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What to Know Before You Buy a DNA Test

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

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

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

What are personal DNA tests?

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

What to know before you buy

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

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

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

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

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

23andMe vs. AncestryDNA vs. Helix

DNA test

Cost

What information is included?

What can you do with the information?

How they use your data

Best for

23andMe

$99 for the ancestry option and

$199
for health and ancestry information

The ancestry portion shows your DNA’s geographic history.

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

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

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

23andMe shares your results for research

People who want a mix of ancestry and health information

AncestryDNA

$79

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

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

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

People who are primarily concerned about documenting their family origins


Helix

Start at $80 and vary based on what you purchase

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

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

Tailor your diet and exercise to fit your genetic makeup

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

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

The unexpected consequences of DNA test results

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

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

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

How to interpret your results

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

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

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

The bottom line

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

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

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

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

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How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

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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Parents often revel in the calm and quiet that comes when kids head back to school, but they aren’t likely to enjoy the excess spending that also accompanies the back-to-school season. According to the National Retail Federation, parents will set a record in 2019, spending an average of $696.70 per household on children in elementary school through high school.

 

“It was interesting to see the across-the-board increases in spending levels,” said Mark Mathews, vice president for research development and industry analysis with the NRF. “Elevated levels of consumer sentiment, healthy household balance sheets, low inflation and recent wage gains all seem to be contributing to a confident consumer who is willing to spend money on back-to-school supplies.”

If you’re planning a trip to the store before classes start, there are a few ways to curb the spending and save some bucks.

Plan ahead

No parent should set foot out the door for back-to-school shopping without first taking stock of what they already have. Plenty of old supplies from previous years might still be usable, especially arts and crafts items like crayons, pencils and pens, as well as more expensive things like backpacks, lunch boxes and calculators.

Crossing a few items off your list is a good first step when it comes to saving, but learning how to budget is also important. It’s tempting to run down the back-to-school aisle and grab every colorful notebook and snazzy pencil case in sight, but it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. Create a realistic budget based on the items you actually need, and try your best to stick to it. If possible, do most of your shopping online, since it’s easier to keep a running tally of how much you’re spending as you shop.

Be smart about sales

Although you’re bound to run into many back-to-school sales this time of year, you don’t need to buy 12 notebooks just because they’re cheaper right now. In fact, you shouldn’t assume the sales price is the best price at all, said consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. Instead, always comparison shop.

“Run a quick Google search online or on your phone to see if another store is selling the same or a similar item for less,” she said. “Most big box stores will price match, so you won’t even have to drive to another store to get the better deal.” For example, Target,Staples and Walmart all have price matching policies.

Clip coupons and shop discount stores

Coupons have definitely made a digital comeback, with countless apps and websites dedicated to listing all your options in one place. “Spending a few minutes looking for coupons can help you get a better discount,” Woroch said. “Use apps like CouponSherpa, for instance. Or, use the Honey browser tool, which automatically searches and applies relevant coupons to your online order.”

Many stores also offer discounts to valued customers who sign up for their rewards program, like Walgreens and CVS, while craft stores like Michaels regularly offer discounts. Don’t knock purchasing basics like paper and writing supplies from the Dollar Tree, either — you might be surprised by what you find, and those types of items are often the same quality wherever you buy them.

Tax advantage of tax-free holidays

On select dates throughout the year, different states offer state sales tax holidays, or days where you can purchase items without having to pay sales tax on them. You can find a full list of the 2019 state sales tax holidays here, but some upcoming ones include:

  • August 18-24: Connecticut, clothing and footwear
  • August 17-18: Massachusetts, specific items costing less than $2,500 per item

Split bulk purchases

You can usually save money by buying certain items — like construction paper, pens, pencils and folders — in bulk, but you can save even more by splitting those bulk items with other families. Not only is this a great way to share savings, Woroch said, but you can earn rewards faster by charging everything on your card and then having the families pay you back.

Redeem your rewards

If you have a cash back credit card, now’s the time to use it. “Most credit cards give you the best redemption value when you opt for statement credit or have the cash rewards deposited into your bank,” Woroch said. “You can set this money aside for back-to-school shopping.”

Alternatively, Woroch suggested checking to see if your particular card allows you to redeem points for gift cards to retailers where you plan to shop.

Use discounted gift cards

Besides redeeming credit card points for retailer gift cards, you can also scour the web for cheap gift cards online. Planning a trip to Target? Scan websites like Raise,Cardpool and CardCash first. These sites buy and sell unused gift cards at a discount, meaning you can save on purchases you were planning to make anyway.

Consider having your kids contribute

Depending on your child’s age, back-to-school shopping might be the perfect time to start having them contribute to their own goods, especially if they earn an allowance or have a job. Talking to your kids about money at a young age — whether about budgeting, saving or spending — will help them develop solid money habits that will pay off in the future.

Parents already seem to be catching on to this idea. “It was surprising to see how much of their own money kids are contributing towards the back-to-school bills,” Mathews said. “Teens and pre-teens will be spending $63 of their own money, which works out to $1.5 billion overall. This is significantly higher than the levels we saw a decade ago.”

Although the news about increased spending on back-to-school supplies may be alarming, these days there are more ways than ever to save. A little ingenuity, resourcefulness and research can go a long way.

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.

Cheryl Lock
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Cheryl Lock is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Cheryl at [email protected]

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Survey: Most Americans Have Raided Their Retirement Savings

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.

Successfully saving for retirement requires dedication and self-restraint, but more than half the country admits to robbing their future selves in order to satisfy today’s spending needs, according to a new survey by MagnifyMoney. While the economic pressures bearing down on workers today make their actions understandable, the hard truth is that many Americans are turning an already-difficult task that much harder by tapping into their retirement savings early.

Key Findings

  • Approximately 52% of respondents admit to tapping their retirement savings account early for a purpose other than retiring: 23% have done so to pay off debt, 17% for a down payment on a home, 11% for college tuition, 9% for medical expenses, and 3% for some other reason.
  • About 29% say there are some scenarios where it is a good idea to withdraw money early from a retirement savings account.
  • Around 60% of respondents do not know exactly how much they have saved for retirement. Just 40% know the exact amount, while 45% have a rough idea, and 15% have no clue.
  • Almost 25% are unhappy with their retirement savings. 47% are happy with the amount saved, and about 28% are neither happy nor unhappy.
  • Finally, 27% have never thought about how much money they’ll need in retirement.

Why are Americans tapping their retirement savings early?

The two main reasons respondents cited for withdrawing money from their retirement savings are as American as apple pie: home ownership and personal debt. According to the survey, 23% of those making an early withdrawal did so to help pay down non-medical debt, while 17% needed the money for a down payment on a home.

Although the housing market appears to be cooling off compared to just a few years ago, a down payment on a home still requires a significant chunk of change — experts recommend a down payment equaling 20% of the total mortgage to optimize your mortgage payments.

Personal debt, from credit cards to student loans, remains a fixture of everyday economic reality for millions of Americans. In other words, the stressors that cause workers to raid their retirement funds don’t look like they will decrease appreciably in the foreseeable future.

Which Americans are withdrawing money the most?

Breaking down the demographics, older savers are less likely to withdraw money from their retirement fund than younger savers. 54% of millennial savers say they’ve taken an early withdrawal from a retirement savings account, compared with 50% of Gen Xers and 43% of baby boomers. This stands to reason considering that many millennials have now entered the stage of life where they are getting mortgages, starting families and taking on bigger financial obligations while also being decades away from the traditional retirement age. Millennials are also more likely to say that raiding your retirement fund is justified under certain circumstances, as seen in the chart below:

Just one of many bad retirement savings habits

Tapping into retirement funds — whether an employer-sponsored 401(k) or a traditional IRA — before the appropriate age almost always comes with a financial penalty in the form of additional taxes and fees. What is more, you’re diminishing the principle that fuels the compound interest you need to meet your retirement savings goals.

Unfortunately the survey reveals early withdrawals are just one of the many bad habits Americans engage in when it comes to retirement savings. This list of less-than-ideal practices includes:

  • 35% of Americans are not currently saving for retirement. Of those who are, 37% started saving at age 30 or above, and 12% started saving when they were older than 40.
  • 60% of Americans do not know exactly how much they have saved for retirement. Just 40% know the exact amount, while 45% have a rough idea and 15% have no clue.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 Americans don’t contribute enough to their employer-sponsored retirement account to get the maximum company match. Maximizing a company match is one of  your best ways to maximize your retirement savings. Among those with an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan, just 17% of respondents contribute 10% or more of their take-home pay. Almost 5% contribute nothing at all, and nearly 6% are unclear about how much they contribute.

  • Approximately 42% of respondents have made the mistake of withdrawing their entire balance from an employer-sponsored retirement plan when changing jobs without rolling it over – and nearly 15% have done so more than once. A little more than 47% of millennials admit to this faux pas.

The most damning finding of all is that 27% of those surveyed have never thought about how much they’ll need in retirement. And while “ignorance is bliss” may hold true when it comes to some things in life, this expression should not apply to your retirement plans.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney by LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,029 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the general population. The survey was fielded June 24-27, 2019.

Generations are defined as:

  • Millennials are ages 22-37
  • Generation Xers are ages 38-53
  • Baby boomers are ages 54-72

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.

James Ellis
James Ellis |

James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here