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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 may not have been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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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.

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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 may not have 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.”

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The Best Credit Cards for Pet Expenses

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

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Americans are spending more and more on their pets every year, according to the American Pet Products Association. This year, the association estimates spending will rise to $69.36 billion (up from $66.75 billion in 2016), $16.62 billion of which will go toward veterinarian care (up from $15.95 billion). That means owners may need to prepare to spend more money for their furry family members.

Some vets don’t offer a payment plan directly through their billing office, so applying for a credit card might be your best option to pay for your pet’s medical bills and other expenses (outside of using your savings, borrowing the money from family and friends or crowdsourcing the funds).
The older your pets get, the more likely it is they’ll need medical care, so planning ahead with a pet card can be a good idea. As much as pet owners can try to predict how much they’ll spend on their loved one, it really is impossible to know.

Is a pet-specific credit card a good idea?

A credit card designed for pet health care costs may sound like a great idea, but the truth is, there aren’t many of them. CareCredit is the only card with a specific feature for financing veterinarian bills, and you’ll have to see if your vet accepts it.

The card has a 0% APR promotional offer from six to 24 months, perfect for those who need more time to take care of their pet’s expenses. There are longer financing terms available as well, starting at 24 months and ending at 60 months.

Purchase Amount

CareCredit Financing Options

$1,000 or more

Eligible for a 24-, 36- or 48-month financing
offer with a 14.90% APR

$2,500 or more

Eligible for a 60-month financing offer
with a 16.90% APR

One of the downsides of CareCredit is that it charges deferred interest if you don’t pay off the balance by the time the introductory offer ends. The current standard APR is 26.99%.

If you’re going to carry a card that charges deferred interest, make every possible attempt to pay off the balance before that interest kicks in. You can use a credit card payoff calculator to help you figure out what you need to pay monthly in order to get rid of your debt before the promotional APR period ends.

Other options

Using a pet-focused credit card to take care of vet bills isn’t the only way to spread out the costs of animal health care — or even necessarily the best option.

Below, we’ve listed several credit cards that can help you tackle hefty veterinary bills; what’s best for you will depend on a variety of factors, like how much time you have to prepare for the expense and what your personal financial situation actually is.

For a one-time expense: Cards with a 0% introductory APR

Some credit cards offer a one-time 0% APR introductory rate on new purchases. That means whenever you spend money during the promotional period, you won’t have to pay interest on those purchases as long as you pay off the balance before the promo period ends.

This type of card is best for people who can anticipate an expense, such as an imminent surgery. Keep in mind that it may take a few weeks to get approved and receive your new credit card, so planning is key.

Also, promotional periods start when your account opens, not with your first purchase, so you’ll want to apply funds to the vet bill as soon as you can after getting the card to maximize the time you have to pay off the balance interest-free. This course of action is really best for a one-time cost: Recurring costs can add up quickly, making it difficult to pay off the balance by the time the special offer runs out.

Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever

What we like

The Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever is a top pick if you’re looking for a card with a long intro purchase offer and other significant benefits. This card has a $0 annual fee, no late fees and no penalty interest rate if you miss a payment. There is also an introductory 0% for 18 months on Purchases and 0% for 18 months on Balance Transfers, after which it will convert to a standard, 14.74% - 24.74% (Variable) APR, depending on your credit score.

Fees and fine print to watch out for

While this card might be great for some pet owners, there are some other things to watch out for. The balance transfer fee is Balance transfer fee – either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.. This card has a foreign transaction fee of 3%.

The Provident Signature Cash Back Visa Credit Card from Provident CU (CA)

Why we like it

The Provident Signature Cash Back Visa Credit Card from Provident CU (CA) is one of the few credit cards that offers both cashback rewards and an 0% introductory APR for the first 14 months on purchases and a 0% introductory APR on balance transfers for 14 months and after the promotional period ends, the standard variable APR rates kick in at 12.99% to 17.99% Variable for purchases and 13.99% to 18.00% Variable for balance transfers. Those rates are somewhat less than other cards on this list, which make it a good option if you’re not sure you can pay off your balance in 14 months.

The card has a $0 annual fee and earns unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases. It also has no foreign transaction fees and includes travel accident and trip cancellation/interruption insurance, making it a great choice for pet owners who also like to go places.

Fees and fine print

The biggest downside to this card is its availability: You have to be a member of Provident Credit Union to get it. The credit union is based in California and mostly serves the Bay Area, though you can join if you have a membership with one of a variety of associations.

Beyond membership eligibility, here are some things to consider: Balance transfers carry a fee of $10 or 2% of the balance transferred, whichever is greater, and, if you miss a payment, a late-payment fee up to $15.

For managing existing debt: Balance transfer credit cards

Sometimes your pet has a one-time emergency, like a tooth extraction or hip surgery, that you can’t anticipate. While you can plan ahead for routine needs, it’s hard to be prepared for a procedure that costs several thousand dollars in one fell swoop.

That’s where a card with a balance transfer offer can help. These cards usually offer a low interest rate, sometimes even 0%, on balance transfers. If you’re currently paying for your pup’s bills on a card with a high interest rate, consider applying for a card with a 0% APR balance transfer promotion. Depending on your current interest rate and your minimum payment, you could save hundreds on interest.

This kind of card is best for those who aren’t adding to the balance on a regular basis and are simply trying to pay off one-time expenses. These cards offer this low rate for a certain length of time, sometimes up to 24 months. Ideally, you should pay off the balance before the offer expires so you don’t pay interest on the balance. Calculate how much you need to pay each month so you can do that, keeping in mind it may require making more than the minimum payment.

Discover it® Balance Transfer

What we like

You can earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at
different places each quarter like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, select rideshares and online shopping, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.

Discover will match ALL the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year, automatically for new cardmembers. There’s no signing up. And no limit to how much is matched. Redeem your cash back for any amount, any time. Cash rewards never expire.

One more benefit is that this card doesn’t charge a penalty APR, which is when card issuers can increase the APR if you miss a payment.

Chase Slate®

What we like

The Chase Slate® stands out among many credit cards because there is an Intro $0 on transfers made within 60 days of account opening. After that: Either $5 or 5%, whichever is greater.

There is an introductory 0% Intro APR on Purchases for 15 months and a 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 15 months all with a $0 annual fee. After the intro offer expires, purchases and balance transfers will have a 16.74% - 25.49% Variable APR. There is also no penalty APR with this card, so you don’t have to worry about losing the 0% intro offer if you make a late payment. Terms apply.

Fees and fine print

Late payment fees cost up to $37, depending on your balance, and foreign transactions carry a 3% transaction fee.

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card

Why we like it

The Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card has an intro 0% for 18 months on Balance Transfers, one of the longest periods available. Purchases receive an intro 0% for 18 months on Purchases. Once the promotional period is over, the rates will switch to an APR of 14.74% - 24.74% (Variable), depending on your credit score.

This card has no annual fee and is a good option if you’re confident you can pay off the balance before the intro period ends. Otherwise, you could face some heavy interest fees.

Fees and fine print

There is a balance transfer fee of Balance transfer fee applies with this offer: 3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum. Foreign transactions result in a 3% fee, and late-payment fees can be up to $39.

For ongoing expenses: Low-interest credit cards

If you have an older pet who needs monthly meds or is on a strict diet, proper care can involve costly recurring expenses. If, as a result, you can’t afford to pay off your credit card balance in full every month, having a low-interest credit card can help.

Interest fees can add up quickly once the balance grows, so be sure to watch how much of the principal you’re paying every month and how much is going to interest. You might be more motivated to pay off the debt in full if you know how much it’s costing you each month.

UNIFY Financial Credit Union Variable Rate Visa® Credit Card

What we like

Any U.S. citizen or permanent resident can join UNIFY, and it offers a credit card with one of the lowest interest rates out there. The ongoing interest rate on this card ranges from 5.99-18% APR (variable), so if you have good credit and anticipate dealing with hefty vet bills for a very long time, this card could help you keep your financing costs down. There’s no annual fee and no foreign transaction fee.

Fees and fine print

This is a no-frills credit card with no introductory periods, so you’ll start incurring finance charges as soon as you start carrying a balance from month to month. If your ongoing expenses are going to last less than a year and a half, you may be better off with something like the Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card (described above) because of its long introductory purchase APR.

Late payments on the UNIFY credit card incur a fee of up to $25 fee at five days past the due date, and besides the low APR, this card offers very few benefits.

TruWest Visa Platinum Card

What we like

The TruWest Visa Platinum Card has an 0% introductory APR for 18 months on both purchases and balance transfers, as well as a $0 annual fee. However, its premier perk is its low ongoing APR, which range from 5.95% - 19.95% Variable for purchases and 5.95% - 19.95% Variable for balance transfers, some of the lowest available.

Fees and fine print

This card is from TruWest Credit Union, and you must be a member of the credit union to join. However, it’s not easy to become a member. Membership is available to those who work in select Arizona and Texas counties or have worked for select employers including Motorola, Freescale and ON Semiconductor. Relatives of current members are also eligible. Current members must have at least $5 deposited with TruWest in order to apply for a credit card.

Because membership is so limited, only a small portion of the population will be eligible for this card.

There is no penalty APR, but late fees can cost up to $25. Foreign transactions have a fee of 1% if currency conversion; 0.8% if no currency conversion.

The information related to Citi Simplicity® Card - No Late Fees Ever, Chase Slate® and Citi® Diamond Preferred® Card has been independently collected by MagnifyMoney and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.