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What Is an Enrolled Agent and Does Your Business Need One?

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This article has been reviewed by tax expert Erica Gellerman, CPA.

It’s likely that you’re familiar with what bookkeepers and certified public accountants do, but these aren’t the only types of financial professionals available to business owners. A lesser-known but equally noteworthy title is that of the enrolled agent, which is the highest credential a tax practitioner can receive from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Here’s all you need to know about enrolled agents, and how one might be of help to your small business.

What is an enrolled agent?

An enrolled agent is a federally authorized tax practitioner empowered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to represent taxpayers before the IRS for tax issues including audits, collections and appeals. To become an enrolled agent one must pass an extensive exam or work at the IRS for a minimum of five years in a role that requires interpretation of the tax code. Enrolled agents can assist small-business owners in situations where they must deal directly with the IRS.

Because of the level of expertise required to become an enrolled agent, there are only about 53,700 practicing enrolled agents in the United States, according to the National Association of Enrolled Agents (NAEA).

To understand the job of an enrolled agent, it helps to first look at the history of the profession. According to the NAEA, the enrolled agent was a job created in 1884 when Congress decided to regulate individuals who represented citizens to the U.S. Treasury Department after being flooded with dubious claims relating to Civil War losses.

The enrolled agent role expanded with the passage of the first income tax law in 1913 to include claims for monetary relief for citizens whose taxes had become inequitable. As taxes became more complicated, the job of the enrolled agent grew to include the preparation of tax forms. In 1941, the role of the enrolled agent was formalized in Treasury Department Circular No. 230. According to the NAEA, the regulation stipulates that “enrolled agents, Circular 230 practitioners, are federally authorized tax practitioners empowered by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for tax issues including audits, collections and appeals.”

What does an enrolled agent do?

Now that you understand what an enrolled agent does in theory, let’s learn more about what it looks like in practice.

The most important thing an enrolled agent does is represent taxpayers before the IRS at all administrative levels (examinations, collections and appeals). For example, if you have a tax problem, a notice from the IRS or are under audit, you can hire an enrolled agent to handle direct interactions with the IRS, provide information and explanations on your behalf, and enter into an agreement with the IRS.

The only area where an enrolled agent cannot represent you is in tax court. In order to represent a taxpayer in tax court, you must be a licensed attorney or have passed the “U.S. Tax Court Non-Attorney” exam.

Enrolled agents are also authorized to advise and prepare tax returns for individuals, partnerships, corporations, estates, trusts or any other entities with tax-reporting requirements. According to the NAEA, enrolled agents are the only federally licensed tax practitioners who specialize in taxation and have unlimited rights to represent taxpayers before the IRS.

Enrolled agents have privilege with the taxpayers they represent, under certain conditions. This privilege allows for confidentiality between the enrolled agent and taxpayer in situations where the taxpayer is being represented in cases involving audits and collection matters. However, this privilege is not applicable to the preparation and filing of a tax return, and does not apply to state tax matters.

How is an enrolled agent different from other tax experts?

Enrolled agents differ from other tax practitioners like CPAs and bookkeepers in a few ways.

Credential

The enrolled agent credential can only be acquired in one of two ways: An individual must work for the IRS for a minimum of five years in a role that requires the application and interpretation of the tax code, or pass all three parts of the Special Enrollment Exam (SEE) and pass what the IRS calls a suitability check. The suitability check is administered by the IRS and includes looking into your personal tax history.

The SEE exam focuses specifically on tax law (as opposed to the CPA exam, which focuses on a broader scope of accounting and tax topics), and is divided into three parts: individuals, businesses, and representation, practices, and procedures. Each part features 100 questions and takes three and a half hours to complete. When you pass one part of the exam, you have two years to pass the other two parts.

Once credentialed, enrolled agents are required to abide by the provisions of the Department of Treasury’s Circular 230, which provides the regulations governing the practice of enrolled agents before the IRS.

Continuing education

The IRS requires enrolled agents to complete 72 hours of continuing education every three years, with a minimum of 16 credited hours annually, in order to maintain their active enrolled agent license and practice rights. Classes include everything from updates to the tax law to enrolled agent ethics.

Federal license

Another major difference between enrolled agents and other tax professionals is that enrolled agents are federally licensed, meaning they can practice in any state in the country. CPAs, on the other hand, are licensed at the state level and can only practice within the jurisdiction in which they are licensed.

Unlimited rights

Enrolled agents must demonstrate to the IRS their expertise in all areas of taxation in order to be awarded the credential. If they do, they are granted unlimited representation rights to represent taxpayers before the IRS. This means they can represent all types of taxpayers on any matter regarding taxation, including audits, payment or collection issues and appeals. CPAs and attorneys are also afforded this right.

Enrolled agent vs. CPA

The jobs of CPAs and enrolled agents are actually quite similar. The main difference is that an enrolled agent specializes in taxation. CPAs can also perform tax services, but may not specialize in taxation. However, a CPA can perform other services like accounting and bookkeeping, which an enrolled agent may not be as knowledgeable in (unless they are also licensed as a CPA).

Although both professions have rigorous continuing education requirements, a CPA must also have a college degree, pass the Uniform CPA Examination and meet the requirements of their state’s board of accountancy.

Does your business need an enrolled agent?

According to Jerry Gaddis, an enrolled agent and CEO and founder of Florida-based tax firm Tropical Tax, there are several scenarios in which it makes sense to work with an enrolled agent. The first is when you are selecting a legal entity for your business.

“You should work with an attorney to select your legal entity,” says Gaddis. “But an enrolled agent can help you understand how you will be taxed depending on your business type.”

Once your business is formed, Gaddis says an enrolled agent can help explain to you what business expenses are deductible from your taxes. They can also prepare and file your business and payroll tax returns. An enrolled agent is especially helpful if you’re filing returns in more than one state, as enrolled agents can operate across state lines. Note that a CPA can also prepare your business tax returns, but only in the state in which they are licensed.

If the IRS has any questions regarding your taxes, or if they decide to conduct an audit, an enrolled agent could advocate on your behalf.

“You could give us the power of attorney and then the IRS would have to cease communicating directly with you and instead go through us,” Gaddis says. An enrolled agent could also work on the behalf of a small business to settle an appeal or collections matter — such as failing to file your tax return, failing to pay tax penalties, debt relief, tax evasion, tax liens, tax levies and tax fraud.

If you’re looking for a little accounting guidance, or need help with your bookkeeping, budgeting or financial planning, you’re better off working with a CPA. But if you have any issues regarding taxation, Gaddis recommends finding an enrolled agent.

“We are America’s tax experts,” Gaddis says. “If you want to know how your business is taxed and how to minimize your tax liability, call an enrolled agent.

How to find an enrolled agent

There are a few different ways you can go about finding an enrolled agent. The first is to use the database provided on the NAEA website, which provides you with a list of enrolled agents in your area. On top of federal requirements, NAEA members are also bound by a code of ethics and rules of professional conduct of the association.

Popular tax preparation companies like H&R Block also have many enrolled agents on staff to assist with the particular of filing taxes. Public and corporate accounting firms, law firms, investment firms, private practices, banks and state departments of revenue also typically employ enrolled agents. Many enrolled agents also work as independent contractors.

Finally, performing a local Google search or flipping through your Yellow Pages is another way to find credentialed enrolled agents in your area. Oftentimes, an enrolled agent will have the acronym “EA” in parenthesis next to their name.

A version of this article was first published on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet

These 3 Entrepreneurs Overcame Credit Struggles; Here’s Their Advice

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Starting a new business can be thrilling and rewarding. But the road from idea to reality can also be long and tough — especially for entrepreneurs who face credit struggles.

Here are the stories of three now-successful entrepreneurs, how they got their credit on track, and the lessons they learned.

From prison to business launch

When Teresa Hodge was released from federal prison after serving a term of about five years, she knew she would face significant challenges as she reentered society. But one problem that wasn’t initially top of mind quickly became apparent: her credit.

“After five years in prison with no payments showing up on my report, my score went down and my credit file was very thin,” Hodge says. She didn’t know what financial options were available or where to begin.

Though a criminal record doesn’t appear on a credit report, it could still negatively impact your ability to find employment or get a loan.

“Many people with criminal records opt out of financial institutions entirely because of fear of rejection — they are being rejected for employment and housing, so they think they’ll get locked out of banks, too,” Hodge says.

How credit unions can help

As Hodge set out to rebuild her credit and restart her life, she turned to her local credit union. Since credit unions are smaller, community-oriented, not-for-profit financial institutions, some customers may find them more appealing than a large bank.

Hodge’s daughter was a member, and Hodge was able to become a co-owner on her daughter’s checking and savings accounts. She put whatever money she could into the savings account, and she eventually got a secured credit card from the credit union.

Hodge used the card for small purchases and made her payments on time, which elevated her credit scores. Eventually, she was able to graduate to a traditional unsecured card. She relentlessly monitored her credit scores and followed expert advice from trusted online financial sources.

Resolved to help others with criminal records get their financial footing, Hodge went on to co-found R3 Score, a financial analysis tool aimed at expanding access to employment and banking products. R3 Score’s website notes that it uses “artificial intelligence, machine learning, and human empathy” to create an alternative “score” of a would-be applicant’s productivity and risk level.

Hodge also heads a nonprofit called Mission Launch, which offers financial literacy and support to entrepreneurs with criminal records.

From little credit knowledge to real estate powerhouse

Raised by a single mother in New Jersey, Domingo Rodriguez learned entrepreneurial spirit at a young age, but not much about the mechanics of finance and credit. “We were on welfare, but my mom was always dreaming up business ideas,” the 48-year-old says.

His mother passed away when he was 14, and though his older sister moved home to raise him, Rodriguez struggled. “I turned to the streets because I was lost, but I still had that entrepreneurial drive,” he recounts.

That motivation helped him eventually find his way to college, where he found tables set up around the student union where people were handing out credit cards and free T-shirts to virtually anyone who wanted them. (The Card Act of 2009 has since raised age restrictions and quashed on-campus credit card marketing to students.)

The combination of easy credit and little financial know-how proved to be a recipe for disaster. Mounting bills and missed payments led to credit woes.

How credit counseling can help

Rodriguez’s entrepreneurial spirit led him to real estate. “I wanted to get my real estate license to have security and freedom so I could create my own path,” he says.

But his debt and tanking credit score were catching up to him, and before he could buy his own house, he knew he had to tackle the problem.

“I still didn’t understand credit,” Rodriguez says. “I had a terrible score in the 400s, and I didn’t know how to fix it. I started reading a lot and I taught myself a lot, but realized I needed help.” He worked with a credit counselor to make a plan to tackle the debt, and he challenged some errors he found on his report, too.

Today, Rodriguez is a well-respected and successful real estate agent in New Jersey with more than 20 years of experience.

From $50,000 in debt to financial expert

Shante Nicole Harris’ life changed dramatically when, at age 22, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. After a year of treatment, Harris successfully beat cancer, but she began to fall into a dangerous trap: using credit cards to supplement her income.

The medical debt began to pile up and, coupled with reduced hours at her banking job because of her cancer treatments, she resorted to charging everything she could on her credit card to get by.

A few years later, the unexpected loss of her job, followed by divorce, led to ballooning debt levels as Harris struggled to pay her legal bills and support her son. Once again, Harris had to rely on credit cards because she had no savings. As debt went into collections, her credit scores hit a low of 520, leaving Harris unsure of what choices she had.

Growing up with a single mother in what she describes as “not the best neighborhood” in Washington, D.C., Harris says she was taught to be frugal but didn’t learn the basics of finances. “We didn’t really talk about money,” Harris recalls.

How the right credit cards can help

Once she was working again, Harris’ resolve to pay down her debt and fix her credit led her to voraciously read and research her options. “I was obsessed about learning how to fix my situation for myself,” she says.

She started with a secured credit card with a $300 limit and a $29 annual fee. After she used her card responsibly for a year and paid the bill in full and on time each month, the bank transitioned her account to an unsecured card.

Once her credit scores began to rise, Harris was able to qualify for balance transfer credit cards with 0% APR. “I did the ‘balance transfer bunny hop’ for years to avoid interest and chip away at the debt,” she says.

She then followed the “snowball method” of paying off balances, and within five years found herself clear of the more than $50,000 in debt she had amassed.

Friends began to ask her for advice about how they could tackle their own credit issues, which led her in 2016 to form a Facebook group to give people a safe space to talk about money. Harris used her research and experience to give answers. Within three months, the group grew to more than 15,000 members and Harris knew she was onto something. (Today, there are more than 90,000 members.)

“Members would message me saying they were still overwhelmed with all the information and wanted individualized help,” Harris said. She eventually quit her job at the time and launched her own full-time credit coaching business, Financial Common Cents.

3 tips from these entrepreneurs

1. ‘Be hungry’ to learn

Through her credit counseling work, Harris sees a common theme: “People don’t understand credit or finances because they weren’t taught. No one taught them about money,” she says.

But even if you didn’t receive much financial education early on, it’s not too late to learn. A wealth of information is available online from a variety of vetted and trustworthy sources. And if you lack internet access, your local library can help.

“Ask lots of questions and find lots of answers,” Rodriguez notes. “Be hungry and relentless to improve yourself and your mindset.”

2. ‘Do the work’

It can be tough to get started when you feel overwhelmed or insecure. But, as Harris points out, “not facing it doesn’t make it go away. Everything is fixable.”

That’s true even if you lack exposure and experience.

“Many people who have been in prison have more payday centers in their neighborhood than banks,” Hodge says. “They never had a relationship with banks. But if you do the work, there is a bank that will say yes, even if five banks said no. Be determined.”

And, then, be willing to share that knowledge. Rodriguez ensures he’s teaching his kids the financial lessons he didn’t learn in his youth.

“I tell them that the less informed we are, the less we can leverage,” he says.

3. ‘Seek the help’

It’s possible to educate yourself about credit and DIY your own debt relief or credit plan, but sometimes you still need a helping hand.

“Expert help doesn’t have to be expensive. Just seek the help,” Harris says.

Look for websites from trusted institutions that have proven track records of reliability and expertise. Evaluate “experts” based on their credentials. Beware of bad actors who may falsely promise to negotiate your debt relief directly with creditors. Research the Better Business Bureau to look for complaints, and steer clear of anyone trying to sell their services over the phone and charge an upfront fee.

Here's Exactly How Much You Should Keep in Your Savings Account

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Money is still a bit of a taboo topic among families and friends, which is why many of us don’t know what a normal amount is to have (or aim for).

But thankfully, there’s an easy calculation to know the exact dollar amount you need to have on-hand in your checking account:

It’s one or two months of your living expenses. That’s it! So if between rent, utilities, groceries, budgeted fun stuff for your kids and debt payments, you spend $5,000 each month, then you should have $5,000 to $10,000 in your checking account.

Here’s some advice: It might not be smart to keep more than two months’ worth of expenses in your checking account. If you can keep it closer to one month, that’s even better. Why? Because it’s likely earning you next to zero in interest, when you could be making way more with your money elsewhere.

Here are the first things you should do with your money once you have one to two months’ worth of expenses saved to cover your bills:

1. Build An Emergency Fund And Keep It In A Safe Place

If you don’t currently have an emergency fund, start one now. Having this safely stored — but readily available — can keep you out of trouble

You should look for a place to safely stash it away — but still earn money. Under your mattress or in a safe will get you nothing. And a typical savings account won’t do you much better. (Ahem, 0.05% is nothing these days.)

But a debit card called Aspiration lets you earn up to 20 times the average interest on the money in your account (plus up to 5% cash back).

Not too shabby!

Enter your email address here to get a free Aspiration Spend and Save account. After you confirm your email, securely link your bank account so they can start helping you get extra cash. Your money is FDIC insured and they use a military-grade encryption which is nerd talk for “this is totally safe.”

2. Max Out Your Retirement Savings Account (And Get Extra From Your Boss)

Setting aside money from your paycheck to put into your 401(k) is literally one of the smartest things you can do for your future. And if your employer matches each contribution, that could mean hundreds of thousands of extra dollars in your account when you retire. It’s free money!

But if you can’t take advantage of this employer benefit because you need all of your paycheck every month, a company called Lendtable will give you the cash.

We know it sounds too good to be true. But if your employer has a 401(k) match program, this is money they already have earmarked for you. By using Lendtable, you’ll be able to unlock that free cash.

Let’s say you make $50k a year and your employer matches your 401(k) contribution up to 4%. If you put $0 in your retirement account this year, you get $0 from your boss. If Lendtable lends you the 4% of your salary your employer is willing to match, you get $2,000 from your boss, minus Lendtable’s fee. (This comes from the extra money you’ve earned, so there’s no sacrifice on your part.)

It takes three minutes to answer a few questions about your eligibility and sign up for an account.

Once you’ve gotten your full match amount from your employer, LendTable will take the money they lent you back, plus a small share of your profit. If there’s a penalty from your retirement account provider for taking money out, Lendtable will cover that, too.

The risk for you is basically nonexistent, so not taking advantage of your employer match with Lendtable’s offer would make Future Millionaire You bow your head in shame. Get started here.

3. Invest It. This App Gives You Up to $200 in Free Stock to Start

If you feel like you don’t have enough money to start investing after you’ve put money in your emergency fund, you’re not alone. But guess what? You really don’t need that much — and you can even get free stocks (worth up to $200!) if you know where to look.

Whether you’ve got $5, $100 or $800 to spare, you can start investing with Robinhood.

Yeah, you’ve probably heard of Robinhood. Both investing beginners and pros love it because it doesn’t charge commission fees, and you can buy and sell stocks for free — no limits. Plus, it’s super easy to use.

What’s best? When you download the app and fund your account (it takes no more than a few minutes), Robinhood drops a share of free stock into your account. It’s random, though, so that stock could be worth anywhere from $2.50 to $200 — a nice boost to help you build your investments.

4. Secure Up to $1 Million in Life Insurance; Rates Start at Just $16/Month

Sometimes you need to spend some money to make some money. Getting life insurance in case something happens to you is one of those cases. It’s a good place to invest a few bucks every month, once your checking account and emergency funds are in a good spot.

Like, have you thought about how your family would manage without your income after you’re gone? How they’ll pay the bills? Send the kids through school? Now’s a good time to start planning for the future by looking into a term life insurance policy.

You’re probably thinking: I don’t have the time or money for that. But your application can take minutes — and you could leave your family up to $1 million with a company called Bestow.

Rates start at just $16 a month. The peace of mind knowing your family is taken care of is priceless.

If you’re under the age of 54 and want to get a fast life insurance quote without a medical exam or even getting up from the couch, get a free quote from Bestow.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Best Online Reputation Management

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You’re already doing so much for your business. How do you successfully manage your online reputation, too?

If you’re already managing a lot, your best bet is outsourcing it to an ORM, or an online reputation manager. 

There’s a lot to know. Handling negative reviews on Yelp, Google, Glassdoor is a lot of work, as each platform has different rules and procedures. Responding to a public relations crisis requires yet another skill set.

Your online image can determine how long you stay in business and if your profits grow year after year. Protecting your brand and business is critical.

To help you put your best foot forward, I’ve compiled a list of the very best online reputation management companies. Along with in-depth reviews of each option, I’ve included a short buyer’s guide to help you approach your decision.

#1 – Go Fish Digital Review — The Best for Managing Reviews

I’ve listed Go Fish Digital as the best agency for managing reviews, and while that’s true, Go Fish Digital also wows with the option of full-service reputation management used by the likes of Geico, Ford, and Airbnb.

With Go Fish, you can gain thorough insight into your customers’ reviews and comments online. 

They work closely with huge review sites like Yelp to manage negative reviews by advocating for review removal on your behalf through their agency tools. They also work to get your best Yelp reviews to the top for more visibility. 

They’re exhaustive in their brand monitoring abilities and monitor all corners of the internet like Wikipedia and Reddit threads to create a plan of action in your favor.  

Go Fish’s review management works by pushing positive content to higher visibility with SEO, adjusting copy in public places where you’re mentioned, cleaning up Google autocomplete, and even promoting positive information about your business wherever your target audience is. 

As they create results, they keep you up to date with a relevant score you can see on their dashboard. 

To be clear, Go Fish is a reputable ORM that does not post false reviews for you. Still, their Yelp review management service is one of their strong suits.

Some of their best review management features are:

  • Managing negative Google reviews
  • Negative auto-complete cleanup often generated from those reviews
  • A dashboard that keeps you updated on your brand’s daily search results
  • Crafting a strategy for your business to encourage the best reviews possible
  • Creating and delivering a strong case on your behalf for negative review removal to the Yelp team

For pricing, you’ll have to contact them directly to get a quote. 

As with most ORMs, their prices change depending on the size of your business and the specific services you’re looking for.

Get in touch with Go Fish to get an initial quote. 

#2 – Reputation Rhino Review — The Best for Individuals and Small businesses

If you’re wondering who exactly needs reputation management, Reputation Rhino’s answer is ‘everyone.’ That’s why it’s the best ORM for solopreneurs and small businesses.

Reputation Rhino is a leading online reputation manager based in New York with clients like Disney, Microsoft, and Nestle. They offer a number of reputation solutions for almost any scenario imaginable, including ones that cater impressively to an individual and their personal brand.  

It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, university, hotel, or contractor, Reputation Rhino helps you with Glassdoor, Yelp, and YouTube review removals, social media management, and even an SEO strategy to put the best parts of your brand (or yourself) front and center. 

Do you have terrible images that need to get removed from Google? They can do that. Do you need to fight against libel and personal defamation? Their team of public relations specialists can do that, too. These are services an individual or small business may not know how to do or not have time to take care of.

Their best ORM services for individuals include:

  • A personalized strategy to defend against smear campaigns
  • Suppressing negative online search results
  • Adding an extra layer of protection to your personal privacy
  • Eliminating news articles, forum comments, and negative content

As an individual or SMB, you might be nervous about investing money into an ORM. To help, Reputation Rhino offers a 30-day money-back guarantee that can ease your worries about whether they’ll deliver. If you need a more personal approach to reputation management, Reputation Rhino is happy to work with you individually. 

Their pricing starts at $1,000. But you’ll have to contact them for a personalized package. 

Get started with Reputation Rhino and request more information.  

#3 – Reputation Resolutions Review — The Best for Crisis Management

Unlike other ORMs out there, Reputation Resolutions is the go-to agency for crisis management that can start working on your behalf in 24-72 hours.

A combination of their speedy response, team of attorneys, wide array of solutions, and seasoned professional team makes them the best ORM for enterprise-level reputation and crisis management. 

Maybe your business is an established corporation, but there’s been a sudden increase of negative reviews, you’re dealing with a handful of loud, angry customers online, or there is negative propaganda about you in the media. Ouch. Reputation Resolutions provides everything you need to turn a crisis around. 

Here’s a quick rundown of their top-tier crisis management features:

  • Cyber forensic investigation
  • News article removal
  • Court record removal
  • Thorough and ongoing reputation monitoring
  • Private information removal
  • Unwanted image removal

If you’re an smaller or mid-sized business looking for a management agency to simply take care of negative reviews, Reputation Solutions isn’t the agency for you. 

Alternatively, if you’re an established, well-known business in need of comprehensive PR management, attorneys, or copyright infringement services, then look no further than what Reputation Solutions can offer you. 

To get a pricing quote, email or call them for a free consultation, and they will learn more about you and tailor their services to your specific needs. 

#4 – Big Leap Review — The Best for SEO And Content Management

Big Leap’s ORM services are designed around one thing: content management. Their award-winning content marketing strategy centers around burying the negative and growing the positive.

This is fantastic news for you if you’re looking for an ORM that cares deeply about gaining customer trust through a long-term strategy. 

If your marketing strategy is mainly through content, you’re not as concerned about a sudden PR crisis, or Yelp reviews are mostly irrelevant to your sales success, then Big Leap’s trust-building approach can help you create results. 

They begin by scouring the internet for every mention of your business.  They do social media and search audits, along with a competitive analysis, to give them the bigger picture of where your reputation lies. 

Then they create a positive content strategy tailored specifically for you through brand-strengthening content and social media campaigns. As they execute their content strategy, Big Leap regularly reports back to you with updated results.

Some of their best ORM content management features include:

  • Brand name monitoring
  • Content strategy, creation, and promotion
  • Site optimization
  • Constant workflow updates on content strategy execution

Big Leap doesn’t list their prices publicly, but you can request a quote on their site. 

#4 – Podium Review — The Best for Instantly Generating Positive Reviews

Reputation management can be proactive or reactive. A lot of people think of this service as cleaning up bad reviews or navigating bad press. But a proactive approach focuses on generating high-quality customer reviews to keep your reputation sterling.

Podium is the best tool for doing that, because it is foremost a messaging platform that gets happy customers to leave Google and Facebook reviews through texting.

See, getting five-star feedback every time is a matter of striking while the iron is hot. With Podium, you can capitalize on positive customer interactions instantly, ending the conversation with a simple message and link.

As I said, Podium is foremost a messaging platform. Within it, you manage customer messages across several platforms—like Facebook messages and SMS—in one convenient interface. Podium throws in a free, textable business number for each of its clients.

That’s why the software is so effective at seizing upon opportunities to scoop up good reviews. You can respond to customers across all the major channels, so your team is always prompt to help. Then, they can finish with an invitation to review your company, complete with a short, safe link that will take the customer to any of your review pages.

So, maybe you’re interacting on Facebook Messenger, but you can point folks to review you on Angi or Capterra.

You can also use the software to set up a live chat widget on your websites to add another convenient channel for customer messaging. Plus, Podium’s paid plan allows you to generate and send customer surveys. That way you can get even more accurate data about what’s making your customers happy… and what isn’t.

Podium Starter is the way to try this platform out for free. It comes with the following essential features:

  • Reviews
  • Webchat
  • Unified messaging dashboard
  • Textable business number

Podium doesn’t have any set paid packages, but you can easily request a quote to get an idea of the cost and full feature set.

Don’t waste any more time chasing down customer reviews. Wield Podium and improve your reputation and overall messaging capabilities today.

What I Looked at to Find the Best Online Reputation Management

Unfortunately, there isn’t a singular “best” reputation manager that fits every business like a glove. If there was, then this guide wouldn’t be necessary. 

Different ORMs cater to different services. This can mean some are better than others at crisis management, online monitoring, online review management, SEO focused branded content strategy, or even supplying attorneys to advocate on your behalf.

First, are you building a new online reputation from scratch? Maybe you’re trying to improve a negative reputation? Or are you being proactive and investing in maintaining a good one?

You have to determine where you are on your reputation management journey. Then you can think about a few factors that can refine your search even more.

Business Size and Type

Your company size generally correlates with the size of your reputation. Obviously, the bigger and more varied your sales channels, the more work you’ll have managing how you look online.  

Your business’s size can also dictate the amount you’ll want to invest in ORM services. Some questions to consider are: What is your estimated current business reach? What types of distribution channels do you sell through or publish content on? Are you a service-based business, an organization, or an e-commerce store?

When choosing the best ORM for you, these are some key questions to consider before moving forward. If your business isn’t a complex enterprise, you won’t need a costly ORM that specializes in litigation, video removal, or a team of expert attorneys. 

Marketing Strategy

Your marketing strategy also determines the type of online reputation management you need. 

Do you primarily sell via a content creation strategy? Do you sell on multiple e-commerce platforms? Is your business big enough that it sells through on-air advertising? Do you already have a strong social media presence that drives sales?

Go Fish is a great choice if you want to manage reviews, whereas Big Leap is going to be more effective for managing content. Which is more important for your business’s reputation?

Outlining how you primarily reach your customers will help you narrow down your search. If you don’t, it might affect how well your ORM can deliver results. 

Long-Term Crisis Management

Think about the future of your business and its reputation. Sure, at some point you might need to put out a reputation fire that caught you by surprise ASAP. Or maybe you’re only getting started and want your name out there in the short-term in a positive light to drive more sales.

But do you have a long-term plan for managing reputation crises that will inevitably come up in the future?

This will determine which ORM can deliver on either your short-term or long-term goals. Each one is built differently to cater to your business goals, as we’ll see further in this guide.

Conclusion

You don’t have to suffer from a bad reputation that only seems to be out of your hands. There are plenty of agencies out there that can help lighten your reputation management load once you’ve reached out and established a relationship with them.

Here are all my top recommendations to get the help you need today:

  1. Go Fish Digital – The best for managing reviews 
  2. Reputation Rhino – The best for individuals and small businesses
  3. Reputation Resolutions – The best for crisis management
  4. Big Leap – The best for SEO and content management
  5. Podium – The best for instantly generating positive reviews

Online reputation management agencies can indeed offer a lot of the same services. But look closer to find what they specialize in. Hopefully, this in-depth guide helped shed light on which of the top ORMs can work for you.

Check out each agency on this list and get a quote from the one that fits you best to start managing your online reputation now. 

Consulting with Neil Patel

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  • SEO – unlock massive amounts of SEO traffic. See real results.
  • Content Marketing – our team creates epic content that will get shared, get links, and attract traffic.
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15 Best Bank Promotions of May 2021 (Get Up to $500 Cash)

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So, you’re looking for a new bank account.

You’ve got several factors to consider — ATM access, interest rates, monthly fees, minimum balances, mobile app reviews, and more.

Another factor to consider: bank promotions. These are cash bonuses you can earn when opening a new checking or savings account with a bank or credit union during the promotion window, meeting any specific criteria and keeping the account open at least long enough to earn the extra cash.

While a savings or checking bonus shouldn’t be your top reason to choose a bank, don’t rule it out entirely. After all, wouldn’t it be nice to fund your shiny new account with some extra cash?

Many banks offer such sign-up bonuses, but often, these bonuses aren’t advertised, meaning finding the best bank account bonuses can be tricky. That’s why we did some digging for you and found some hefty cash offers.

Best Bank Promotions of May 2021

We’ve researched the best cash bonuses available this month so you don’t have to. Below, you’ll find our favorite checking and savings account bonuses.

Keep an eye on what it takes to qualify, as well as any limitations. Direct deposit and minimum balances are commonly factors in securing these bonuses. Also pay attention to any monthly fees the account might carry; over time, these could weigh out the actual cash bonus. Otherwise, happy bank bonus shopping!

1. Aspiration Account: $150

Bonus amount: $150

How to get the bonus: To earn your $150, here’s all you need to do: Open your Aspiration account and deposit at least $10. Aspiration will send you a debit card associated with the account. Use the Aspiration debit card to make at least $1,000 of cumulative transactions within the first 60 days of opening your account. There’s no need to spend extra money — just use your card to buy groceries and pay your utilities.

Where to sign up: Enter your email address here, and link your bank account.

When you’ll get the bonus: Allow up to 120 calendar days from account opening to receive the bonus; you must have completed the requirements within the first 60 days.

The fine print: With Aspiration, your money is FDIC insured and under a military-grade encryption. The account offers up to 1.00% APY on savings and allows fee-free withdrawals at more than 55,000 ATMs. There are no hidden fees with Aspiration (monthly fees are on a “Pay What is Fair” policy, and that can be zero every month!), and you’ll earn cash back when you spend at socially conscious businesses (up to 5%).

No offer expiration.

2. Aspiration Plus Account: $200

Bonus amount: $200

How to get the bonus: To earn your $200, here’s all you need to do: Open your Aspiration Plus account during signup or within the first 60 days of enrollment in the regular Aspiration Account. Deposit at least $10. Aspiration will send you a debit card associated with the account. Use the Aspiration debit card to make at least $1,000 of cumulative transactions within the first 60 days of opening your account. There’s no need to spend extra money — just use your card to buy groceries and pay your utilities.

Where to sign up: Enter your email address here, and link your bank account.

When you’ll get the bonus: Allow up to 120 calendar days from account opening to receive the bonus; you must have completed the requirements within the first 60 days.

The fine print: With Aspiration, your money is FDIC insured and under a military-grade encryption. The account offers up to 1.00% APY on savings and allows fee-free withdrawals at more than 55,000 ATMs. Unlike the typical Aspiration Account, there is a $15/month fee (or $12.50/month if you pay annually). However, you’ll earn more cash back when you spend at socially conscious businesses (up to 10%), get monthly out-of-network ATM reimbursement and receive carbon offsets for all gas purchases.

No offer expiration.

3. TD Bank Beyond Checking Account: $300

Bonus amount: $300

How to get the bonus: Open a new TD Beyond Checking account. You must receive a total of $2,500 or more via direct deposit within 60 days of opening your new account.

Where to sign up: Visit this TD Checking page. Click the orange “open account” button, and follow the instructions to open a TD Beyond Checking account.

When you’ll get the bonus: The $300 bonus will be deposited into your account within 140 days of opening.

The fine print: While this bonus offer sounds too good to be true, it is definitely attainable. However, only open the account if you regularly get sizable monthly deposits or can maintain a healthy minimum balance. That’s because the account charges a monthly maintenance fee, but TD will waive the fee if you receive monthly direct deposits of $5,000, keep a minimum daily balance of $2,500 or maintain a combined balance across all your TD bank accounts of a whopping $25,000.

TD fees—and the bank’s capacity for waiving them—extend to ATMs. You won’t face fees for making withdrawals at TD’s own ATMs, and it’ll reimburse all fees for withdrawing at non-TD ATMs as long as you keep your daily balance at $2,500 or more.

No offer expiration.

4. TD Bank Convenience Checking Account: $150

Bonus amount: $150

How to get the bonus: Open a new TD Convenience Checking account. You must receive a total of $500 or more via direct deposit within 60 days of opening your new account.

Where to sign up: Visit this TD Checking page. Click the orange “open account” button, and follow the instructions to open a TD Beyond Checking account.

When you’ll get the bonus: The $150 bonus will be deposited into your account within 140 days of opening.

The fine print: While this bonus offer sounds too good to be true, it is definitely attainable. Unlike the TD Bank Beyond Checking account, this checking account option is easier for financial beginners to manage. You only need to maintain a minimum balance of $100 to have the monthly maintenance fee waived. And if you are between the age of 17 and 23, there are no minimum balance requirements and no monthly maintenance fee.

However, the Convenience Checking account does not earn interest; the Beyond Checking account does.

No offer expiration.

A woman uses an ATM on a city street.

5. Bank of America Advantage Banking Account: $100

Bonus amount: $100

How to get the bonus: Open a new Bank of American Advantage Banking account online using the offer code DOC100CIS. You must then set up and receive two qualifying direct deposits, each totaling $250 or more, within 90 days of opening the new account. This offer is only available to new Bank of America personal checking account customers.

Where to sign up: Visit the offer page and use the offer code DOC100CIS when opening the account.

When you’ll get the bonus: Bank of America promises to “attempt” to deposit the bonus into the account within 60 days of satisfying all requirements. Though the “attempt” disclosure seems a little suspect, we could not find traces of reviews citing unpaid bonuses.

The fine print: A qualifying direct deposit means the direct deposit must be regular monthly income, whether through salary, pension or Social Security benefits. Deposits through wire transfer, apps like Venmo or ATM transfers will not qualify.

Advantage Banking accounts come in three varieties: SafeBalance, Plus and Relationship. All three carry monthly maintenance fees that can be waived:

  • To waive the SafeBalance monthly maintenance fee of $4.95, enroll in Preferred Rewards.
  • To waive the Plus monthly maintenance fee of $12, receive a qualifying minimum direct deposit, maintain minimum daily balance requirements or enroll in Preferred Rewards.
  • To waive the Relationship monthly maintenance fee of $25, maintain the minimum combined balance in all linked accounts or enroll in Preferred Rewards.

Offer expires June 30, 2021.

6. Associated Bank Access Checking Account: Up to $500

Bonus amount: Up to $500

How to get the bonus: Open a new Associated Access Checking account with a minimum deposit of $25 and receive direct deposits totaling at least $500 within 90 days of opening your account. Bonus values will vary based on the sum of the average daily balance of all Associated Bank deposit accounts from days 61 to 90:

  • Average daily balances of $1,000 to $4,999.99 will earn a $200 bonus.
  • Average daily balances of $5,000 to $9,999.999 will earn a $300 bonus.
  • Average daily balances of $10,000 or more will earn a $500 bonus.

Where to sign up: Visit this Associated Bank account sign-up page and select the appropriate account.

When you’ll get the bonus: You will receive the bonus as a deposit to your account within 120 days of account opening.

The fine print: Must be a new Associated Access Checking customer. If easy access to a physical branch is important to you, note that the bank has locations in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, but members have free access to MoneyPass ATMs nationwide. Account must remain open for a minimum of 12 months; if you close it early, Associated Bank reserves the right to deduct the paid out bonus before account closure.

The account requires a minimum deposit of $25, charges $4 a month if you require paper statements and does not earn interest.

Offer expires May 31, 2021.

7. Associated Bank Balanced Checking Account: Up to $500

Bonus amount: Up to $500

How to get the bonus: Open a new Associated Balanced Checking account with a minimum deposit of $100 and receive direct deposits totaling at least $500 within 90 days of opening your account. Bonus values will vary based on the sum of the average daily balance of all Associated Bank deposit accounts from days 61 to 90:

  • Average daily balances of $1,000 to $4,999.99 will earn a $200 bonus.
  • Average daily balances of $5,000 to $9,999.999 will earn a $300 bonus.
  • Average daily balances of $10,000 or more will earn a $500 bonus.

Where to sign up: Visit this Associated Bank account sign-up page and select the appropriate account.

When you’ll get the bonus: You will receive the bonus as a deposit to your account within 120 days of account opening.

The fine print: Must be a new Associated Balanced Checking customer. If easy access to a physical branch is important to you, note that the bank has locations in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, but members have free access to MoneyPass ATMs nationwide. Account must remain open for a minimum of 12 months; if you close it early, Associated Bank reserves the right to deduct the paid out bonus before account closure.

The account requires a minimum deposit of $100 and does not earn interest.

Offer expires May 31, 2021.

8. Associated Bank Choice Checking Account: Up to $500

Bonus amount: Up to $500

How to get the bonus: Open a new Associated Choice Checking account with a minimum deposit of $100 and receive direct deposits totaling at least $500 within 90 days of opening your account. Bonus values will vary based on the sum of the average daily balance of all Associated Bank deposit accounts from days 61 to 90:

  • Average daily balances of $1,000 to $4,999.99 will earn a $200 bonus.
  • Average daily balances of $5,000 to $9,999.999 will earn a $300 bonus.
  • Average daily balances of $10,000 or more will earn a $500 bonus.

Where to sign up: Visit this Associated Bank account sign-up page and select the appropriate account.

When you’ll get the bonus: You will receive the bonus as a deposit to your account within 120 days of account opening.

The fine print: Must be a new Associated Choice Checking customer. If easy access to a physical branch is important to you, note that the bank has locations in Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin, but members have free access to MoneyPass ATMs nationwide. Account must remain open for a minimum of 12 months; if you close it early, Associated Bank reserves the right to deduct the paid out bonus before account closure.

The account requires a minimum deposit of $100. This account is the only Associated option that earns interest and offers complimentary checks.

Offer expires May 31, 2021.

9. Citizens Bank Student Checking Account: Up to $400

Bonus amount: Up to $400

How to get the bonus: Open a new Student Checking account with Citizens Bank. Receive a direct deposit of $500 or more within the first 60 days to earn a $300 bonus.

Earn an additional $2 for every debit card purchase you make within the first 60 days, up to $100 total rewards (50 purchases).

Where to sign up: Visit this promotional page for Citizens Bank and choose “Open Your Account” button for the Student Checking account. The promotion only applies when opening the account via this page.

When you’ll get the bonus: If you open the account this month (May 2021), your bonus will be paid by September 30, 2021.

The fine print: Cannot have had a Citizens Bank account in the six months prior. Qualifying debit card transactions must be in person, on an app or on a merchant site; online bill payments and ATM payments do not qualify. While the account advertises a $0 monthly maintenance fee, you must be under 25 for this to apply. This account does not offer an APY.

Offer expires May 13, 2021.

Two women smile and laugh as they look at their computer.

10. Citizens Bank One Deposit Checking from Citizens: Up to $400

Bonus amount: Up to $400

How to get the bonus: Open a new One Deposit Checking from Citizens. Receive a direct deposit of $500 or more within the first 60 days to earn a $300 bonus.

Earn an additional $2 for every debit card purchase you make within the first 60 days, up to $100 total rewards (50 purchases).

Where to sign up: Visit this promotional page for Citizens Bank and choose “Open Your Account” button for One Deposit Checking from Citizens. The promotion only applies when opening the account via this page.

When you’ll get the bonus: If you open the account this month (May 2021), your bonus will be paid by September 30, 2021.

The fine print: Cannot have had a Citizens Bank account in the six months prior. Qualifying debit card transactions must be in person, on an app or on a merchant site; online bill payments and ATM payments do not qualify. There is a monthly maintenance fee of $9.99; to waive it, make one deposit each statement period. This account does not offer an APY.

Offer expires May 13, 2021.

11. Citizens Bank Platinum Checking: Up to $400

Bonus amount: Up to $400

How to get the bonus: Open a new Citizens Platinum Checking account. Receive a direct deposit of $500 or more within the first 60 days to earn a $300 bonus.

Earn an additional $2 for every debit card purchase you make within the first 60 days, up to $100 total rewards (50 purchases).

Where to sign up: Visit this promotional page for Citizens Bank and choose “Open Your Account” button for the Platinum Checking account. The promotion only applies when opening the account via this page.

When you’ll get the bonus: If you open the account this month (May 2021), your bonus will be paid by September 30, 2021.

The fine print: Cannot have had a Citizens Bank account in the six months prior. Qualifying debit card transactions must be in person, on an app or on a merchant site; online bill payments and ATM payments do not qualify. There is a monthly maintenance fee of $25; to waive it, you must have a combined monthly balance (across all Citizens deposit and investment accounts) of $25,000 or more. This account offers an APY with a variable rate, but it is quite low compared to typical online bank APYs.

Offer expires May 13, 2021.

12. Citizens Bank Platinum Plus Checking: Up to $400

Bonus amount: Up to $400

How to get the bonus: Open a new Citizens Platinum Plus Checking account. Receive a direct deposit of $500 or more within the first 60 days to earn a $300 bonus.

Earn an additional $2 for every debit card purchase you make within the first 60 days, up to $100 total rewards (50 purchases).

Where to sign up: Visit this promotional page for Citizens Bank and choose “Open Your Account” button for the Platinum Plus Checking account. The promotion only applies when opening the account via this page.

When you’ll get the bonus: If you open the account this month (May 2021), your bonus will be paid by September 30, 2021.

The fine print: Cannot have had a Citizens Bank account in the six months prior. Qualifying debit card transactions must be in person, on an app or on a merchant site; online bill payments and ATM payments do not qualify. There is a monthly maintenance fee of $25; to waive it, you must have a combined monthly balance (across all Citizens deposit and investment accounts) of $25,000 or more and make a deposit of at least $5,000 in your checking account each statement period OR maintain an average daily balance in the checking account of $10,000 or more. This account offers an APY with a variable rate, but it is quite low compared to typical online bank APYs.

Offer expires May 13, 2021.

13. PNC Virtual Wallet Account: $50

Bonus amount: $50

How to get the bonus: Open a new PNC Virtual Wallet account online or in a branch. Receive qualifying direct deposits of $500 within the first 60 days.

Where to sign up: Visit this promotional page for PNC and choose “Apply Now” for the Virtual Wallet account (either with Spend, Reserve and Growth or just Spend).

When you’ll get the bonus: After meeting the bonus criteria, you will receive the bonus (labeled “Cash Trans Promo Reward” on your monthly statement) within 60 to 90 days.

The fine print: Cannot have a current PNC account or have closed an account within the previous 90 days. Qualifying direct deposits include paychecks, Social Security, pension or other recurring monthly income that is electronically deposited by your employer or an outside agency into your account. The account carries a $7 monthly service charge that can be waived if 1) you have $500 or more in monthly direct deposits in the associated Spend account, 2) you maintain $500 or more between associated Spend and Reserve accounts, or 3) are 62 or older. This account does not earn interest.

Offer expires June 30, 2021.

14. PNC Virtual Wallet with Performance Spend Account: $200

Bonus amount: $200

How to get the bonus: Open a new PNC Virtual Wallet with a Performance Spend account online or in a branch. Receive qualifying direct deposits of $2,000 within the first 60 days.

Where to sign up: Visit this promotional page for PNC and choose “Apply Now” for the Virtual Wallet with Performance Spend account (either with Spend, Reserve and Growth or just Spend).

When you’ll get the bonus: After meeting the bonus criteria, you will receive the bonus (labeled “Cash Trans Promo Reward” on your monthly statement) within 60 to 90 days.

The fine print: Cannot have a current PNC account or have closed an account within the previous 90 days. Qualifying direct deposits include paychecks, Social Security, pension or other recurring monthly income that is electronically deposited by your employer or an outside agency into your account. The account carries a $15 monthly service charge that can be waived if 1) you have $2,000 or more in monthly direct deposits in the associated Spend account, 2) you maintain $2,000 or more between associated Spend and Reserve accounts, or 3) have at least $10,000 across all consumer PNC accounts.

Offer expires June 30, 2021.

15. PNC Virtual Wallet with Performance Select Account: $300

Bonus amount: $300

How to get the bonus: Open a new PNC Virtual Wallet with Performance Select account online or in a branch. Make qualifying direct deposits of $5,000 within the first 60 days.

Where to sign up: Visit this promotional page for PNC and choose “Apply Now” for the Virtual Wallet with Performance Select account (either with Spend, Reserve and Growth or just Spend).

When you’ll get the bonus: After meeting the bonus criteria, you will receive the bonus (labeled “Cash Trans Promo Reward” on your monthly statement) within 60 to 90 days.

The fine print: Cannot have a current PNC account or have closed an account within the previous 90 days. Qualifying direct deposits include paychecks, Social Security, pension or other recurring monthly income that is electronically deposited by your employer or an outside agency into your account. The account carries a $25 monthly service charge that can be waived if 1) you have $5,000 or more in monthly direct deposits in the associated Spend account, 2) you maintain $5,000 or more between associated Spend and Reserve accounts, or 3) have at least $25,000 across all consumer PNC accounts.

Offer expires June 30, 2021.

A family spend time together in bed.

How to Search for Bank Bonuses on Your Own

In the spirit of not listing approximately 193 bank promotions, we kept this list short and sweet — only highlighting the best bank promotions for checking and savings accounts.

But maybe you’re interested in banking with your local credit union, opening up a small business checking account or finding the perfect investment account? There are often bonus offers attached to these account openings, too.

The banks don’t always make finding these promotions easy, so here are a few tips to help you get your hands on that cash bonus.

  • Check the bank’s website first. Sometimes it’ll advertise its promotions right there. This is rare, but it’s worth a quick check — it could save you a ton of time.
  • If you don’t have any luck, reach out to the bank’s customer service team through phone, email or chat. Let them know you’re shopping for a new account, and you’d like to know if it’s running any promotions. More often than not, the nice representative will send you a special link.
  • If this doesn’t work, turn to your trusty friend Google. Look for the best bank account bonuses. Because you’ll likely dig up some offers from third-party sites, you’ll want to take a few minutes to make sure the offer:
  • Hasn’t expired.
  • Is legitimate. Make sure the bank is FDIC-insured and has a positive Better Business Bureau rating. You can even read some online reviews.
  • Doesn’t require outrageous qualifying activities. For example, it might not be realistic for you to maintain an average daily balance of $50,000 and carry out 60 qualifying debit card purchases or receive five direct deposits before the end of your first 30-day statement cycle.
  • You can also reach out to your family, friends and social network to crowdsource bank recommendations. Sometimes banks have impressive referral programs, so both you and your friend could benefit from you signing up.

Overall, be smart. Don’t let that promise of an account bonus blind you. Also, read the fine print so you don’t get stuck paying high monthly fees, interest rates or closing penalties.

Will Opening a Bank Account Hurt Your Credit Score?

If you’re worried that opening a new bank account or closing an old one will hurt your credit score, don’t be. Your bank accounts are not included in your credit report and therefore have no effect on your credit score, unless you have an outstanding negative balance that the bank turns over to a collection agency.

Sometimes when you go to open a new bank account, banks will do a soft credit check. However, that won’t affect your credit score.

Now, go enjoy your fresh new bank account and that nice cash bonus you’re about to pocket. Add it to your savings account, put it toward student loan payments or, heck, treat yourself!

Editorial Disclosure: This content is not provided by the bank advertiser. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank advertiser. This site may be compensated through the bank advertiser Affiliate Program.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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