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What Is a Lease-to-Own Home and Is It a Good Option?

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.

You’ve heard of a car lease, but what about a lease-to-own home? In this scenario, a tenant agrees to a lease with an option to purchase the property down the road, typically no more than three years from signing the agreement. Set forth within that document are the rental payment amount, accrual toward down payment and the home’s sale price. But does this make sense for your personal financial situation?Many who enter into these agreements do so because issues such as lack of a down payment or credit problems may block them from a traditional purchase. In a nutshell, they are able to use the rent they will pay before purchasing as their down payment.

However, there are a few risks to consider up front: Primarily, the lease-to-own industry has been pockmarked with less-than-ethical dealings, and consumer protections have been slow to emerge in response. That said, it can simplify the ownership process for people who wish to buy but find themselves in a tough financial spot.

Renting to own is not a terribly common choice. In fact, according to the 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers produced by the National Association of Realtors, just 1% of those purchasing a home in 2015 were renting to own.

Lease-to-own homes: What’s the process?

You’ll choose between two types of rent-to-own arrangements:

  • A lease-option agreement, which requires a nonrefundable deposit at the beginning of the lease term as part of the purchase price — money that will be kept, should the tenant decide not to buy the property
  • A lease-purchase agreement, which does not require that any money be paid upfront, but is more concrete in what it sets forth, including when the purchase price will be decided and a date when the sale will take place

Throughout the life of the lease, you’ll be paying rent as you would with any standard tenant agreement. However, the meat of that agreement is different than with your typical landlord-tenant contract, as it spells out terms under which you as the tenant will eventually purchase the property.

Sounds great in theory, but how does it work in reality? If you have a lease-option contract, you’re on the hook to find financing to pay off the balance of the purchase price — and if you can’t, you’re out any money paid up until that point. This gets dire if your contract is lease-purchase, as you could be sued if you can’t or won’t buy the property as agreed.

“You might be told it’s a chance to ‘stop throwing money away on rent,’” Federal Trade Commission consumer education specialist Amy Hebert wrote in an online brief. “But we’ve heard that many people who thought these deals were a path to owning a home watched their dreams disappear instead.”

Understanding lease-to-own contracts

When you sign a lease-to-own contract, it will include:

  • The lease or rental agreement, which stipulates that the landlord will retain the title to the home until the tenant exercises the option to the property. Like a typical rental agreement, it also includes terms like the amount of monthly rent, the lease period and the division of maintenance and repair responsibilities between landlord and tenant.
  • The option provisions, which include purchase price, the amount of time the tenant has to complete the transaction, the option fee, which is typically 1% of the purchase price and rent credit, a 10% to 15% premium above market rent that is collected by the seller and rolled into the down payment when the purchase goes through.
  • The purchase provision, which must denote the option fee, the purchase price and the duration of the option period.

What to do before signing a lease-to-own contract

Before signing on the dotted line, you need to take the following steps:

  • Have an attorney review the agreement — local knowledge is key, as different states have differing laws about rent-to-own contracts — and have him or her rework it to be as favorable to you as possible.
  • After your attorney gives his or her approval, get in touch with a lender. Make sure the lender also reviews the contract, and ask to be prequalified; both steps will give you more reassurance that you will be able to handle the purchase down the road.
  • Get a qualified appraisal and inspection before signing anything so that you know exactly what you’re dealing with upfront.
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Pros and cons of lease-to-own home programs

Benefits of these programs include:

  • Buying without having to qualify for a traditional mortgage
  • Building equity in your home before the actual purchase
  • Locking in current prices in an escalating market
  • Testing the neighborhood out before committing to it
  • Saving the hassle of a move later on
  • Being made to save a down payment through rent credits

However, there are drawbacks.

If you fail to qualify for a loan at the end of the lease, be prepared to lose money that you’ve invested through an option fee, rent credits and rent itself, making the property a rental for which you’ve paid above market rate for no return.

Some contracts specify that you are legally obligated to purchase the home at the end of the lease, so if you’re not careful, you can get yourself into legal issues with a contract that you aren’t able to honor.

The dark side of lease-to-own programs

The lease-to-own industry has had its share of controversy. In her online brief, Hebert writes: “In a rent-to-own deal, the person or company that owns a home agrees to sell it to you in the future for a specific price. Rent you pay now is counted toward your future down payment on the house. But these deals can be risky — and even flat-out scams.”

Such scams, as outlined by Hebert, include finding out the following.

  • The property owner has failed to pay taxes on the home
  • The seller does not truly own the property
  • The house is a foreclosure
  • The home is in poor shape or has major issues like asbestos or lead
  • Promised repairs are not made after the signing of a contract

Moreover, a National Consumer Law Center report finds that land contracts, which proved popular with investors because borrowers who defaulted were without traditional mortgage protection and could be rapidly evicted — preyed largely on African-American, Latino and immigrant populations. These contracts, which placed the responsibility of upkeep on the renter (and would-be owner), were also deemed as “a transaction built to fail.”

The lesson: Buyer beware. Watch out for scams.

Conclusion

While rent-to-own contracts may seem appealing as an alternative to traditional home purchases, those looking to sign such an agreement should proceed with caution. This may be a worthwhile option for consumers who have a clear path to homeownership but a few temporary barriers to getting started. But it also can be risky, controversial and downright dangerous for the wrong people in the wrong situation.

This article contains links to LendingTree, our 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.

Allison Landa
Allison Landa |

Allison Landa is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Allison here

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Life Events, Mortgage

The Hidden Costs of Selling A Home

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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When you decide to sell your home, you may dream of receiving an offer well above your asking price. But putting your home on the market requires you to open your wallet, which could cut into your potential profit.

While some line items probably won’t come as a surprise, you may find that there are a handful of hidden costs.

Below, we highlight those unexpected expenses and everything else you need to know about the cost of selling a house.

The hidden costs of selling a home

It’s easy to fixate on the money you expect to make as a home seller, but don’t forget the money you’ll need to cover the cost to sell your home.

A joint analysis by Thumbtack, a marketplace that connects consumers with local professional services, and real estate marketplace Zillow, found that homeowners spend nearly $21,000 on average for extra or hidden costs associated with a home sale.

Many of these expenses come before homeowners see any returns on their home sale. Money is spent in three main categories: location, home preparation and location.

Location

Your ZIP code can influence how much you pay to sell your home. Many extra costs are influenced by regional differences — like whether sellers are required to pay state or transfer taxes.

For example, if you’re in a major California metropolitan area like Los Angeles, you may pay more than double the national average in hidden costs when selling your home.

Below, we highlight 10 of the metros analyzed in the Thumbtack/Zillow study, their median home price and their average total hidden costs.

Metro Area

Median Home Price*

Average Total Hidden Costs of Selling

New York, NY

$438,900

$33,510

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA

$652,700

$46,060

Chicago, IL

$224,800

$18,625

Dallas-Fort Worth, TX

$243,000

$19,350

Philadelphia, PA

$232,800

$21,496

Houston, TX

$205,700

$17,477

Washington, D.C.

$405,900

$34,640

Miami-Fort Lauderdale, FL

$283,900

$24,241

Atlanta, GA

$217,800

$18,056

Boston, MA

$ 466,000

$35,580

Source: Thumbtack and Zillow analysis, April 2019.


*As of February 2019.

Generally, selling costs correlate with the home price, so expect to pay a little more if you live in an area with a higher-than-average cost of living or one that has a lot of land to groom for sale.

Home preparation

Thumbtack’s analysis shows home sellers may spend $6,570 on average to prepare for their home sale. These costs can include staging, repairs and cleaning.

Buyers are generally expected to pay their own inspection costs; however, if you’ve lived in the home for a number of years and want to avoid any surprises, you might also consider paying for a home inspection before listing the property for sale. Inspection fees typically range from $300 to $500.

Staging is often another unavoidable expense for sellers and can cost about $1,000 on average, according to HomeAdvisor. Staging, which involves giving your home’s interior design a face-lift and removing clutter and personal items from the home, is often encouraged because it can help make the property more appealing to interested buyers.

It also helps to have great photos and vivid descriptions of the property online to help maximize exposure of the property to potential buyers. If your agent is handling the staging and online listing, keep an eye on the “wow” factors they include. Yes, a virtual tour of your house looks really cool, but it might place extra pressure on your budget.

You could potentially save hundreds on home preparation costs if you take the do-it-yourself route (DYI), but expect a bill if you outsource.

Closing costs

Closing costs are the single largest added expense of the home selling process, coming in at a median cost of $14,,281, according to Thumbtack. Closing costs include real estate agent commissions and local transfer taxes. There may be other closing costs, such as title insurance and attorney fees.

Real estate agent commissions range from 5-6% of the home price, according to Redfin. That amount is further broken down by 2.5-3% being paid to the seller’s agent and the other 2.5-3% being paid to the buyer’s agent.

The taxes you’ll pay to transfer ownership of your home to the buyer vary by state.

Other closing costs include title search and title insurance to verify that you currently own the home free and clear and there are no claims against it that can derail the sale. The cost of title insurance varies by loan amount, location and title company, but can go as high as $2,000.

If you live in a state that requires an attorney to be present at the mortgage closing, the fee for their services can range from $100 to $1,500.

There are also escrow fees to factor in if you’re in a state that doesn’t require an attorney. The cost varies and is usually split the homebuyer and seller.

If you have time to invest, you could try listing the home for sale by owner to eliminate commission fees. One caveat: Selling your home on your own is a more complicated approach to home selling and can be more difficult for those with little or no experience.

Other home selling costs to consider

Now that you have an understanding of the costs that may get overlooked, remember to budget for the below expenses as you prepare to sell your home.

Utilities

It’s important that you make room in your budget to keep the utilities — electricity and water — on until the property is sold. (This is in addition to budgeting for utilities in your new home.) Keeping these services active can help you sell your home since potential buyers won’t bother fumbling through a cold, dark property to look around. It may also prevent your home from facing other issues like mold during the humid summertime or trespassers.

Be sure to have all of your utilities running on the buyer’s final walk-through of the home, then turn everything off on closing day and pay any remaining account balances.

Homeowners insurance

Budget to pay for homeowners insurance on the home you’re selling as well as your new home. You’ll still need to ensure coverage of your old property until the sale is finalized. Check the terms first, as your homeowners insurance policy might not apply to a vacant home. If that’s the case, you can ask to pay for a rider — an add-on to your insurance policy — for the vacancy period.

Capital gains tax

If you could make more than $250,000 on the home’s sale (or $500,000 if you’re married and filing jointly), take a look at the rules on capital gains tax. If your proceeds are less than the applicable amount after subtracting selling costs, you’ll avoid the tax. However, if you don’t qualify for any of the exceptions, the gains above those thresholds could be subject to a 15% capital gains tax, or higher. Consult your tax professional for more information.

How to save money when selling your home

Keep the following tips in mind when you decide to put your home on the market:

  • Shop around and negotiate. Don’t settle on the first companies and professionals you come across. Comparison shop for your real estate agent, home inspector, closing attorney, photographer, etc. It could also work in your favor to try negotiating on the fees they charge to save even more.
  • Choose your selling time carefully. The best time to sell your home is during the spring and summer months. If you wait until the colder months to sell, there may not be as much competition for your home.
  • DIY as much as possible. Anything you can do on your own to spruce up your home — landscaping, painting, minor repairs, staging — can help you cut back on the money you’ll need to spend to get your home sold.

The bottom line

There are several upfront costs to consider when selling your home, but planning ahead can help you possibly reduce some of those costs and not feel as financially strained.

List each cost you’re expecting to pay and calculate how they might affect the profit you’d make on the home sale and your household’s overall financial picture. If you’re unsure of your costs, try using a sale proceeds calculator to get a ballpark estimate of your potential selling costs. Be sure to also consult a real estate agent.

If you’re starting from scratch on your next home, here’s what you need to know about the cost to build a house.

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.

Crissinda Ponder
Crissinda Ponder |

Crissinda Ponder is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Crissinda here

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Mortgage

When Is the Best Time to Buy a House?

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.

Fall may be the best time to look for a house
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Timing a new home purchase can be tricky. Should you start looking in the spring or in the summer? Should you wait for lower interest rates, or make an offer on a house you love even though the price is higher than what you budgeted? These are a few questions you may be pondering if you’re considering buying a house.

It’s common to look for cues about the best time to buy from the local housing economy or from what friends and real estate agents say, but the answer often lies closer to home — with an honest look at your personal finances. We’ll delve into some facts and figures to help you answer the question: When is the best time to buy a house?

The best time to buy a house is when you’re financially ready

Your kitchen table may be covered with listings of all the homes you’re interested in, detailed analyses of mortgage interest rate trends, historic home price appreciation and a plethora of other technical financial data about the timing of a home purchase. None of that information will matter if you aren’t financially ready to buy a home.

So how do know when you’re financially ready to buy your home? We’ve come up with five sings to help you determine if your homebuying timing is right.

1. You know your payment comfort zone

Before you ever speak to a loan officer, do some soul searching about your payment comfort zone — that is, how much you can comfortably afford to spend on a monthly mortgage payment alongside other regular expenses. This might be an unfamiliar concept, but taking the time to seriously consider your payment comfort zone may result in a different monthly payment target than the “maximum qualifying” number you’ll receive from a lender.

The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau considers 43% to be the maximum debt-to-income ratio (DTI) to meet the definition of a “qualified mortgage” — the stamp of approval from the regulatory powers that you’ll be able to afford your mortgage. Just multiply your monthly income by .43 and you’ll arrive at the government recommended total debt number. For example, if you earn $6,000 per month, your total debt including your monthly mortgage payment shouldn’t be more than $2,580. But is that really your payment comfort zone?

Start by asking yourself questions like how much do you take home every month after health insurance, retirement savings, local and federal taxes and Social Security deductions? What about your gym membership, the kids’ karate classes and the new organic food regimen that just pushed your grocery budget from $400 per month to $600?

When you start subtracting the realities of your month-to-month budget from your take-home pay, $2,580 of mortgage and other debt may not leave you much breathing room for a sudden pipe burst in a bathroom, or an air conditioner that takes its last breath on the hottest day of the summer.

Once you’ve worked the numbers backward from all of your monthly expenses — not just the ones the lender uses to get you preapproved for a mortgage — you’ll have an honest idea of what you can comfortably afford.

Here’s a side-by-side review of the money left over from a $6,000 monthly income when considering your organic fruit diet, martial artist kids and your monthly commitment to fitness, assuming you take home about 75% of your before-tax income.

Money left over just looking at 43% DTIMoney leftover after expense reality check
$6,000 before tax income$4,500 take-home pay
($2,580) suggested expenses for 43% DTI($600) (gym membership/karate/organic grocery markup)
($2,580) suggested by 43% DTI
$3,420 extra income suggested by lending guidelines$1,320 actual leftover real-life income

If your monthly income before taxes is $6,000 and you buy a house using the 43% rule based on your real life take home pay and additional expenses, you’ll have $1320 left over every month for gas, groceries, utility and all other bills.

Make sure that’s enough cushion for your month-to-month expenses, and if it’s not, start scaling back your monthly payment cushion until you’ve got more breathing room in your monthly budget to comfortably cover your day-to-day spending and other obligations.

2. You know your credit score and it’s as high as possible

Besides your DTI ratio, your credit score is the most important factor in getting you approved for and snagging the best rate on a mortgage. You’ll want to get your credit in good shape before you start shopping for a mortgage.

Start by checking your credit reports for errors because mistakes could be dragging your score down. You’ll want to initiate any disputes to correct errors at least six months before you shop for a mortgage, because lenders will require you to pause any disputes in order to get your mortgage approved.

Next, review your credit scores and the factors that may be bringing them down. (Find them at https://my.lendingtree.com.) While it does take time to improve your score, one way to boost it quickly is to pay down your credit balances. This will improve your utilization ratio, or the amount of credit you’re using compared to the amount of credit available to you. Try to do this at least three to four months before you apply for a mortgage so the credit bureaus have time to reflect any payments you’ve made. And focus on making all your credit payments on time.

3. You have your down payment and emergency fund saved

When you were in the process of determining your payment comfort zone, you probably spent some time crunching down payment numbers. Generally, the more you put down, the lower your overall payment will be.

A 20% down payment will help you avoid mortgage insurance on a conventional loan, but even if you don’t have that much saved, every extra 5% down will save you money. Mortgage insurance (also called private mortgage insurance or PMI) protects lenders against losses if you default on your loan. The less you put down, the more PMI you pay monthly on a conventional mortgage.

The table below illustrates the impact every additional 5% down makes on a $200,000 house if you have a 760 credit score and take out a 30-year fixed rate of 4.25% on a conventional loan in Arizona.

Down paymentLoan amountMonthly mortgage insuranceTotal monthly PIMI (Principal/interest/mortgage insurance)
5%$190,000$193.17$1,127.86
10%$180,000$130.50$1,015.99
15%$170,000$66.58$902.88
20%$160,000$0$787.10

In addition to your down payment, financial planners often recommend having three to six months’ worth of basic expenses in an emergency fund. Lenders also like to see extra money in the bank so they know you have the funds on hand to make extra payments or cover unexpected home repair expenses.

4. Your job is stable

It’s easiest to qualify for a mortgage if you have a salaried job or a full-time hourly position. If you have a position that only has a temporary base pay that will end in the near future, you may have a hard time getting approved. If you’ve been in a commissioned or self-employed position for at least two years and show enough income to qualify on your tax returns, then this is a good time to buy.

5. You plan to stay in your current location for 5-7 years

You may hear the expression buying a home is one of the biggest investments you’ll make. The most disciplined investors also talk about looking at the long term versus the short term.

When it comes to real estate, the “5-year home sale rule” refers to the fact that you have a better chance of recouping the cost of buying a home if you stay in the home for at least five years. By that time, you’ll have made 60 mortgage payments, and in most cases, you’ll see home values in your area gradually rise.

The combination of these factors usually results in a sweet spot for reselling after five years. This is important because as a home seller, you’ll be paying all of the real estate commissions for the services agents provide to sell your home. Those fees can be as high as 6% or more, and that’s money that comes off the top of the profit you make.

The example below shows how the 5-year rule works. It assumes you put down 5% on a $250,000 home with mortgage rate of 4.25%, the market appreciates 6% per year for the next five years (it has averaged 7-8% per year since 2007-08), and selling costs total 8%.

Year since purchaseHome value at 6% annual appreciation*Principal balanceTotal equitySelling costs 8%Net profit at sale
1$265,000$233,496.07$31,503.93$21,200$10,303.93
2$280,900$229,318.61$51,581.39$22,472$29,109.39
3$297,754$224,960.12$72,793.88$23,820.32$48,973.56
4$315,619$220,412.74$95,206.26$25,249.52$69,956.74
5$334,556$215,668.28$118,887.72$26,764.48$92,123.24
*Average appreciation rate since the 2007-08 financial crisis

It’s best to buy when rates are heading down

It’s impossible to know exactly what interest rates are doing, but if you see a lot of news about rates dropping, it’s worth it to get a payment quote. From December 2018 to August 2019, mortgage rates offered for many mortgage programs dropped nearly one percentage point, which has a huge impact not only on your monthly payment, but on how much interest you pay over the life of the loan.

We’ll look at how a one percentage point reduction in the interest rate can make a monthly payment difference for a $150,000, $250,000 and $350,000 loan. Using the 5-year rule, we’ll also look at how much extra equity and interest savings you realize by the time you make your 60th payment (12 months of payments x 5 years = 60 payments).

Loan amountMonthly payment at 4.75%Monthly payment at 3.75%Monthly payment savingsInterest savings over 5 years at 3.75%Extra equity at 5 years
$150,000$782.47$694.67$87.80$7,399.24$2,131.38
$250,000$1,304.12$1,157.79$146.35$12,331.08$3,552.30
$350,000$1,825.77$1,620.90$204.87$17,264.88$4,973.22

The bigger the loan amount, the more the impact on your monthly payment savings, total interest costs and equity build up. This makes shopping around for a mortgage and locking in a rate when you find the best deal even more important.

It’s best to buy when home prices are leveling off

The price you pay is just as important as the interest rate when it comes to buying. When home prices level off or rise at a slower pace, sellers tend to put their houses on the market at a more rapid pace, as they worry they may miss out on getting top dollar if prices stall out.

That’s good news if you’re a buyer, because more houses for sales may mean lower prices. Sellers may also consider contributing toward your closing costs or help you buy discount points to get a lower rate. This is also known as a “buyer’s market,” because it tends to be more advantageous to buyers than sellers.

Sales price also affects how much money you need to put down, so getting the best price will help you leave some of that down payment money in the bank to build up your emergency fund even further. Here’s an example of the effects of a 5% difference in price on your down payment, and assuming the seller is willing to pay 3% of your closing costs.

Sales price5% down payment10% down payment3% seller paid costs
$200,000$10,000$20,000$6,000
$210,000$10,500$21,000$6,300
$220,000$11,000$22,000$6,600

If you can buy a home for $200,000 versus $220,000, you’ll save $1,000 in down payment (assuming you’re putting 5% down), and the seller can potentially pay $6,000 in closing costs. The most common signs that the market is turning in your favor are “For Sale” signs. If you start seeing more of them popping up in your area or in a neighborhood you’ve had your eye on for a while, chances are you’re entering a buyer’s market.

The best times of the year to buy a home

Spring and summer are the most popular times to buy. Summer can be especially expensive for families to buy because sellers know there is pressure to find something and get settled before the start of the school year. Conversely, fall and winter are slower seasons for home sales. As a buyer, there are some months and even days when you might be able to save a bundle of cash if you’re able to make an offer and close during unpopular selling months.

The October homebuying advantage

October consistently ranks in the top three months for buyers, according to an analysis by ATTOM Data Solutions that examines dates from 2011 to 2018 during which sellers were least likely to charge a premium for single-family homes and condos. During this time, sellers are likely to accept premiums that are one-half to two-thirds lower than the highest premium months of the year (March to July).

With kids back in the full swing of school, sellers lose a big pool of prospective buyers, giving you an advantage as a prospective homebuyer.

December is the next best month for buying power

While many people are in the thick of holiday events and get togethers, homebuying may be the furthest thing from their minds. Sellers who need to sell in December will often give buyers extra motivation to consider their homes during the holiday season, and buyers prepared to forgo a cocktail party or two may be rewarded with substantial benefits.

Ringing in the new year with a cheaper home in January

If your New Year’s resolution includes home ownership, January may be a great month to look as well, according to ATTOM’s data. While most people are signing up for gym memberships, focusing on house hunting may save thousands of dollars in home costs instead of inches off your waistline.

Final thoughts about timing a home purchase

The good thing about home prices and interest rates is that they tend to move slowly, giving you time to prepare yourself for the homebuying journey. In order to take advantage of deals to buy a house, you need to have your financial house in the best shape possible.

Not only will you potentially save money with a lower rate or price on the home you buy, but the loan approval process will be much easier if you buy within your means and are able to demonstrate strong credit scores, solid income and plenty of money in the bank.

This article contains links to LendingTree, our 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.

Denny Ceizyk
Denny Ceizyk |

Denny Ceizyk is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Denny here

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