Smart Money Podcast: Fed News, and Choosing a New Bank

Smart Money Podcast: Fed News, And Choosing A New Bank
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Welcome to NerdWallet’s Smart Money podcast, where we answer your real-world money questions.

This week’s episode starts with a discussion about the Fed’s most recent interest rate hike.

Then we pivot to this week’s money question from Mel in Maryland, who wrote this email:

“Hey Nerds, I’d like your advice on banking. I’ve been with my bank for decades, but I’m not sure it’s the best fit for me. I’m considering finding a new bank, especially because I know it’s time to find a good high-yield savings account. What should I be looking for? Is it better to keep your long-term savings in another bank so it’s not as easy to access and just have direct deposit? Is it better to have all of your accounts in one place? If high-yield savings account rates can vary, what other things should I be considering in finding a bank solution that works for me and my family? Any help is appreciated.”

Check out this episode on any of these platforms:

Our take on the Fed news

On Sept. 21, the Federal Reserve raised the federal funds target rate by 0.75 percentage point — the fifth such hike in 2022 — in its continued effort to tamp down inflation. Higher interest rates make borrowing more expensive, which the Fed hopes will dissuade people from spending and borrowing.

Additionally, car loans have gotten pricier, and mortgages have become more costly, shutting some consumers out of the market. Credit card debt is also a burden; the average interest rate was 18% as of September 2022. To alleviate the pinch, avoid carrying a balance, if possible. If you already have credit card debt, consider moving it to a balance transfer credit card.

Higher interest rates are good news for those with savings accounts, and especially high-yield savings accounts that you might have with an online credit union or bank.

Our take on switching banks and high-yield savings accounts

It’s not uncommon to find online banks offering an annual percentage yield, or APY, of 2% or more, so if you’re looking to change banks or open a new high-yield savings account, now could be a good time. Online banks typically don’t charge monthly fees or require a minimum balance, which is another reason to give them a look when shopping for a new bank.

However, don’t feel pressure to open a new account. Keeping up with money, especially when it is spread across several banks, takes time and discipline. If you want to create savings buckets for different savings goals — such as car maintenance or pet care — the bank you already have may allow you to do so. It’s possible to have multiple checking and savings accounts within just one bank, which may make managing your money easier.

Having accounts with different banks has its advantages for those who are confident in their ability to oversee them all. Putting money in an online bank, separate from the checking account you use for everyday spending, can be a guardrail against overspending. The money is harder to access — transfers to and from different banks can take a few business days — so you’ll be less likely to touch that precious emergency fund unless absolutely necessary.

Our tips

  1. Shop now. Rising interest rates mean you could earn significantly more from a high-yield savings account.
  2. Saving doesn’t have to cost you. The best savings accounts have high rates and either waived or no service fees.
  3. You don’t have to choose. If you open a new savings account, you don’t have to close your old account immediately — or ever.

Have a money question? Text or call us at 901-730-6373. Or you can email us at podcast@nerdwallet.com. To hear previous episodes, go to the podcast homepage.

Episode transcript

Sean Pyles: The Fed and its interest rate hikes have been in the news a lot lately, but decoding what it means for you and various aspects of your finances isn’t always easy. And that’s where we come in.

Liz Weston: Welcome to the NerdWallet Smart Money podcast, where you send us your money questions and we answer them with the help of our genius Nerds. I’m Liz Weston.

Sean Pyles: And I’m Sean Pyles. If you want the Nerds to answer your money question, call or text us on the Nerd hotline at 901-730-6373. That’s 901-730-NERD. Or email us at podcast@nerdwallet.com. Subscribe to get new episodes in your feed every Monday. And if you like what you hear, please leave us a review and tell a friend.

Liz Weston: In this episode, we’re answering a listener’s question about switching banks, including how to find the best bank for your needs. But first, in our This Week in Your Money segment, we’re talking about how the recent Fed rate hike could impact different parts of your financial life.

Sean Pyles: We’ll also touch on whether a recession is on the horizon. So at the Fed’s latest meeting, they increased the benchmark interest rate to 3.25%, and that is the highest it’s been in 14 years. Before we talk about how this could affect various aspects of your financial life, I want to talk quickly about what the Fed is and what it does, because I think a lot of folks may not know about this, even though it’s been in the news so much lately.

So very quickly, the Federal Reserve System is the central bank of the U.S. and their job is to ensure the stability of the economy through, among other things, setting monetary policy.

Liz Weston: And that basically means what rate banks can lend each other money, among other things.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. And lately inflation has thrown off the balance that the Fed strives for, so it’s trying to tip the scales in the other direction using one of its tools — a fairly blunt one — raising something called the federal funds target rate. And so basically, after running through the Rube Goldberg machinery of the economy, raising this rate ends up making other interest rates across the economy higher.

Liz Weston: Yes. And the reason they’re raising rates is to discourage people from borrowing money and slow down economic activity. If something becomes more expensive, people tend to do less of it, and so that’s the way that the Fed is trying to manipulate the economy.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. And in recent meetings, Chairman Powell has said that he’s basically going to cause some pain for regular folks in the economy. He has said in so many words that he wants wages to stay the same or go down at the same time that prices are really high, and so it’s basically going to make managing money and using it, borrowing it, a lot less fun than it was a year ago.

Liz Weston: Yeah. And the idea is there’s simply too much money floating around in the economy. It’s overheating, and what they’re really trying to avoid is this mindset setting in — which set in in the ’70s and the early ’80s — which is inflation is a permanent part of life. And actually just that attitude can cause more inflation because people are thinking, “Whatever I’m going to buy is just going to be more expensive in the future, so I’m going to buy it now.” And again, all that demand starts feeding into the inflationary cycle and just makes it worse and worse and worse.

Sean Pyles: Right. Whereas if folks think this will just be a short-term issue, that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy in its own right, and that can help slow down inflation actually.

Liz Weston: Yeah, it’s really weird how much of this is psychological. You think everything the Fed does is going to be nuts and bolts kind of monetary stuff, but really how we feel about it and the actions we take based on our psychology and the psychology of money play a big part in this.

Sean Pyles: Yeah, it turns out money is just a big societal group delusion, so.

Liz Weston: Yes, it is.

Sean Pyles: Well, speaking of group delusions, let’s talk about the stock market because the stock market is …

Liz Weston: Nice transition. Oh, I love that.

Sean Pyles: Thank you. Because the stock market has not been having a good time as a result of these increases in interest rates. So typically, higher interest rates can mean the cost of doing business is more expensive. That can lead to lower revenues and profits, which slows growth, and that’s something that makes the stock market very sad.

Liz Weston: Yes. And higher interest rates are typically not good for bonds. If you have investments, then you’re seeing this in both sides of your portfolio.

Sean Pyles: And we’re going to continue to feel the pain that the stock market’s feeling in our own personal portfolios, so my piece of advice is remember that investing is a long-term goal. There will be ups and downs, so the best thing that most folks can do, according to financial advisors, is ride this out and check on your asset allocation.

Liz Weston: Yes, I have been ignoring my retirement account because I just don’t want to see it right now.

Sean Pyles: Yeah, same. Well, I also want to talk really quickly about crypto because earlier this year it was in the news a lot, but we haven’t heard about it so much lately. And as of this recording, one Bitcoin is valued under $20,000, and that is down from a high of over $65,000. So, it looks like people are fleeing to more secure and less speculative investments.

Liz Weston: I hate to see this, but on the other hand, maybe it’s a little bit healthy because crypto was just going nuts, and people had this idea it would never go down, and yeah, not true. It’s much more volatile even than the stock market, so maybe we had to go through this for people to get that lesson.

Sean Pyles: Well, the crypto market hadn’t been through a tough economic time like this before, so now we’re really seeing how the crypto market plays out when things are a little bit less stable.

Liz Weston: Well, maybe we should talk about what the rate hikes mean for our savings accounts. Higher interest rates basically mean the annual percentage yield, or APY, on savings accounts go up, and in fact, they’re at their highest in recent years, especially high-yield savings accounts.

One thing I will note though is that rates tend to go up slower for savings than they do for borrowing, so it’s taken a while for these rate hikes to work their way through. Yields on certificates of deposit and money market accounts have also gone up, but these investments or these places to park your money are not going to keep up with inflation. If you add in inflation and taxes, basically your savings is losing ground over time. Your buying power is eroding over time. However, you can get a much better deal with a high-yield savings account than you can from a standard brick-and-mortar savings account, so it’s definitely worth shopping around and getting your money into something that’s giving you a better return.

Sean Pyles: And as we’ll talk about a little bit later, now is a really good time to increase your savings if you have the means to do so.

Liz Weston: Yeah, because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future with the economy.

Sean Pyles: Right. I also want to talk about what higher interest rates mean for debt. Basically, debt is getting more expensive. The average interest rate on a credit card is now around 18% as of this recording. That’s also the highest in many years. And rate hikes can mean even higher interest rates on credit cards, and that’s usually reflected in a billing cycle or two, so it happens quite quickly.

Auto loans are also likely to get more expensive. We’ve seen that happen lately. And variable rate debt, like on a HELOC or a mortgage without a fixed interest rate, will get more expensive, too. So if you can right now, I would say focus on paying down expensive variable rate debt like credit card debt. Think about consolidating debt if you have it, like if you have multiple different credit cards that have pretty high interest rates. Consider looking into a personal loan to see if you can get all of this bundled into one with a lower interest rate. And as I always like to mention, talk to a credit counselor because they can give you free budgeting help as well.

Liz Weston: Yes. And I just had a conversation this weekend with a relative and we were talking about the federal rate hikes, and the first place he went was mortgage rates, that mortgage was getting more expensive for home buyers. There’s not a direct correlation, but there is a correlation there.

Sean Pyles: And that’s one of the most common misconceptions. People think that when the Fed raises their rates, that means that mortgages will also get more expensive because of that, and the answer is like yes and no. It’s not a direct connection, but as we’ve seen lately, interest rates on 15- and 30-year mortgages are at their highest since 2008. We saw them at over 6% in September.

Liz Weston: Ouch, which is making home buying a lot more expensive, knocking home buyers out of the market, and you’re seeing a lot of once super hot markets cool down a bit.

Sean Pyles: Yeah. But the trade-off is if you are dedicated to buying a house right now, you are likely to see less competition, and houses themselves might get a little bit less expensive than they were a year ago. Even though, again, with that high interest rate, you’re going to be paying more for it.

Liz Weston: The other thing you’re going to hear about is recession — that these higher interest rates are going to slow down economic activity so much that we go into a recession, which is where the economy actually shrinks rather than continuing to grow.

Sean Pyles: And reading between the lines of the latest Fed meeting, it does seem like they think a recession is increasingly likely. We haven’t really heard much about that soft landing lately. Unemployment is likely to increase going into next year, according to the Fed, and now is a really good time to shore up your finances in the event that there is actually a recession.

Liz Weston: And that means building up your savings, paying down or consolidating debt and continuing to take steps to trim your expenses.

Sean Pyles: Right. There’s only so much we can control in our financial lives, but I would say make the most of the time we have right now before we’re actually fully in a recession, or at least in an official recession, so really build up your savings if you can. That will give you more flexibility in the event that you are laid off. Try to make the debt that you do have more affordable so it fits within your budget, and try to generally wage your way through the inflation that we’ve been seeing by shopping at places that might be less expensive.

Well, I think that covers it for now. Let’s get onto this episode’s Money Question segment.

Liz Weston: All right, good.

Sean Pyles: This episode’s money question comes from Mel in Maryland who sent us an email. They wrote, “Hey Nerds, I’d like your advice on banking. I’ve been with my bank for decades, but I’m not sure it’s the best fit for me. I’m considering finding a new bank, especially because I know it’s time to find a good high-yield savings account. What should I be looking for? Is it better to keep your long-term savings in another bank so it’s not as easy to access and just have direct deposit? Is it better to have all of your accounts in one place? If high-yield savings account rates can vary, what other things should I be considering in finding a bank solution that works for me and my family? Any help is appreciated.”

Liz Weston: To help us answer Mel’s question on this episode of the podcast, we’re joined by banking Nerd Margarette Burnette. Welcome back to Smart Money, Margarette.

Margarette Burnette: Hi. Thank you for having me. I’m glad to be back.

Sean Pyles: Margarette, over the past few years, high-yield savings account has been kind of a misnomer, but that is starting to change thankfully. What kinds of rates can folks expect if they shop around, and what sort of banks offer these good rates?

Margarette Burnette: OK, yes, that’s very true. But rates are increasing, and these days you can find rates, APYs, annual percentage rates above 2%. So say you have $5,000 in a savings account that earns 2% APY. After a year, that would earn just over $100.

Sean Pyles: Not bad.

Margarette Burnette: So yeah, the national average is 0.13%.

Sean Pyles: Oh, wow. Yeah.

Margarette Burnette: So if you put in that number, it would earn about $5.

Liz Weston: Oh, OK.

Sean Pyles: That’s a tremendous difference.

Margarette Burnette: NerdWallet has a savings calculator that you can plug in numbers just to see what different amounts can earn at different rates over time.

Sean Pyles: OK. And are we expecting to see rates climb maybe even above 2%, because that’s what it is as we’re recording this right now, but maybe in a couple months, could it be higher?

Margarette Burnette: It’s very possible. A lot of it is tied to the Fed rates, and if those rates increase, then you could probably expect to see APYs and some of the top savings rates increase as well.

Liz Weston: OK. We need to say the obvious, which is these are much better rates than they used to be and they’re worth shopping around to find them, but they’re still trailing inflation. So, you don’t want to put all your money in a savings account because you’re losing ground, but you still need to have money in an emergency fund — other places where it’s liquid and accessible — and that’s where a high-yield account can be really, really helpful. But is it just online banks that offer the best rates? Can you find good rates at, say, credit unions?

Margarette Burnette: Well, online banks do have an advantage because they don’t have some of the same expenses as traditional banks, and even credit unions, in that they’re paying for brick-and-mortar branches. So you do see that online banks tend to pass that savings on to customers in the form of higher rates. Some credit unions do have rates that are better than those that are offered by the biggest banks that are out there, but because of the expenses that the credit unions have and having to pay for branches, many of them still have low rates.

Sean Pyles: Got it. Our listener asked whether it’s better to keep all of your bank accounts in one place. Can you talk about the advantages and disadvantages of a savings account that’s at a different bank than your checking account, and how do you handle that personally?

Margarette Burnette: The number one advantage is that you are earning the highest possible rate. I’ve found that as rates increase, these high-yield accounts are also more likely to automatically increase their rates, too. So, you could be earning more just for looking around one time and putting your account there.

Another advantage may be just kind of behavioral. If your money is in savings, it’s out of sight, out of mind, so you may be less likely to overspend it or splurge it if it’s not right there, very easily accessible. In addition, with features like direct deposit and automatic transfers, you can make saving be automatic. So you set it up and you forget it, and then it doesn’t really matter as much whether the account is in one bank or in two banks because the savings is automatic.

Likewise, though, there are some disadvantages. So it takes time to set up. It takes time to set up those automatic transfers. And there is the fact that you have an additional account to keep track of. So, you do have to keep that in mind if you’re willing to do that. In addition, some online savings accounts might not come with an ATM card, so if you need to withdraw funds, you have to set up a transfer or maybe get a wire transfer.

Sean Pyles: Right. See, for me, I actually view that aspect of it as a potential advantage because it’s a little bit harder to pull out savings in a pinch, and you can get it if you need it, but you’re less likely to do an impulse withdraw because you can’t physically get it as easily as maybe from your checking account.

Liz Weston: Yeah, because it takes a couple days for the money to go back and forth.

Sean Pyles: Mm-hmm.

Margarette Burnette: Yes, exactly. So you have to decide for yourself if that’s an advantage or a disadvantage. Once again, savings out of sight, out of mind, you’re less likely to overspend. So for me, personally, I do have separate high-yield savings accounts for emergencies than where I keep my regular checking account. So for me, it’s worth it. Again, once you do the set it and forget it, it makes it a lot easier to save.

Sean Pyles: Right. And Liz, I know you and I are huge proponents of savings buckets.

Liz Weston: Yes.

Sean Pyles: Can you tell me how many accounts you have right now?

Liz Weston: I have lost track. I think it’s around 10. My bank allows me to put labels on each of these. They call them savings sub-accounts. So, I have a certain amount for property taxes, life insurance, the holidays, and vacations, clothing. I also have an “oops fund,” which is where I get some sort of stupid charge, like I don’t know, a parking ticket. It comes out of the “oops fund.” Makes me feel better.

Sean Pyles: I like that name for it.

Liz Weston: Yeah. Well, they wouldn’t let me use my first choice, which was like, “Oh blank,” so that was my second choice. Anyway, it really helps to have those because mentally I’ve got the money accounted for and I won’t go dipping into something that’s intended for another purpose. It really helps me make sure that the money is there when I need it for the purposes that I set up. And Sean, you have something similar, right?

Sean Pyles: Yeah. I was wondering whether I had surpassed you in terms of number of accounts, but you still have me beat. I have eight different accounts right now, and that’s across three different banks. I have accounts at one bank that I’ve had since high school where I basically just pay my mom my cell phone bill from that — my portion of the cell phone bill — rather. And then I have five different accounts at an online bank that gives me a high yield, which I really appreciate, and I have many different savings goals within that.

So one is for a fence. I’ve been saving up for this for probably a year and a half at this point. And then I have my emergency fund in there. I have my version of the “oops fund,” which is just called “life happens,” and then I have also a car fund in there, which will be for future car maintenance or maybe even a down payment on a future car. But then when it comes to day-to-day spending, I use my checking account at my local credit union.

Liz Weston: And for people who aren’t familiar with online savings accounts, they typically don’t have minimums or account fees. You probably wouldn’t want to do this at a traditional brick-and-mortar bank because every new account you set up could cost you more money, but with these online accounts, it’s really easy to do and it doesn’t cost you a ton of money. In fact, it usually doesn’t cost you anything at all.

Margarette Burnette: Right. Exactly. And I’ll also say that I am a fan of savings buckets. I like them a lot, but I also tend to use mobile budgeting apps that can kind of help me divide some of the savings that way so that I don’t open as many. That’s just a personal preference though. Liz, you bring up a good point about how with the savings accounts, with online accounts, you don’t usually have minimums or monthly fees, so you can open up as many as you need, even if your financial institution doesn’t have savings sub-accounts or savings buckets.

Liz Weston: One more thing about having more accounts or we’re dealing with more banks, if you can keep track of all this money, that’s great and I feel pretty confident to do that now, but I know as we get older — really good idea to simplify and not have your accounts scattered everywhere. It’s just too easy to lose track. So if you’re heading towards retirement age, maybe think about consolidating your accounts at one bank. But it is fun when you’re younger to go after all the Bennys, sometimes you get paid extra, to open an account or you get a higher interest rate, whatever it is. So, as long as you can make it work, whatever you want to do is great.

Sean Pyles: I’ll say the same is true for those who are new to having online bank accounts. You can just start with one simple account, have your direct deposit set up so you’re building money over time, and then as you feel secure using a new bank like this, that’s when you can begin to open maybe a second or a third account for different savings goals as feels appropriate for you and your life goals.

Liz Weston: Yeah, good advice.

Sean Pyles: Margarette, how do folks go about opening a new account if they maybe haven’t done so recently?

Margarette Burnette: Opening an online account has an advantage because you don’t have to leave your home to establish one, but you will likely need your Social Security number or taxpayer identification number, and also information from another form of ID such as a driver’s license.

You submit the money in, and then you can expect to transfer that money in after the online account has been approved and opened. Before the financial institution opens an account, they will likely work with a third party to verify your identity and also look for fraud markers. We have heard from readers, unfortunately, who’ve had online accounts closed and they never understood why or their applications were not approved for being opened. Others have tried to open an account online at an institution that did have bank branches and they were asked to come by the branch to verify their identity or verify some information.

So, that is something to keep in mind as you seek to open the account. If everything goes well, then the account could be open and established within a matter of minutes or a couple of days. It may be difficult though to prove your identity if you don’t have a large banking history. So say you’re a teen and it’s your first account, or you’re a new citizen and you don’t have a long established banking history here. So those are some things to keep in mind.

Liz Weston: So Mel mentioned banking for themselves and their family. Are there any special considerations for family banking versus single people?

Margarette Burnette: Yes, there are some. You’ll want to check the bank’s policies about opening a joint account. Some savings accounts may not be able to be opened as joint accounts. You might just have to open one for yourselves.

Other institutions market specifically to kids, with their parents or guardians being the ones that open the account, and those particular savings accounts may also offer features such as budgeting applications that are kind of fun and tied into the account, or maybe even high teaser rates — a very high APY for, say, the first few hundred dollars that are saved in that account.

I will say that you don’t have to go to an account that’s marketed for kids or for couples. The best savings accounts, as we talked about earlier, tend to have good rates and no service fees. Or if they do have service fees, they may be able to be easily waived. For example, if you sign up for direct deposit or if you keep a minimum balance that’s reasonable, that might be a good savings account to look at as well.

Sean Pyles: Margarette, a lot of folks are probably listening to this and thinking, “I’ve had the same bank account for years, and it gets the job done, so why would I go through the hassle of shopping around and signing up with a new bank?” What’s your answer to that?

Margarette Burnette: Well, if you switch to a high-yield account now, you might not have to worry about doing it again if rates increase. And if they do increase in the future, your bank may choose to raise those rates as well. So maybe that one switch can actually set you up for several months or years of earning higher rates than you normally will.

I found that, in my research, that the best savings accounts tend to be the first to increase their rates when the Fed increases rates, and so they are likely to do it if there are future rate increases. And it’s a question. It may seem like a hassle now, but would you take a few minutes to possibly get hundreds of extra dollars later, as we talked about calculating how much your money could grow over a year?

The last thing I’d say is it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation. You don’t have to necessarily close your existing account. You could start with opening the new one, which could take just minutes to a couple of days, and then see how that goes. And you could choose to close your other account later or keep it open.

Sean Pyles: Yeah, I think your point about not having to worry about finding a high-yield savings account in the future if you have one now is a really good one. And it makes me think about my experience with my high-yield savings accounts because I opened one shortly after joining NerdWallet, which was over six years ago at this point, and there have been times throughout those several years where I’ve thought about joining a different bank because maybe they had a better app or, at that precise moment where I was thinking about it, their high-yield rate was slightly better than what my bank offered. And then when I looked into it more, my bank caught up within a week or two to that yield rate. And I found that the app services that I wanted from my bank were sufficient, and I ended up just sticking with it.

And so the point being, when you get into one of these banks, you’ll find probably that it will just suit your needs for years and years and you can continue to use it and save money and grow and not have to worry about whether you are in the best banking situation for what you need.

Margarette Burnette: Exactly.

Liz Weston: Yeah, really good point.

Sean Pyles: Well, Margarette, do you have any final thoughts for those who are maybe thinking about getting into the high-yield account game?

Margarette Burnette: Well, I’ll just say to take some time and plug in some numbers in the savings calculator. We have calculators on the NerdWallet site that can help you see how much money you can earn after a year. There’s also a compound interest calculator, because your interest can actually earn interest over time, and that can build your bank balance even more. So a compound interest calculator can help you figure out how much your money can build over time.

In addition, we have articles that we call roundups that list the top savings accounts that we tend to see, and we update these monthly. And sometimes you’ll see some of the same ones kind of round out the list because they really do have high rates, but if you want to shop around, that would be a good place to start.

Sean Pyles: Great. Well, thank you so much for talking with us.

Margarette Burnette: Thank you again for having me.

Sean Pyles: And now let’s get onto our takeaway tips. Liz, do you want to kick us off?

Liz Weston: Yeah. First of all, shop now. Rising interest rates mean you can earn significantly more from a high-yield savings account.

Sean Pyles: Next, saving doesn’t have to cost you. The best savings accounts have high rates and no, or often waived, service fees.

Liz Weston: Finally, you don’t have to choose. If you open a new savings account, you don’t have to close your old account immediately, or ever.

Sean Pyles: And that is all we have for this episode. Do you have a money question of your own? Turn to the Nerds and call or text us your questions at 901-730-6373. That’s 901-730-NERD. You can also email us at podcast@nerdwallet.com and visit nerdwallet.com/podcast for more info on this episode. And remember to follow, rate and review us wherever you’re getting this podcast.

Liz Weston: And here’s our brief disclaimer, thoughtfully crafted by NerdWallet’s legal team. Your questions are answered by knowledgeable and talented finance writers, but we are not financial or investment advisors. This Nerdy info is provided for general educational and entertainment purposes and may not apply to your specific circumstances. This episode was produced by Sean Pyles and myself. Kaely Monahan edited our audio, and Jae Bratton wrote our show notes. And major thanks to the NerdWallet copy desk, those heroes, for all their help.

Sean Pyles: And with that said, until next time, turn to the Nerds.