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Health, Life Events

You Could Be Paying for More Insurance Than You Need

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Tiffany Hamilton knew as a college student that she would one day be an entrepreneur. With that in mind, she made sure to enlist the help of a financial planning company when she bought her first life insurance plan at 21, as she was just getting her start in real estate.

That first policy was a $20,000 term-life plan that cost her about $80 a month. When her salary increased, she decided she needed more coverage than that. As a single woman with a burgeoning business, she wanted to make sure she had enough coverage to take care of any debts and leave something for her mother..

Her insurance representative at the time encouraged her to up her coverage. So at 25, she converted her policy to a $1 million whole life policy.

“I thought by going to a financial planner, sitting down and answering the questions, and then going off of their recommendations, I thought I was doing the right thing,” Hamilton told MagnifyMoney. “Yes, the $1 million would give my mom X, Y and Z, but was that in my best interests?”

Now 35 and running her own real estate business based in Tallahassee, Fla., Hamilton has lately been wondering: Is it possible to be overinsured?

How much insurance is too much insurance?

As we grow in our careers, home life and families, paying for life insurance becomes another one of those obligatory items on our financial to-do lists, like establishing a 401(k) or an emergency fund. But the sheer volume of life insurance options available may have created a unique problem: Some of us might be overly insured. That is, our insurance coverage may be wildly disproportionate to our salaries and overall net worth.

Joel Ohman, a Tampa, Fla.-based certified financial planner and founder of Insuranceproviders.com, said it’s also easy to end up with a policy that has more bells and whistles than you genuinely need.

Generally speaking, life insurance is a type of coverage that provides a payout to a selected beneficiary in the event of the policyholder’s death. This is often called the “death benefit.” Many people aim for a death benefit that includes a payout substantial enough to cover a few years of the deceased’s salary, funeral expenses and any outstanding debts.

Those with families may also want to include money to pay off a house, children’s college funds and more.

Of course, there are other options for anyone who has a large estate, want to make charitable contributions, needs special tax breaks or has other complicated financial circumstances to consider.

“Unless there are complex estate planning requirements or the insured has exhausted all other investment options, then typically the idea to use life insurance outside of a straightforward death benefit payout is a fool’s errand that will only result in a fancier car for your insurance agent,” Ohman said.

The cost of being overinsured

The difference in premiums between insurance plans can be striking, and if you’re not sure precisely what to get, it’s easy to throw up your hands in frustration. But if you simply choose a plan that may “sound right” without carefully exploring all your options, you could easily wind up paying for more coverage than you need.

Most insurance websites include insurance calculators to make it easy to figure out what your costs could be for a variety of different plans. Using State Farm’s calculator for example, a $500,000, 20-year term policy for a 30-year-old woman in Arizona is about $33 a month. Comparatively, a whole-life policy is $460 a month. That’s a difference of nearly $5,000 a year.

In Hamilton’s case, she realized she was paying thousands of dollars more for insurance than she needed to. In 2016, she converted her $1 million whole-life policy into a $500,000 universal-life policy.

“That cut my budget down by almost $10,000 a year,” she said.

John Barnes, a certified financial planner and owner of My Family Life Insurance, said those cost savings can be important for families.

“My take is, you can be doing something else with that money,” he said. “Families today are squeezed. I’m not about to overextend them, I’m going to get them the right amount.” The additional savings, he said, could go toward retirement, college tuition or other financial need.

Ohman said that a simple term-life policy is a great way to get inexpensive insurance that will still take care of most families’ needs.

“When people are looking for pure life insurance, they want to protect their loved ones if something should happen to them, and they want them to be financially taken care of in a worst-case scenario,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, then, that cheaper term life insurance product is going to be the best fit.”

Chris Acker, a chartered life underwriter, chartered financial consultant and independent life insurance broker in Palo Alto, Calif., said he almost always recommends term-life insurance to his clients, particularly young families.

“If you’re talking about people in their 30s,” Acker said, term insurance “is hands down the best way to go.”

That’s because it’s an inexpensive way to get insurance that provides coverage for your entire family. Plus, you can always get additional insurance later. But he cautions against applying one piece of advice across all situations.

“The bottom line is, there’s no right answer,” he said. “No two cases are the same.”

Types of life insurance

There are two main types of life insurance: Term insurance and permanent insurance. When consumers typically think about life insurance, they are looking for an option that will provide their families with financial stability if the unthinkable happens. If you work full time for a company, it’s possible that your workplace has a some type of life insurance policy, often equal to one year of the employee’s salary.

But some experts recommend that families purchase their own insurance plan outside of their employer because employer-sponsored life insurance typically falls short of their family’s actual needs.

Permanent insurance does exactly what the name implies: It provides lifelong coverage. In addition to the death benefit also provided by term-life insurance, permanent insurance also accumulates cash value. But with that added benefit comes pricier premiums.


Whole Life


Variable life


Universal life


Variable universal life

Whole life is the most common type of permanent insurance. With a whole life policy, the premium never changes. Part of the premiums goes into a savings component of the policy, which builds cash value and can be withdrawn or borrowed. That cash value also has a guaranteed rate of return.

Variable life offers the same death benefit, but allows consumers the option to seek a better return by allocating premiums to investments like stocks and bonds.

Universal life lets you vary your premium payments and gives a minimum death benefit as long as the premiums are sufficient to sustain it.

Variable universal life insurance is a sort of mix between variable and universal life, meaning consumers can vary premium payments and can also allocate them among investment subaccounts.

Best for: Those who want a policy that offers cash value and stable premiums. There are also tax advantages to this type of policy.

Best for: Those who want the same advantages as a whole-life policy, plus the option of allocating premiums toward different stocks and bonds.

Best for: Those who want the same advantages of any permanent policy with the option of varying premium payments. For example, those who may want to start with a lower premium that increases as their finances do

Best for: Those who want the option to vary premium payments, but also the option to allocate those payments toward different stocks and bonds.


Term-Life Insurance

Term-life insurance provides coverage for a specified amount of time — let’s say 15 or 20 years. Customers pay a premium each month and are covered through the specified term. This is typically the cheapest insurance option.

Best for: Those whose need for coverage will disappear or change at some point, like when a debt is paid or children reach adulthood and go to college. Also good for those looking for a low-cost option.

Even within term- and whole-life insurance, there are additional products you could be offered, like mortgage life, return of premium (in which your premium is returned if you outlive your initial term) and final expense (which covers just funeral expenses). There’s even an option that would provide lifetime protection for your estate upon your death. With all the available options, it’s easy for the costs to add up.

Tips to choose the right life insurance

Use a life insurance calculator. Wealthy families, those with special-needs family members and others in unique situations will also have different insurance needs. Most insurance websites offer calculators to help consumers decide how much coverage to take. The consumer website lifehappens.org also offers step-by-step guidance on choosing insurance, along with a needs worksheet.

Get multiple free quotes. Consumers can also get free quotes from multiple insurers from sites such as My Family Insurance, InsuranceProviders.com and http://myfasttermquotes.com/, which are independent-agent sites for Barnes, Ohman and Acker. Keep this in mind: Getting a quote doesn’t obligate you to work with a particular company or insurer.

Choose the right advisor. It’s also important to understand that hiring an insurance agent or financial planner is just like any other relationship: You want someone who works best for you and inspires comfort. Hamilton said she not only interviewed potential reps this last go-around, she also requested references and asked them about their company philosophy before making a decision. LifeHappens suggests that consumers use referrals to find an insurance provider.

Seek out independent agents. When it comes to actually choosing an agent or financial planner, Ohman suggests looking into independent agents that aren’t tied to a particular insurance company. That’s because a “captive” agent can only recommend those products that his/her company provides, whereas an independent agent can recommend any number of companies. That doesn’t mean they don’t have your best interests in mind, just that they aren’t able to provide customers with options outside their company offerings.

“The only products that they know about, the only products that they’re even allowed to bring to your attention,” Ohman said, are “their own products.”

Understand what it means to be a fiduciary. Another thing to consider is whether the company or adviser you’re working with is a fiduciary. “One of the big advantages you get with working with an insurance agent who has that CFP designation is that they are supposed to be working as a fiduciary, which means they put your financial interests first,” Ohman said.

Those who hold a CFP designation like Ohman are expected to provide fiduciary care to their clients. It’s also perfectly OK to ask your agent if he or she is, in fact, a fiduciary.

By the way, this doesn’t mean that other agents can’t or won’t provide clients with the type of insurance that works best for them. But don’t hesitate to ask if they’re paid on commission and whether a bonus or trip is tied to a particular transaction.

Check the insurance company’s ratings. Once you get a recommendation, he says, make sure the company has at least a A rating or better from independent agencies that rate companies’ financial strength. There are four independent agencies that provide this information: A.M. Best, Fitch, Moody’s and Standard &Poor’s. Do your research and find the ratings from each of the four agencies, because some companies may highlight a positive rating from one agency and play down a lower rating from another agency.

Trust your gut. Barnes said regardless of whom you choose to represent your insurance needs, make sure you have a level of comfort.

“Don’t be discouraged, there are some great independent agencies,” he says. “If it doesn’t feel right during the process, trust your gut.”

That means continuing to be open-minded, but also not allowing yourself to purchase an insurance product you don’t want or can’t afford. During that first meeting or so, Barnes says the agent should spend time getting to know you and your situation without necessarily trying to sell you on a product.

Similarly, Acker says it’s OK to question your agent to make sure you’re getting the best policy for your needs and lifestyle: “Don’t be bullied into buying what someone else says you should buy.”

For her part, Hamilton says she also looked into whether companies were commission- or fee-based. That’s because a fee-based company will charge a set rate, which can ease the worry of having an overzealous rep who may offer expensive products to boost his or her commission.

Because many good policies also offer a conversion option, you’re not “stuck” forever with something that doesn’t actually work for you. That means you have the option to change policies, as Hamilton did. Some consumers also choose to buy additional policies down the road.

But, and this is key, you shouldn’t let uncertainty or the fear of overpaying keep you from getting at least a simple policy.

“Think about today — the immediate need;protect that right this second,” Acker says. “Then that gives you time to work on your financial planning. Then you can figure out if you want to keep the insurance.”

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.

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Life Events, Mortgage

Debt-To-Income and Your Mortgage: Will You Qualify?

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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The most important factor in getting a mortgage probably isn’t your credit score. Your application more likely hinges on your debt-to-income ratios — crucial measures that tell lenders how well you are managing payments with your monthly earnings.

Before you take ownership of your dream home, you’ll need to prove you’re aren’t presently overwhelmed with your credit card and loan payments, and that you can comfortably repay a mortgage on top of everything else on your plate.

Keep reading to get a handle on debt-to-income ratios and why they matter so much when you’re buying a home.

Understanding debt-to-income ratios

Mortgage lenders definitely care about your credit score, but they’re even more concerned with your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio. Your DTI ratio is the percentage of your gross monthly income that is dedicated to monthly debt payments, including auto loans, credit cards, housing, personal loans, student loans and any other loans or lines of credit you’re responsible for repaying.

DTI ratios help tell lenders how much money you’ll have left over each month after you satisfy your debt obligations. It also gives them a measurement of how likely you’ll fall behind on your payments and helps them determine how much money they’ll be comfortable lending to you.

How to calculate your DTI

There are two types of DTI ratios: front-end and back-end. The front-end ratio focuses solely on your housing debt, whether it’s rent or mortgage payments. Let’s say you’re trying to get approved for a home loan that has a $1,000 monthly mortgage payment and you earn a gross monthly income of $5,000. You would divide the mortgage payment by your income amount to get a front-end DTI ratio of 20%.

The back-end ratio is more widely used. It includes all of your monthly debt obligations, including your housing payment. To continue the above example, let’s add another $1,000 to account for your auto loan, student loans and credit cards, bringing your total monthly debt payments to $2,000. That makes your back-end DTI ratio to 40%.

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What DTI do you need to get a mortgage?

Generally speaking, to increase your chances of mortgage approval, try to keep your front-end debt-to-income ratio at or below 30% and your back-end DTI ratio at or below 43%. However, it’s possible to qualify with a slightly higher back-end DTI.

The average front- and back-end ratios for all loans closed during December 2018 was 26% and 39%, respectively, according to mortgage software firm Ellie Mae’s latest Origination Insight Report.

Mortgage TypeDebt-to-Income Ratio
Conventional loan43%;up to 50% with compensating factors.
FHA loan43%;up to 50% with compensating factors.
VA loanNo DTI max, but there’s a residual income test.
USDA loan41%;up to 44% with compensating factors.

Conventional lenders usually want to see a back-end DTI ratio of 43% or less, though some lenders may approve DTI ratios of up to 50% if the borrower has a higher credit score or a larger down payment. Similar guidelines apply to FHA loans. Check out our explainer on minimum mortgage requirements for a deeper dive on the DTI requirements for additional mortgage types.

How to improve your DTI

There are a few ways to improve your debt-to-income ratio before you apply for a mortgage.

Pay down your existing debt

Take the time to chip away at your auto loan, credit card, student loan and other debt by dedicating any extra money that comes your way to that debt. Use bonuses, gifts, inheritances and tax refunds to pay down your debt balances and eventually lower the amount of your income going to debt payments every month.

Increase your income

If money is a little tight for you right now and you don’t have additional dollars to put toward paying down your debt load, consider increasing your income by picking up a side hustle, such as driving for Lyft or accepting freelance projects. Review these 10 ways to make extra money and pay off debt for more guidance.

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Mortgage options for borrowers with a high DTI

It’s possible to still qualify for a mortgage if your debt-to-income ratio slightly exceeds the general requirements mentioned above. Below, we highlight a few mortgage products available to high-DTI-ratio borrowers.

Fannie Mae HomeReady® Mortgage

This low down payment loan product from government-sponsored enterprise Fannie Mae allows a maximum back-end DTI ratio of 45% for manually underwritten loans. Depending on your credit score and down payment amount, you may also need to show you have a few months of cash reserves saved up.

Freddie Mac Home Possible® Mortgage

Similar to Fannie Mae’s HomeReady® product, GSE Freddie Mac offers the Home Possible® mortgage that allows a maximum 45% DTI ratio for loans that are manually underwritten.

FHA Mortgage

Home loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration allow borrowers to have DTI ratios up to 50% if they supply a down payment of at least 10%.

Other important mortgage eligibility requirements

While debt-to-income ratios can make or break a prospective borrower’s chances at buying a home, there are several other mortgage requirements that matter to the loan application process. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most important must-haves:

 

  • Credit score: Prepare to have a credit score of at least 620 for a conventional loan and 580 for an FHA loan. It’s possible to qualify for an FHA mortgage with a score as low as 500, but you’ll have to make a larger down payment.
  • Down payment: Save for at least a 3% down payment, or higher if your credit score means you’ll need to put more money down. However, keep in mind that you’ll need to account for mortgage insurance for down payments that are less than 20%.
  • Employment and income: You’ll need to have proof of a steady job and income in order to qualify for a mortgage. Gather your pay stubs and tax returns to demonstrate your capacity to take on a mortgage.

 

The bottom line

Mortgage lenders are tasked with establishing your ability to repay a mortgage, and that includes reviewing your existing debt load and how your hypothetical mortgage would fit into your current financial picture.

If you’re anxious about your debt-to-income ratio percentages, take action to increase the money you bring in monthly and decrease your credit card and loan balances to more manageable amounts.

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Life Events

10 Cities Where Women Outearn Their Partners

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Despite the growing prevalence of women in the workforce, the median earnings of women over the age of 25 was $32,679 in 2017, with men’s median earnings for that same age group at $46,152, per U.S. Census Bureau data, who estimated that women only earn nearly 71% of their male counterparts.

The reasons for this discrepancy are stridently debated, with theories ranging from personal preferences to mismatched family responsibilities, cultural pressure, institutional compensation or advancement bias. Whatever combination of factors are keeping women’s pay low, the fact remains that female workers make less than their male counterparts — both at work and at home.

Our new analysis takes a closer look at pay differences between men and women to see how it affects couples. To find out whether some places are more likely to have a balance between male and female breadwinners, we analyzed microdata from the American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census for the 50 largest metros in the country.

In an ideal world, men and women would be equally likely to be the breadwinner of a couple. But our analysis found that in the 50 largest metros, women were the main breadwinner in less than 31% of couples’ households.

Key takeaways

  • Women are far less likely to be the breadwinners in a couple, our study found. Even in the cities with the highest rates of female breadwinners, women outearned their partners in just one out of three coupled households.
  • Hartford, Conn., takes the No. 1 spot. In 31.1% of this city’s coupled households, a woman was the partner who earned more. Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio, follow in second and third place, with female breadwinner rates of 31.2% and 30.7%, respectively.
  • Only 22.6% of couples in Salt Lake City have female breadwinners, earning it the last place spot (50th) on our list. Following at 49th and 48th place are Houston and Riverside, Calif., with female breadwinner rates of 23.5% and 23.9%, respectively.

Top 10 cities where more women outearn their partners

In the 10 major U.S. cities with the highest rates of couples with female breadwinners, roughly three in 10 couples have a woman earning more than her partner.

This is a contrast to other surveys that have found higher rates of female breadwinners, such as 49% of women who said they were the primary breadwinner in an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. The difference in these findings could be attributed to single women or single mothers who are the household’s sole income earners. Women may be more likely to be breadwinners in these surveys that include those who report they’re not competing with a partner for that title.

When they are paired up, however, our analysis shows that women are less likely to be the higher earner. Here’s a closer look at the 10 major U.S. cities that had the highest rates of female breadwinners.

1. Hartford, Conn.

Women who are partnered up are the most likely to be the breadwinner if they live in Hartford. Here, 31.3% of coupled women outearn their partner. This could be thanks to the higher parity of pay in this city, where the gap between men and women’s earnings shrinks to just 17.8%.

2. Minneapolis

Next is Minneapolis, which has almost the same rate of female breadwinners, with 31.2% of coupled women earning more than their partners.

Minneapolis also took the No. 2 spot in our ranking of the best cities for working women. Its high ranking is due to a number of factors, but it’s a true standout for low unemployment among women and decent workplace protections for pregnant women and mothers.

3. Columbus, Ohio

In Columbus, 30.7% of partnered women are the breadwinners. Overall, women here make about $0.19 less per dollar than their male counterparts, well in line with the average among all 50 cities included in this analysis.

4. Providence, R.I.

Providence, R.I. has a female breadwinning rate of 30.5%. This is no surprise, given that it was the eighth-best city for working women in our 2018 study.

While the gender pay gap is above average here, at 19.9%, Providence has above-average rates of women in management positions along with better policies for maternity and parental leave.

5. Baltimore

Among women in Baltimore who are part of a couple, 30.2% outearn their partners. Here, women earn just 18.8% less than men, giving them a better chance of landing pay that beats their significant other’s salary.

6. Sacramento, Calif.

The third-best city for working women, Sacramento, also has one of the highest rates of female breadwinners: 30.0%.

It offers a lower pay gap between genders, with women earning just 14.6% less than men. Sacramento also gets a boost from California’s robust policies and benefits for pregnancy, maternity and family leave.

7. Boston

Boston is the next city with the highest rate of coupled households for which women are the breadwinners, at 29.6%. The gender pay gap here is 18.9%, which is just below average.

8. San Francisco

Next is another top city for working women, San Francisco. Here, the gap in median pay by gender is 18.7% and women outearn their partners 29.5% percent of the time. As another Californian city, women workers in San Francisco are also likely to benefit from strong parental and family work policies.

9. Memphis, Tenn.

In Memphis, women are the breadwinners in 29.4% of couples’ households — that’s despite its ranking as the second-worst city for women. It has just a few redeeming factors, however, such as the above-average number of female managers and the below-average childcare costs in Memphis.

10. Richmond, Va.

Couples in Richmond are among those most likely to be led by a female breadwinner, with 29.2% of women out-earning their partners. Women here earn $0.19 less for every $1 male workers earn, only slightly above the average. Still, working women in Richmond are more likely to receive employer-provided health care and more affordable child care costs, which can offset this pay gap.

10 cities where women aren’t breadwinners


Along with the 10 cities that had the highest rates of women out-earning their partners, we also found the 10 major U.S. cities where women were the least likely to be breadwinners. In these cities, around a quarter (or fewer) of women with partners bring home higher pay than their significant other.

Most of these cities were also among the worst places for women to work, including Detroit and Oklahoma City. Still, low rates of female breadwinners isn’t always a sign of a city that disadvantages women, as three of these cities were among the 15 best places for working women: Austin, Texas; Phoenix; and Virginia Beach, Va.

How the gender pay gap affects shared finances

Overall, this study is another sign of how women are often behind when it comes to pay. The gender pay gap is a big contributor to the low rate of female breadwinners, but it affects more than just women.

When a woman is paid less, this impacts her partner too. The entire household comes up short, setting back financial goals such as paying down debt, building security and savings, and managing money day-to-day.

Some women will also feel the pain of the wage gap more than others, too. Same-sex couples comprised of two female earners, for example, will be doubly hit by the setbacks of the gender pay gap. Women who are the sole breadwinners might also find that they’re having to support their family on less pay than many men in the same position. And for women who earn less than their partner, a separation or divorce can be particularly problematic for their finances.

Many of these factors are outside of U.S. women’s immediate control — but that makes it all the more important to focus on improving their finances where they can.

Here are some ways women can work to close, offset, or compensate for the gender pay gap.

Work on increasing your income. The top cities are proof that the gender pay gap doesn’t have to be universal, and many women are finding ways to close or even overcome it. Take a look at your current pay and do some research through sites such as PayScale or Glassdoor to figure out if it’s fair. If it’s not, it might be time to ask to be paid what you’re worth, either with your current employer or a new one.

You can also look out for career training and opportunities that could act as stepping stones to higher-paying positions. You can even create your own opportunities to boost your income and grow your skills with a side hustle.

Share costs fairly. There are a lot of ways for couples to manage their money together, so look into different methods and decide together on one that’s equitable. If your partner earns twice as much as you, for example, does it really make sense to split expenses 50-50? Discuss how you can work with differences in pay to ensure that both assets and expenses are equally and fairly shared.

Make savings a priority. Women in a couple must save for their own future, regardless of what they earn. It can be wise to have your own checking or savings accounts that are held in your name alone, where you can build financial security independent of your partner. It’s also wise to set up your own retirement accounts and contribute to those regularly, as well.

Manage debt wisely. Debt can be a huge source of stress for couples. On top of that, debt accrued in marriage can be considered jointly shared, making you equally responsible for its repayment even if your spouse took it out. So it’s smart to practice good budgeting habits, live within your means and avoid getting into debt. Even if you’re not married, your or your partner’s debt will still affect shared money goals and lower the debtor’s ability to contribute as equally. Work on paying debt off faster, and look into ways to lower costs such as credit card consolidation.

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While women with a partner are still less likely to be the breadwinners than partnered men, it doesn’t have to hold back their finances. Choose a significant other who values and equal partnership and practices sound financial management. Aim for higher-paying positions at work to try to close the gender gap. Then improve your own money skills and knowledge so you can make the most of your income.

Methodology

Analysts used the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey 2017 microdata hosted on IPUMS to determine the percentage of coupled households with a female partner, where a female partner had the higher income. The analysis was limited to the 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S.

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.

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