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Freaked Out by the Equifax Data Breach? Here’s What You Need to Know

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.

Source: iStock

About 143 million consumers’ sensitive information has been compromised in what was one of the worst data breaches to date in size and potential impact on consumers. Credit reporting agency Equifax announced the breach Thursday, more than a month after detecting the intrusion.

Equifax is one of the three national credit reporting agencies (the others being TransUnion and Experian) and collects a wide variety of consumers’ sensitive and personally identifiable information (PII). The information on credit reports determines credit scores and is used in lending decisions, among other things.

The breach exposed the names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses, and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers of about 44 percent of the current American population. Hackers also took the credit card numbers for about 209,000 U.S. consumers and dispute documents for 182,000 U.S. consumers.

In its announcement, Equifax said “criminals exploited a U.S. website application vulnerability to gain access” to the files. In addition to the millions of U.S. consumers affected, the company says the criminals had access to limited personal information of some U.K. and Canadian residents.

The Atlanta-based reporting agency said the thieves had access to the data from mid-May through July 2017, but it didn’t discover the breach until July 29. Equifax announced the breach more than a month after discovering it and hiring a cybersecurity firm to investigate.

The company says it’s also working with law enforcement authorities and that its investigation will be complete soon. Equifax has not said who they believe attacked their database.

What the breach means for consumers

The breach isn’t the largest to date, but it’s close. In 2016, Yahoo announced an attack that affected 500 million users. Another breach, announced just a few months later, involved 1 billion users. In those breaches, hackers stole users’ phone numbers and passwords.

The Equifax breach could be worse in impact, given the sensitive nature of the consumer data the company has on file. In its release, Equifax said it had found “no evidence of unauthorized activity on Equifax’s core consumer or commercial credit reporting databases.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the information hasn’t been misused or that it won’t be misused, as signs of identity theft may not immediately show up on a credit report.

“If you were going to rate this breach from one to 10, this is a 10. The amount of sensitive info that is contained in the Equifax database is staggering,” says Adam Levin, founder of CyberScout and author of “Swiped,” a book on how and why consumers can protect themselves from identity theft.

When this level of information has been compromised, it “opens up the door for thieves to commit many different other types of identity theft. Not just financial, but criminal, government, medical theft as well,” says Eva Velasquez,the president of Identity Theft Resource Center.

Levin adds, when Social Security numbers are part of a database that’s been exposed, all of the individuals who have their numbers in that database will need to be “looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives.” The Social Security Administration rarely changes someone’s Social Security number.

What to do now

First, don’t panic.

“People really feel violated when things like this happen,” says Velasquez. “Direct your energy from being angry or upset and feeling powerless to actually doing something and taking some steps to feel more empowered.”

Levin says the breach may add to “breach fatigue” — how the drastic rise in security breach causes consumers to believe breaches are inevitable and react to them apathetically instead of with urgency.

“But it shouldn’t,” Levin says. “It should be a clarion call. Unfortunately, as consumers we have to think of this as as if we’re alone. The government has failed us. The financial industry has failed us, and frankly we have failed ourselves. It’s important that we develop a culture of privacy and security.”

Find out if you are one of the impacted
Given the increasing threat and frequency of data breaches, everyone should be proactive in detecting identity theft. For this breach in particular, Equifax set up a website to see if you’re one of the people affected and how to enroll in the free year of credit monitoring it’s offering victims.

Visit equifaxsecurity2017.com and click on “Potential Impact.”

You’ll see a page with a large, rectangular button that says “Check Potential Impact” and a few lines of text.

Source: Equifax

The text explains that if you click on the link that says “Check Potential Impact,” you’ll be taken to a form that asks you to provide your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number.

Based on that information, you’ll then be shown a message that says whether your personal information may have been impacted by the breach.

Source: Equifax

Regardless of the message you see, Equifax will give you the option to enroll in a credit monitoring service from TrustedID Premier. Beware: if you enroll, you’ll have to agree to waive some of your rights to sue Equifax. The arbitration clause is written in all caps in the company’s terms of service, but consumers may miss the language. The Washington Post reported earlier Equifax on Friday updated its terms to incorporate a way out of the arbitration clause.

Equifax cleared up the confusion Friday afternoon by adding the following information to its FAQs section on equifaxsecurity2017.com:

“The arbitration clause and class action wavier included in the TrustedID Premier Terms of Use applies to the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection products, and not the cybersecurity incident.”

However, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman still found the addition “unacceptable.”

Consumers can be excluded if they let Equifax know within 30 days in writing they would like to be excluded from the arbitration clause, but must first accept the agreement.

If you choose to enroll, you’ll be given an enrollment date. There’s quite a backlog of people enrolling, so you have to take it upon yourself to return to the site on your enrollment date. In short: You have to take your protection into your own hands. Equifax isn’t doing it for you.

Source: Equifax

Sign up for credit monitoring

Equifax is offering one year of free credit monitoring through TrustedID Premier to all U.S. consumers, regardless of whether they were affected by the data breach. There are five services under the program:

  • Get a free copy of your Equifax credit report.
  • Sign up for credit monitoring and automated alerts to be notified of key changes to your credit report on any of the major big three reporting agencies.
  • Put a freeze on your Equifax credit report.
  • Scan suspicious sites for use of your Social Security number.
  • Get up to $1 million of identity theft insurance to help you pay for any costs you may incur if someone commits identity fraud against you.

Even if you don’t want to enroll in Equifax’s service, you should enroll in a credit monitoring service, like free options offered through Credit Karma, Discover, Mint, Wells Fargo, and Capital One® — there are lots of ways to keep tabs on your credit.

Some identity theft protection services like the ones offered through myFICO, charge a monthly fee to monitor your credit year-round and provide identity theft insurance.

Regularly review your credit reports

You’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the major credit bureaus, which you can get through annualcreditreport.com. Carefully check your credit report for any accounts or recent activity you don’t recognize.

Make a plan to respond to identity theft

Detecting identity theft as soon as possible is crucial to minimizing the damage and stress it can cause — that’s where credit monitoring and reviewing your credit reports comes in. But the next step is just as important: Know what to do when it happens.

You can dispute errors on your credit report, file a police report documenting the identity theft, and do the legwork of resolving any problems it causes. You can also pay for identity theft insurance or identity theft resolution services (some employers offer this as a benefit, so check with your human resources department). Here’s a guide on identity theft resolution, so you know what to do in case you see anything suspicious. Even if you don’t see anything out of the ordinary, you should continue to remain vigilant in monitoring your credit activity.

Freeze your credit report

Velasquez says a credit security freeze is an option impacted consumers should look at. It prevents any application for new credit without first verifying your identity. If you want to apply for new credit, you’ll have to “thaw” your credit reports. The credit bureaus charge a fee, which varies by state, every time you freeze and thaw your credit report.

“While that does create some added inconvenience, the level of protection is worth it,” says Velasquez.

Be alert for unusual activity

Now is the time to practice what Velasquez calls good “identity hygiene.”

“Being vigilant about your identity is just a part of the world that we live in,” says Velasquez. “ If being involved in a data breach is the catalyst that brings that to the top of your mind, then we can see that as a positive.”

Velasquez recommends consumers act proactively and remain cognizant of anything that may involve using or verifying their identity. For example, if you receive a notice from a government agency about benefits or some weird explanation of benefits, pay attention to it.

Even after you do things like enroll in credit monitoring and freeze your credit, continue to do your best to watch out for signs of abuse. Don’t wait until you start receiving strange calls from government agencies and debt collectors.

When tax season rolls around, file your return as soon as possible. Identity thieves frequently use Social Security numbers to get fraudulent refunds, and if they file before you do, it will further complicate your tax-filing process.

At the least, go through your financial statements regularly (the more often, the better) to look for anything out of the ordinary. While protection is top of mind, sign up for any alerts you can set up on your mobile banking app to receive transaction notifications.

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.

Brittney Laryea
Brittney Laryea |

Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at [email protected]

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Financial Therapy: What It Is and How to Know if You Need It

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.

iStock

Whether you’re stressing over paying bills or spending money to make yourself feel better, anxiety and money often go hand in hand. Still, financial advice tends to emphasize numbers and strategies, not the root cause of money concerns.

Financial therapy is a holistic process that enlists both therapeutic and financial methods to help you transform your relationship with money. Here’s how to tell whether or not it might be the right move for you.

What is financial therapy?

The Financial Therapy Association was born out of the 2008 financial crisis, which left many Americans feeling totally hopeless and out of control with their money — a kind of trauma that went deeper than traditional financial counseling could heal. Researchers and practitioners from both the mental health and business fields teamed up shortly after the crash to create a unique, new practice that combines the best aspects of both disciplines.

By late 2009, the Financial Therapy Association, or FTA, was officially recognized as a nonprofit corporation, and the group held its first annual conference in September of 2010. Today, the association offers a variety of tools for both consumers and professionals looking to participate in this unique practice, and also offers a searchable database for finding financial therapists by state.

The association defines financial therapy as “a process informed by both therapeutic and financial competencies that helps people think, feel and behave differently with money to improve overall wellbeing through evidence-based practices and interventions.”

In short, just like regular therapy, it helps you get your head on straight — except in this case, it’s particularly concerned with financial matters. Many financial therapists are also licensed family or marriage counselors, so you can take it on solo or with a partner.

5 signs you need a financial therapist

So, how can you tell if financial therapy is right for you?

Chances are, almost anyone could benefit from professional coaching… but if these scenarios sound familiar, you might want to take finding professional help more seriously.

1. Your relationships are strained, and money’s always the reason. If you’re constantly fighting with your spouse (or other relatives or family members) about money matters, a financial therapist can help you find productive ways to navigate your relationships.

2. You’re depressed or anxious about your money in a way that’s impacting your wellbeing. While money can be a stressful topic for anyone from time to time, if it’s ruling your life, a therapist can help you find new behavioral patterns. Whether it’s the emotional toll of debt or the stress of saving a workable nest egg, a financial therapist can offer both mental and monetary tactics to help you tackle the problem.

3. You know the steps you need to take, but can’t quite seem to make them happen. Whether it’s balancing your budget or paying down debt, if you can’t make your behavior match your financial plan, a financial therapist could have the answer.

4. You find yourself lying about money and hiding your excessive or emotional spending. These kinds of behaviors can wreak havoc on your wallet, not to mention your relationships, and may be based in compulsion. A financial therapist can help you develop alternative relaxation tactics so you can overcome your emotional splurges without doing damage to your nest egg.

5. Thinking about your financial future is leading to unexpected emotions or creating family tension. As important as estate planning may be, it can also be a difficult and emotional experience. After all, it means thinking seriously about the reality of your own death. And divvying up your stuff can lead to difficult conversations, particularly if you have a blended family or strained relationships. A financial therapist can help you work through all that emotional baggage and offer helpful communication tactics.

Do you need a financial therapist and a financial advisor?

There’s no specific set of certifications or degrees a professional must have to be a member of the Financial Therapy Association — so each individual counselor is just that: an individual. He or she may lean more heavily toward one side of the professional aisle or the other, and finding the right fit could take some trial and error.

For instance, if you’re mostly concerned with the how-to part of financial advisement, like figuring out the difference between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA or the best way to tackle credit card debt, a plain-old financial advisor can probably help you, but so could a financial therapist who works primarily as an advisor or wealth management professional.

On the other hand, if you’re really digging into the emotional side of your financial landscape, finding a financial therapist who is a mental health professional first can help you tackle those struggles, while also laying the framework for solid monetary planning and behavior down the line. A financial therapist who identifies more strongly with the clinical counselling part of their job title may also be able to help you in other aspects of your mental health, if you’re struggling with matters beyond your money.

The bottom line is, there’s no one approach that’s right for everyone — and, just like dating, you’ll definitely want to shop around. Whether you hire a financial therapist, a financial advisor or both, when you’re talking about people who are going to advise you on matters as important as your financial future, getting along well is key. It’s worth making several calls and sitting through a few introductory interviews to make sure you’ve found a good fit.

How to find a financial therapist

If financial therapy sounds like it might be a fit for you, there are some wonderful resources available from the Financial Therapy Association to help you find and hire a professional. For instance, it offers a great database of financial therapists that’s searchable by both name and state.

Of course, since it’s such a new field, financial therapists are relatively few and far between — and you may find there’s not one in your area. Several states on the list have zero names listed beneath them (so far, anyway).

Fortunately, the internet makes it possible to do financial therapy work at a distance, and many professionals do just that. If you find someone whose credentials, focus and basic methodologies you like, you can reach out to them directly to see if they’d be able to perform therapy via Skype or phone call. You can also check out the specific “at a distance” list available via the FTA database. The association also offers monthly online webinars and other educational tools to start the process on your own if you’re not quite ready to hire a professional.

The bottom line

Financial therapy can be a great way to help alleviate your anxieties and fears about financial matters, or to help you find ways to break money-related habits you just can’t seem to knock out on your own. And as with any type of therapy, seeking out professional help is anything but a sign of weakness. Money touches all of our lives and has a huge impact on our lifestyles, so it makes sense that it’s a wildly emotional topic. So if financial therapy sounds like it might be a fit for you, don’t be afraid or ashamed to reach out. If anything, recognizing you need help makes you that much stronger — and both your brain and your bank account will thank you for it.

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.

Jamie Cattanach
Jamie Cattanach |

Jamie Cattanach is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here

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9 Great Free Checking Accounts

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.

free checking accounts
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The humble checking account may not offer rewards, cash back or many of the other perks offered by ritzy credit cards, but it remains the cornerstone of your financial life. Nobody likes paying monthly maintenance fees, so why not pick a free checking account that does away with them altogether?

Below, we’ve selected nine of the best free checking accounts (presented in no particular order) by scouring our database for products meeting the following criteria:

  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • A low initial deposit amount (between $0-$25) needed to open the account
  • No minimum daily balance requirement
  • Minimal third-party ATM fees
  • Available nationwide

Account Name

Minimum needed to open

APY

Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking$05.09%
Simple Account$02.02%
Aspiration Spend and Save$102.00%
nbkc personal account$51.01%
Alliant Credit Union High-Yield Checking$5 (to become a member of this credit union, none for opening the account itself)0.65%
Discover Cashback Credit$0None, but customers receive 1% cash back each month on certain spending with a limit of $3,000
Ally Bank Interest Checking$00.60%
Evansville Teachers FCU Vertical Checking$30 ($25 if you're already a member of this credit union)3.30% (if you meet monthly requirements)
Bay State Savings Bank Kasasa Cash$02.01% (if you meet monthly requirements)

Great free checking accounts

Consumers Credit Union (IL) Free Rewards Checking

The Consumers Credit Union provides an online-only checking account to anyone in the nation who becomes a member. You can qualify for membership with a one-time $5 payment to Consumers Cooperative Association. Some of the perks of the Free Rewards Checking account include:

  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • No minimum balance required
  • Unlimited check writing
  • Unlimited ATM fee refunds

However you do have to meet some requirements in order to get all of the benefits of the account (including the high APY). The APY for this account is divided into three tiers, with the lowest earning 3.09% on balances up to $10,000, the middle 4.09% and the highest tier 5.09%. The requirements for each of these tiers are:

To earn 3.09%

  • Receive eStatements
  • Make at least 12 debit card purchases a month
  • Post direct deposits or ACH payments of at least $500 each month

To earn 4.09%

  • Meet all the requirements of the previous tier
  • Have a Consumers Credit Union Visa credit card and spend at least $500 a month on it

To earn 5.09%

  • Meet all the requirements of the previous tier
  • Spend at least $1,000 a month on your Consumers Credit Union Visa credit card

Keep in mind these high APYs only apply to balances up to $10,000. The portion of any balance between $10,000.01 and $25,000 earn 0.20% APY, and balances greater than $25,000 earn an APY of 0.10%.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Consumers Credit Union (IL)’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Simple Account

Simple is owned and backed by regional bank BBVA and offers customers a free checking account that’s intertwined with the app’s budgeting tools. Simple doesn’t charge any fees, meaning users enjoy:

  • No monthly maintenance fee
  • No minimum balance needed
  • No account closing fee
  • No stop payment fees
  • No debit card replacement fee
  • No ATM fee if using Simple’s network, but users can be charged a fee by other banks if using a non-network ATM

One fee you do have to pay is a foreign transaction fee when using your Simple card internationally, which can be up to 1% of the transaction.

If you maintain a balance of $0.01 or more, you can earn an APY of 2.02%.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Simple’s secure website

Aspiration Spend and Save Account

The recently rebranded Aspiration Spend and Save account is online-only and technically is a cash management account (according to the company), combining the high APY of a savings account with the accessibility of a traditional checking account. After paying an initial $10 to open this account, you gain access to a completely fee-free account — if that’s what you choose.

One of the most eye-catching (and marketable) aspects of this account is that Aspiration tells its customers they can pay whatever fees they wish, even if that amount is zero. The online bank does heavily advertise the fact that 10% of whatever fee customers pay them will be donated to charity.

Other benefits this account gives without any fees include:

  • Unlimited ATM fee reimbursement
  • $600 in cellphone damage insurance
  • Scheduled bill payments

Technically, the Spend and Save account operates as two separate linked accounts — a savings account, where your money earns an APY of 2.00% each month (provided you deposit at least $1 in the account), and a spend account you draw on with your Aspiration ATM card. Transfers of funds between the spending and saving sides of the account happen instantly and without any limitations, so it’s easy for customers to think of it as one product.

It’s important to note that the 2.00% APY only applies to funds in the save portion of the account, not the money you have in the spend portion (which earns no APY). But with the instant and limitless transactions you can make between the two sides, there’s no reason to leave money parked in the spend portion of the account that you aren’t planning to utilize in the short term.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Aspiration’s secure website

nbkc personal account

nbkc bank may be based in Kansas and Missouri, but customers anywhere in the nation can sign up for its personal account, which provides a whole bevy of benefits with only minimum fees — all while providing a very competitive APY.

Customers can open this free checking account with a $5 deposit, and so long as they maintain an average daily balance of $0.01, earn 1.01% APY. They also can use more than 32,000 ATMs without any fees, and nbkc will rebate up to $12 a month any non-network ATM fees customers accrue.

Account holders will have to pay a $5 fee to wire money domestically, and $45 if they are receiving or sending an international wire transfer.

LEARN MORE Secured

on nbkc bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Alliant Credit Union High-Rate Checking

Alliant Credit Union offers a free checking account with a very decent yield and great features. You must become an Alliant member before opening an account, which anyone in the country can do by making a $10 donation to Foster Care to Success during your application process. However, there’s no minimum deposit needed to open this free checking account, no minimum daily balance and no monthly maintenance fee.

Alliant’s account also grants customers access to roughly 80,000 ATMs they can use without any fees. If you have to use an ATM outside of this network, Alliant will reimburse fees up to $20 each month.

Finally, this free checking account is called “high-rate” because it gives 0.65% APY—so long as you opt to receive electronic statements instead of paper statements, and make one electronic deposit into the account each month. Examples of deposits include:

  • Direct deposits
  • Payroll deposits
  • ATM deposits
  • Mobile deposits
  • Transfer from another financial institution

LEARN MORE Secured

on Alliant Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Discover Cashback Debit

You might be more likely to think of credit cards when it comes to this brand, but Discover also functions as an FDIC-insured, online only bank that offers a suite of personal banking products including one of the best free checking accounts currently on the market. The Discover Cashback Debit account features a smorgasboard of perks and goodies for customers, including:

  • No monthly maintenance fees, minimum balance to open or minimum daily balance
  • A nationwide network of more than 60,000 ATMs customers can use fee-free
  • Free replacement debit cards
  • Free online bill pay

Living up to its name, the Cashback Debit account grants 1% cash back each month on qualifying spending up to $3,000. What kind of spending counts? Just about everything, with the exception of ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders, loan payments or account funding, and peer-to-peer transactions. In addition, some purchases made over a third-party app or service (such as Venmo) may not qualify.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Discover Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Ally Bank Interest Checking Account

The Ally Bank Interest Checking Account may not offer a high APY (unless you can maintain at least a $15,000 balance), but the free online banking, bill pay, and checks — both standard and cashier — along with no monthly maintenance fee, required minimum balance or minimum deposit to open make it a great option for customers looking for a free checking account.

While no minimum balance is required to earn 0.10% APY, customers can earn 0.60% if they maintain a daily balance of at least $15,000.

Customers can use any of the 55,000 ATMs in the Allpoint® network for free, and Ally will reimburse up to $10 of non-network ATM fees each billing cycle. Other fees to watch out for include:

  • $15 stop payment fee
  • $25 per-day maximum overdraft fee
  • $20 outgoing domestic wire fee

LEARN MORE Secured

on Ally Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union Vertical Checking

Credit unions such as Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union might not command the same name recognition as nationwide banks, but they can offer rates and services for customers that are every bit as competitive as the big banks. Don’t let the name of this credit union fool you—anyone can become a member if they open a $5 savings account, which then allows you to open a Vertical Checking account with a minimum balance of $25.

This free checking account doesn’t charge a monthly service fee or require you to maintain a minimum balance, and in return gives you an APY of as high as 3.30% on balances up to $20,000, provided you fulfill the below requirements:

  • Make at least 15 debit purchases each month
  • Make at least one direct deposit into the account each month
  • Login to your mobile or online banking at least once each month
  • Opt in to receive eStatements
  • In addition to the high APY, meeting these requirements entitles you to $15 a month for reimbursing third-party ATM fees.

In addition to the high APY, meeting these requirements entitles you to $15 a month for reimbursing third-party ATM fees.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Evansville Teachers Federal Credit Union’s secure website

NCUA Insured

Bay State Savings Bank Kasasa Cash

This free checking account offers one of the highest APY rates around — up to 2.01%, provided you meet some qualifications — and coupled with its minimal fees, make it a great option for customers looking for free checking.

There’s no minimum amount needed to open the free checking account and, like the other accounts on the list, you don’t need to maintain a minimum balance or pay a monthly maintenance fee. That’s already good news, but where this account really shines is when you fulfill the following criteria each month:

  • Have at least 12 PIN-based debit card purchases
  • Receive electronic statements
  • Enroll — and log in at least once per cycle — to online banking (which is free)

For every month you meet the above qualifications, your balance up to $20,000 earns 2.01% APY. The other big bonus you receive is unlimited refunds on ATM fees that you pay when using a machine out of the bank’s network. If you don’t meet the criteria, you still don’t pay any fees on your account. However, you earn a much lower APY and will have to pay fees on out-of-network ATMs.

LEARN MORE Secured

on Bay State Savings Bank’s secure website

Member FDIC

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