certain time period. For example, BBVA will allow you to request an upgrade after 12 months if your account has a positive balance and is in good standing. Because of this, it may make more sense to open one of these accounts than to set up a prepaid debit card.

Just watch out for fees associated with these accounts, as they can be significant.

If you already have a bank in mind, call them and ask what information they use to verify new accounts. Not all banks use ChexSystems; some use Early Warning System or Telechek.

Axiom

Axiom is a regional bank in central Florida and it offers a second chance checking account called Opportunity Checking. It charges a $10 monthly fee but has no minimum balance requirement. And like many fresh start checking accounts, the bank requires a minimum opening deposit of $25.

Bank of America

Bank of America’s SafeBalance Banking Account has some of the lowest fees for all Second Chance accounts, at $4.95 a month and a $25 minimum opening deposit. Because these accounts don’t allow you to spend more than your current balance, you’re not likely to overdraw your account and face heavy fees.

You can even enroll in the popular Keep the Change program which will round up purchases to the nearest dollar and transfer the difference in a savings account. However, this account does not provide paper checks so if you need to write checks on a regular basis, try applying for another account.

BBVA

BBVA’s Easy Checking Account has fewer fees than some Second Chance checking accounts. Mobile banking and bill pay are free and the only mandatory fee is a $13.95 monthly charge. Plus, you can earn cash back on certain purchases.

PNC Bank

PNC Bank does not advertise its second chance checking account, but it’s called Foundation Checking. According to ValuePenguin*, PNC offers this account with a minimum opening deposit of $25 and monthly fees of $9.

TD Ameritrade

TD Ameritrade doesn’t check your ChexSystems account; however, in order to qualify for a bank account, you must open a brokerage account with the firm. Fortunately, it’s possible to open a brokerage account with TD Ameritrade without a minimum deposit; however, a lot of people might not want to go through so much trouble just for access to a checking account.

Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo’s Opportunity Checking accounts allow users to avoid the $10 monthly fee with a few easy methods, including 10 debit card purchases, qualifying direct deposits of $500 or more or a $1,500 minimum daily balance. Fees related to this account include $2.50 for non-Wells Fargo ATM withdrawals, $35 overdraft fees and $12.50 each time a transfer is made to avoid a direct deposit.

How to avoid negative marks on your ChexSystems report

Having a good ChexSystems report is like having a good credit report. All it takes is creating good habits, staying on top of your finances and being patient.

If you’re trying to repair a poor ChexSystems report, the best thing you can do is to avoid any overdrafts or bounced checks. If your account is negative, try to rectify it as soon as possible.

Communicate with your bank or credit union as soon as you anticipate a problem. Customer service representatives are more likely to be lenient if you’re attempting to find a solution.

*ValuePenguin is an affiliate of LendingTree, MagnifyMoney’s parent company.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Zina Kumok
Zina Kumok |

Zina Kumok is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Zina here