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Roth vs. Traditional 401(k): Which is Best?

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

When it comes to saving for your future, 401(k) plans are a popular option—and for good reason. These retirement plans offer a convenient way to save and grow your money, with tax benefits to boot! If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, especially if they match contributions (hello, free money!), then there’s no question that it’s a great option to consider. A Roth 401(k), however, also comes with its own list of benefits. Here’s what you need to know about both retirement plans before making a choice.

401(k) basics

Not all employers offer 401(k) plans and they will vary by employer. They’re typically offered to employees who meet certain qualifications, such as employment status (e.g. full-time workers may be eligible, but not part-time workers) and length of employment.

Employees can choose to dedicate a portion of their salary (typically a set percentage deducted from each paycheck), up to a certain limit, to be contributed to their 401(k) account. That money is then invested in various types of funds and accounts, which are selected by the employee from the plan’s available options.

Ideally, the funds will grow over the years until they’re withdrawn during retirement. There are penalties for early withdrawal (see chart below), but there are also significant tax benefits if you leave the money in the account until it’s eligible for withdrawal.

401(k) vs Roth 401(k)

Some employers offer two types of 401(k) plans: a traditional 401(k) and a Roth 401(k). The plans are similar in nearly every aspect except for when you pay taxes on the funds you invest.

  • A traditional 401(k) allows you to make contributions on pre-tax income and defer paying taxes on that amount until you withdraw the funds in retirement.
  • A Roth 401(k), on the other hand, requires you to pay taxes on the funds you contribute up front, so that you can withdraw them tax-free in retirement.

Both allow your funds to grow without paying annual taxes (as you would with other investment accounts).

Roth 401(k) vs. Traditional 401(k): 2019 Rules
Roth 401(k)Traditional 401(k)

Contribution limits

$19,000 with an additional $6,000 “catch-up” contribution allowance for those over age 50

$19,000 with an additional $6,000 “catch-up” contribution allowance for those over age 50

Income limits

None

None

Who maintains plan

A provider selected by the employer

A provider selected by the employer

When are contributions taxed

The same year contributions are made

The same year funds are distributed.

Withdrawal penalties

10% penalty, plus taxes on the earnings (not the amount you contributed) if funds are withdrawn before the age of 59 and a half, and before the account is 5 years old. (Exceptions are made for death and disability).

10% penalty, plus applicable taxes on the funds withdrawn before the age of 59 and a half, and before the account is 5 years old. (Exceptions are made for death and disability).

Growth

Tax-free

Tax-deferred

Set-up costs

Set-up and annual fees vary by plan. In some cases, they’re paid for by the employer, while others deduct fees from the plan’s assets.

Set-up and annual fees vary by plan. In some cases, they’re paid for by the employer, while others deduct fees from the plan’s assets.

As you can see in the chart above, there are very few differences between the two 401(k) plans. As few as they may be, however, they can make a big difference in your bottom line.

When a Roth 401(k) makes sense

In general, most experts say it makes the most sense to go with a Roth 401(k) the earlier you are in your career.

“This option is a better fit for earners in a lower current income bracket who expect to be in a higher bracket when it comes time to withdraw the money,” said Elena Dixon, a Financial Advisor and 401(k) and 403(b) retirement plan specialist at Linden Wealth Advisors in New Haven, Conn.

There’s no hard-and-fast way to determine which tax bracket you’ll be in when you retire. However, the further you are from retirement, the more likely your income will increase as you progress in your career. Another factor making it difficult to determine your tax bracket are taxes, which will likely increase over the years.

A Roth 401(k) also makes sense if you like the idea of withdrawing funds tax-free during retirement (since you’ve already paid taxes on those funds). To avoid withdrawal penalties, however, you must be age 59 and a half or older, and have had the account for at least five years. There are exceptions to this rule, such as the account holder’s death or disability.

When a traditional 401(k) makes sense

The beauty of 401(k) plans lies in their ability to “snowball” your funds. With a traditional 401(k),100% of your contributions are invested for maximum snowballing, since the money comes from your pre-tax income. “The gains on that amount can then be reinvested, which amplifies the potential growth of your money,” said Dixon.

Of course, taxes are unavoidable, requiring you to pay taxes in retirement when you withdraw the funds (additional penalties may be assessed if you withdraw funds before age 59 and a half or if the account is less than five years old).

While it’s generally assumed that retirees will be in a lower tax bracket once they enter retirement, others find themselves in higher tax brackets due to income from other sources, such as part-time jobs, consulting work and other investment accounts.

Experts suggest looking at the difference between your marginal tax rate and your effective tax rate when considering your future tax bracket.

The best of both worlds

There is no single, perfect formula to choosing between a Roth 401(k) and a traditional 401(k), which is why it’s a good idea to diversify your retirement savings between the two (if possible).

“In a perfect world, having both a Roth account and a traditional 401(k) would be ideal,” said Dixon. “With everything in finance, diversification, even tax diversification, is a solid way to manage risk.”

The good news is that if your employer offers a Roth 401(k), you can split your contributions between that and a traditional 401(k). If you choose a Roth 401(k), any matching funds your employer provides will automatically be deposited into a traditional 401(k) plan. If your employer doesn’t offer a Roth 401(k), you can instead consider investing funds in a Roth IRA, which offers the same tax benefits.

There are unique cases in which there may be better investment options than investing in either type of 401(k) plan. If your employer offers matching funds in any form, then it’s almost always worth it to invest in their 401(k) up to the matching amount. If, however, they don’t offer to match funds (or if the fees are high), it may be wise to look at other options, including IRAs.

The bottom line on 401(k)s

The primary consideration when choosing between a traditional 401(k) and a Roth 401(k) comes down to when taxes are applied. However, predicting your future financial situation with 100% accuracy is impossible, which is why it’s important to diversify your investments. When all else fails, just be sure to do your research, weigh the pros and cons and enlist the help of a professional if needed.

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.

Julie Ryan Evans
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Julie Ryan Evans is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Julie here

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Betterment Review 2020

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

Robo-advisor Betterment uses exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and a high degree of automation to manage your portfolio. In addition, it’s possible to speak with financial professionals to receive more tailored advice on retirement and other financial goals.

Investors most likely to benefit from Betterment include beginning investors hoping for a low barrier to entry, as well as intermediate investors who are interested in keeping a portion of their portfolio in set-it-and-forget-it accounts. Investors interested in trading individual stocks or taking a more hands-on approach aren’t likely to benefit as much from Betterment.

Betterment
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The bottom line: Betterment is great for investors looking to get started with minimum fuss — and who aren’t interested in active trading.

  • Easy to get started
  • Set up different investing goals
  • Benefit from tax optimization

Who should consider Betterment

Betterment is for investors who would like an automated approach to investing. Anyone can benefit from Betterment, but it’s especially helpful for beginner investors hoping to start growing their wealth.

Because of the low barrier to entry — there are no account minimums and you can get started with a minimum deposit of $10 — it’s possible for almost anyone to begin investing.

It’s also a great resource for intermediate investors looking to accomplish different goals with “buckets” of money. With Betterment, it’s possible to set varying levels of risk for different goals, with different asset allocations based on when you’re likely to need the money.

Finally, intermediate and advanced traders can use Betterment to build a long-term retirement portfolio, although there is no active trading. Betterment offers a place for assets to grow over longer periods at a pace that is likely to track the market as a whole.

Consider your goals and what you hope to accomplish with your investment portfolio. While Betterment can potentially be a good choice for anyone who keeps a portion of their portfolio in long-term assets, it’s not ideal for those who prefer to actively manage their portfolios or engage in active trading.

Betterment fees and features

Amount minimum to open account
  • $0
Management fees
  • 0.25% for Digital offering (no minimum account balance)
  • 0.40% for Premium offering ($100,000 minimum account balance)
Account fees (annual, transfer, inactivity)
  • $0 annual fee
  • $0 full account transfer fee
  • $0 partial account transfer fee
  • $0 inactivity fee
Current promotions

Three months free for new customers who are referred by an existing Betterment account holder

Account types
  • Individual taxable
  • Traditional IRA
  • Roth IRA
  • Joint taxable
  • Rollover IRA
  • Rollover Roth IRA
  • SEP IRA
  • Trust
Portfolio
  • 12 asset classes represented in ETF portfolio
Automatic rebalancing
Tax loss harvesting
Offers fractional shares
Ease of use
Mobile appiOS, Android
Customer supportPhone, Email

Betterment management fees

Betterment’s pricing starts with a 0.25% management fee for the basic Digital account. This pricing is in line with other robo-advisors like Wealthfront, which also charges 0.25%.

Balances above $100,000 earn Betterment’s Premium account status, featuring unlimited access to personalized advice for a management fee of 0.40%. This isn’t out of line with other robo-advisors: Wealthsimple charges 0.40% for account balances above $100,000. Wealthfront, however, maintains the 0.25% management fee, no matter the size of your account. Once your balance reaches $2 million, your fee drops to 0.15%.

In addition to regular management fees, it’s also important to note that you’ll pay expense ratios on the ETFs Betterment selects on your behalf. Betterment’s recommended portfolios feature expense ratios of 0.07% to 0.15%. According to Betterment, this is much lower than the industry average.

Finally, there are additional fees if you want access to specialized financial planning. If you have $100,000 or more invested with Betterment, you get access to these services as part of your annual management fee. However, if your balance is lower, you pay a flat fee for financial advice ranging between $199 and $299 per advisory session.

Betterment portfolio options and portfolio management

Betterment chooses an investment portfolio for you based on your goals and time horizon. The core portfolio includes stock and bond ETFs allocated in a way that helps you reach your goals. It’s also possible to tweak your asset allocation in your account.

In addition, Betterment offers different portfolio options based on specific goals and targets. Here are some of the additional choices available with Betterment:

  • Socially Responsible Investing (SRI): This portfolio focuses on reducing exposure to companies that have a negative social impact. The expense ratio is a little higher with these portfolios, around 0.14% to 0.22%, depending on the allocation within the portfolio.
  • BlackRock Target Income Portfolio: Aimed at retirees, this portfolio is designed to provide a regular income stream. The portfolio focuses on bond investments that offer dividends that can be used for income rather than focusing on principal and capital appreciation.
  • Goldman Sachs Smart Beta Portfolio: Rather than using basic asset allocation principles, this portfolio focuses on assets that possess four characteristics considered to drive performance — strong momentum, good value, low volatility and high quality. It’s possible to adjust this portfolio in 101 different ways.

With all portfolios, Betterment handles automatic rebalancing when your assets experience a certain amount of drift. For example, if market performance is resulting in an asset allocation that is too far outside the target for your portfolio, Betterment will sell and buy different assets to bring your portfolio back to its target.

Another way Betterment automatically manages your portfolio is by using tax optimization strategies. Different assets are assigned to your accounts based on their overall tax efficiency. Additionally, when certain assets lose value, Betterment will sell them automatically in an effort to offset capital gains in other areas. With the help of the Tax Loss Harvesting+ feature, rebalancing can occur daily.

Betterment financial planning features

If you want a big-picture view of your finances, Betterment’s account sync feature can be helpful. With this feature, you connect some or all of your outside accounts to Betterment, which lets you view all of your financial information in one place. The app then offers personalized recommendations for managing your money.

You have the option to speak with Betterment financial professionals about planning for specific goals and life milestones. Account holders above the $100,000 balance requirement get unlimited access to personalized advice and help by phone and email as part of the management fee.

If you don’t meet this threshold, you can pay for advice packages tailored to the goals you’re working on. Here are some of the Betterment advice packages available for a flat fee:

  • Getting Started: A 45-minute phone call with a certified financial planner (CFP) who can provide step-by-step help setting up a Betterment account that helps you maximize a variety of goals. Price: $199.
  • Financial Checkup: Get a review of your investment portfolio and how it fits into your financial situation in a 60-minute call with a Certified Financial Planner. Price: $299.
  • College Planning: Aimed at families who want help getting set up for college costs and using higher education plans. It consists of a 60-minute phone call that can help you review your choices and decide what’s best for you. Price: $299.
  • Marriage Planning: Planning to tie the knot soon? Get help as you navigate goals, priorities and merging finances in a 60-minute phone call. Price: $299.
  • Retirement Planning: Set up a 60-minute holistic review of your portfolio, current situation and more that can help you make better decisions for your retirement. Price: $299.

The Betterment Advisor Network can also help you get your own dedicated financial advisor who can help you with almost any financial need. Betterment will help match you with a professional who is likely to fit your goals and priorities.

Betterment Everyday Cash Reserve Account

Betterment offers Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)-insured banking options. While the checking account isn’t universally available yet, it is possible to use Everyday Cash Reserve to earn up to 1.78% APY. Additionally, there are no limits on withdrawals and no minimum balance. You also don’t have to worry about paying fees on your balance. The money in your Everyday Cash Reserve account is actually held at partner banks — it’s possible to opt out of a specific partner bank, if you wish.

In addition to providing a high-yield savings option, you can also decide to use the Two-Way Sweep feature. With this feature, Betterment automatically analyzes a connected account each day and will move excess cash from your connected account and into your savings account. If you need the money back in your main account, Betterment will sweep it from your Everyday Cash Reserve account without the need to take further action on your part.

Strengths of Betterment

Betterment is always adding new goals and features. Here are some of the most helpful features it currently offers:

  • Tax optimization: Betterment uses tax loss harvesting to help offset taxes on your gains. The company also uses its Tax-Coordinated Portfolio to give you the maximum tax benefit. Certain assets are assigned to your IRA, while others are kept in your taxable accounts.
  • Betterment Everyday: Betterment now offers FDIC-insured checking and savings accounts. While the checking product is still in the roll-out stages, it’s possible to earn up to 1.78% APY with Everyday Cash Reserve.
  • Set up different goals: One of Betterment’s most useful features is the ability to set up different goals. It’s possible to have a traditional IRA and a rollover IRA, as well as open a Roth IRA. It’s also possible to open taxable accounts for a variety of other goals. Set different asset mixes for each type of account and adjust what you add simply and easily.
  • Chance to talk to a human: Betterment offers customer service by phone in addition to email. However, you can also speak with a financial professional with packages starting at $199, depending on what you’re looking for. It’s also possible to be matched with an advisor if you meet the requirements for access to the Betterment Advisor Network.
  • Portfolio projection tools: Set goals with the help of Betterment’s projection tools and track your progress toward reaching your objectives. Betterment offers insight into whether you’re on track with your goals as well as graphs to help you visualize the potential of your portfolio.

Drawbacks of Betterment

While Betterment is a great choice for many investors, it’s not for everyone. There are some drawbacks, and no Betterment review would be complete without mentioning them.

  • No active trading: If you’re interested in choosing your own investments and actively trading, you won’t be able to do that with Betterment. While you can do a little more self-directed investing with a Premium account, the reality is that you’re mostly limited to choosing your prefered asset mix rather than picking individual investments.
  • Lack of 529 and education savings accounts (ESAs): There are no custodial accounts with Betterment, and you can’t set up a 529 or ESA to save for your child’s education. A similar robo-investing company that does offer a 529 is Wealthfront.

Is Betterment safe?

Anytime you invest, there is a chance you could lose money. Poor market conditions can always lead to a loss. However, Betterment’s use of modern portfolio theory in its asset allocation helps reduce your exposure to risk. Additionally, Betterment carries Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) insurance, protecting each of your Betterment accounts up to $500,000 in the event of a failure by the company. (Note that market losses aren’t covered by SIPC insurance.)

In addition to making sure an investment company is SIPC-insured, you also can use the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s BrokerCheck to find out about disclosures and actions, and search the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Consumer Complaint Database. The Better Business Bureau is also a good source of information.

Final thoughts

Betterment is a great choice for beginner investors looking to get their feet wet and for long-term investors hoping to grow a retirement portfolio. For investors with more than $100,000, it can also be a decent place to keep your money if you’re looking for basic advice.

However, for active traders and those who want a little more control over their assets, Betterment might not be the best choice. Instead, it could make more sense to use platforms like E-Trade or Robinhood if you want to get involved with active trading. Stockpile is also a good choice for investors who want to buy individual stocks using fractional shares.

Overall, though, Betterment is a great choice for building wealth for the long term, including setting accounts for specific goals and using tools that help you see if you’re on track to meet your objectives.

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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.

Miranda Marquit
Miranda Marquit |

Miranda Marquit is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Miranda here

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Fidelity Cash Management Account Review 2020

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.

Fidelity’s cash management account gives its customers a convenient place to keep cash balances with the firm, rather than moving them back and forth between external bank accounts. Like some of the other cash management products offered by brokerages, it’s not necessarily a perfect replacement for your conventional checking account. However, customers can benefit from Fidelity’s generous unlimited ATM fee reimbursement program, even if the APY isn’t the highest available.

Fidelity Cash Management Account Pros

Fidelity Cash Management Account Cons

  • Unlimited ATM fee reimbursements
  • No monthly fees
  • No minimum balance requirement
  • FDIC insurance up to the legal limit
  • Uncompetitive APY
  • Few branch office locations

This review will take a closer look at how Fidelity’s Cash Management Account stacks up in comparison to offerings from traditional banks and other fintech competitors, to help you determine if it’s a good fit for your savings needs.

Fidelity Cash Management Account features

Fidelity markets its cash management account is marketed as a convenient way to enjoy checking-account-like features with FDIC insurance, without corresponding bank fees.

While the account is designed as a home for your idle cash when its not invested in other Fidelity products, the firm has gone the extra mile by adding ease of use and a generous ATM fee reimbursement program, which no doubt helps encourage many investors to keep their extra cash with Fidelity.

You can deposit funds to your Fidelity Cash Management Account in a number of ways. The fastest option is to transfer money from one of your existing Fidelity accounts. If you have a paper check, you can use the Fidelity app to make a remote deposit, just as you could with many online savings accounts. The account accepts direct deposits, and you can also make a one-time transfer at any time from your linked external bank account, or mail a check to Fidelity directly.

Since Fidelity is a brokerage firm, not a bank, it holds its customers’ funds at accounts with partner banks, which also provide FDIC insurance. Fidelity automatically transfers your deposits to these partner banks in increments not exceeding $245,000 to ensure that your deposit at each bank doesn’t exceed the $250,000 FDIC insurance per account. The partner banks offer a combined $1.25 million in FDIC insurance.

Fidelity Cash Management Account vs. online savings accounts

Here’s how Fidelity’s Cash Management Account compares to some of the highest-earning online savings accounts from our best online savings accounts review:

Financial Institution

APY

Minimum balance to earn APY

Fidelity

0.82%

$0.01

Vio Bank

1.95%

$100

Customers Bank

1.95%

$25,000

Barclays Bank

1.70%

$0.01

Goldman Sachs Bank USA

1.70%

$0.01

Ally Bank

1.60%

$0.01

In terms of APY, Fidelity’s cash management account doesn’t stack up to the best online savings banks. Vio Bank and Customers Bank both offer APYs in the neighborhood of 2%, far above Fidelity’s 0.82%.

That said, Fidelity’s generous unlimited ATM fee reimbursement program is better than most of its online savings competitors. Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, for example, doesn’t even offer ATM access at all, let alone have any fee reimbursement policy.

Fidelity Cash Management Account vs. robo-advisor cash management accounts

Many robo-advisor firms have also launched their own cash management accounts to help them compete with both conventional brokerages and online banks. The features and benefits can vary widely from firm to firm, but overall they tend to provide a combination of checking and savings account functionality. This includes high APYs, free ATM access, remote check deposit and FDIC insurance via partner banks.

Account name

APY

Fidelity Cash Management Account

0.82%

Wealthfront Cash Account

1.78%

Betterment Everyday Cash Reserve

1.83%

SoFi Money

1.60%

Fidelity Cash Management Account vs. Wealthfront Cash Account

The comparison of cash management accounts from Fidelity and Wealthfront comes down to ease of access versus a high interest rate. Fidelity offers a debit card and unlimited ATM fee rebates, making for a highly accessible account. Wealthfront doesn’t offer any ATM access, period. However, the Wealthfront Cash Account’s current APY is much higher than Fidelity’s APY. (Wealthfront has claimed that it does intend to offer ATM access at some future date.)

Beyond these important distinctions, Fidelity and Wealthfront share similar features. For both firms, balances in are held in accounts at multiple partner banks, which provide FDIC insurance — Fidelity’s partner banks provide a total of up to $1.25 million in FDIC coverage, while Wealthfront’s partner banks provide up to $1 million in FDIC insurance. Neither firm charges monthly fees, and both offer unlimited withdrawal and deposits.

However, Fidelity offers mobile check deposit and direct deposit funding options, while Wealthfront still only accepts deposits via ACH bank transfer, wire transfer or account transfer.

Fidelity Cash Management Account vs. Betterment Everyday Cash Reserve

The Betterment Everyday Cash Reserve pays 1.83% APY and allows unlimited withdrawals and deposits. Betterment holds your cash at accounts with multiple partner banks, which provide up to $1 million in FDIC coverage.

Unlike the Fidelity Cash Management Account, withdrawals from the Everyday Cash Reserve account are via ACH bank transfer only. Both deposits and withdrawals are generally completed within one or two business days, depending on when in the day they are set.

Betterment has been promising to launch checking features that would expand the utility of its cash management account with ATM access and related features, however it remains unclear when this component will arrive. Until that time, the Fidelity Cash Management Account remains a much more liquid option.

Fidelity Cash Management Account vs. SoFi Money

SoFi offers a full-fledged line of savings, lending and investment products. SoFi Money offers features of both checking and savings accounts in one high-yielding account, including paper checks, bill pay and ATM access.

Like the Fidelity Cash Management Account, SoFi Money offers unlimited ATM fee rebates. It’s competitive APY isn’t the best available from competing robo-advisors or online savings accounts, but it’s still higher than the APY offered by Fidelity.

Similar to Fidelity, Wealthfront and other cash management accounts, SoFi Money holds its customer’s deposits with partner banks, in multiple FDIC-insured accounts. SoFi’s six partner banks offer customers up to $1.5 million in FDIC insurance. SoFi Money charges no monthly or transaction fees.

Who should get a Fidelity Cash Management Account?

The target market for the Fidelity Cash Management Account is existing Fidelity customers. The convenience of having your money swept into FDIC-insured bank accounts, with easy access to your investment account has real value. So does the ATM access, which isn’t always found with cash management accounts from competing brokers.

However, Fidelity’s ATM reimbursement policy makes the account of added interest to anyone looking for a place to store cash in a readily accessible, interest-bearing account seeking to avoid ATM fees.

An important thing to note is that although Fidelity’s Cash Management Account APY is much higher than that paid by large, traditional banks, it pales in comparison to those paid by other cash management accounts and online savings accounts.

The bottom line is that the Fidelity Cash Management Account can be a good option for existing Fidelity customers, and it’s a definite step up from the rates paid by traditional banks. However, those seeking the highest APYs may prefer alternatives.

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.

John Csiszar
John Csiszar |

John Csiszar is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email John here