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10 financial steps to take the minute you lose (or quit) your job

(FINANCE) If you quit your job or get laid off, money can be a tremendous stressor. Here are some ways you can immediately take control.

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finances

Quitting or losing your job?

Whether you saw it coming or not, being laid off is always a bit of a shock. And even after months of consideration, quitting your job can leave you wondering what comes next, and how you’ll stay afloat until that next thing actually comes along.

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Traditional advice emphasizes dipping into savings, but for many Americans, that’s just not an option.

What do you do when you barely have a month’s worth of expenses, if that, and your career is in transition?

Do these ten things and feel calmer, more confident, and ready to conquer that job search with everything you’ve got.

10 things to do right away

(1) What do you have? Checking and savings accounts are an obvious place to start, but don’t neglect stocks, bonds, 401(k)s, and even the cash you have lying around. Depending on how you manage them, credit card points could be a small boon. Liquidate them for groceries, or cash them in to cover moving expenses if your situation is dire. Don’t forget to take into account any debts you owe, through your credit cards, student loans, or otherwise.

(2) What could you get? If you were laid off, you may be eligible for a severance package from your former employer, and this might be something you can negotiate. Don’t sell yourself short here. Being laid off also grants you access to unemployment benefits, and it could only hurt you to wait to apply. It only takes about an hour, and you can expect to hear back in about a week. Expect to receive a maximum of about half your former salary, and in some states you’ll need to fill out a weekly form to prove you’re actively looking for work.

(3) What could you get if you really, truly had no other options? I’m talking credit, and should definitely be your last resort. Nonetheless, it can be reassuring to know what could be there for you if you needed it, and if you inform yourself now about the various interest rates and other terms, you’ll be able to make smarter decisions down the line.

(4) How do you spend? This is going to take some time, but it’ll be worth it. Look at bank statements and credit card statements from the past two or three months to figure out how you’ve been spending your money lately. Keep track of predictable recurring payments like gym memberships and car payments, as well as more variable bills like electricity and water. If you haven’t moved recently, you could even check out utility bills from last year that correspond to the upcoming months, to get a more accurate estimate of what’s in front of you.

After rent and bills, create categories for your spending. You could simply use “Transportation,” “Food,” and “Entertainment,” or you could get more specific: “Transportation,” “Groceries,” “Restaurants,” “Movies,” and “Bars” might cover most things, and you could throw in a “Misc” for good measure. Do what makes sense for you – just be sure you get it all.

(5) How will you spend? Don’t forget expenses you may need to pay now that you’re unemployed. If you got insurance through your employer, you’ll need to find your own coverage. Same goes for gym memberships, public transit passes, etc.

(6) What can you cut? Now you know exactly how much you have, and how much you *want* to have for normal monthly expenditures. But since you don’t have your regular income anymore, unless you’ve been miraculously good at saving, you’re going to need to cut back. It’s important, though, to not cut out every little thing that makes life worth living. Sitting in a cold, dark room eating ramen and drinking tepid water isn’t going to get you fired up for a job search.

Do you actually use and need Netflix, HBO Now, and Hulu to be happy? Pause one or two until you’re back on your feet. Could you run on a trail instead of a treadmill? Could you improve your cooking skills and only eat out occasionally? You have more time on your hands – put it to good use and save some dough.

We recommend checking out Truebill which will find, track, and help you cancel subscriptions (some you won’t even remember you are paying for).

(7) Make a comprehensive budget. After you’ve gotten a handle on your assets and your expenses, plan out a monthly budget for the next six months or so. This is how much you can spend in each category every month, and it should have a little wiggle room for random fun so your soul doesn’t die. If you’re thinking, “There’s no way I have enough money to survive for six months,” don’t worry. Help is coming your way.

(8) Pay attention to your groceries. Do you have a tendency to buy a bunch of stuff that sounds good but that you’ll never cook, or that can’t possibly be combined to make an edible meal? Fix that by planning out your meals in advance and buying what you need for those meals. Limiting the number of trips to the store can also reduce random purchases.

(9) Get a job-related gig. Finding a part-time job of some sort ensures a steady stream of income and enough time to dedicate to your real job – job searching. Were you a copywriter? There are a million freelance copywriting gigs with your name on them. Teacher? Try tutoring. If you can find a gig that falls under your career umbrella, it’ll be worth putting on a resume and you won’t have to explain away an awkward gap.

(10) Get a random gig. Although not ideal, the gig economy has officially arrived, and it means you’ve got options. If your career doesn’t lend itself to part-time gigs, or if you’re ready for a break from your usual job description, consider taking on a different role. Drive for Uber or Lyft (or any number of smaller rideshare companies), deliver with Favor or Postmates – check out the services available in your area, and look at community-based job and gig posting boards like Craigslist for time filling gigs.

This too shall pass

You might get paid to fill out surveys, or be a movie extra, or hand out flyers. As long as it isn’t something that makes you so miserable you have no willpower or time left for writing cover letters, any paying gig could be worth checking out.

If you follow these ten steps, you should feel in control and ready to conduct a calm and thoughtful job search, instead of sending out resumes in a panic and accepting the first offer that comes along. Your next job should be an improvement on the last, and financial security will allow you to focus on finding the right fit.

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Staff Writer, Natalie Bradford earned her B.A. in English from Cornell University and spends a lot of time convincing herself not to bake MORE brownies. She enjoys cats, cocktails, and good films - preferably together. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.

Business Finance

Small business owners furious over more PPP fraud this week

(FINANCE) With rampant fraud and huge companies receiving aid intended for small business… Who is the Payment Protection Program really protecting?

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Small business owner on laptop, stressed over Payment Protection Program fraud and struggles.

Small business owners are furious this week after yet another fraudulent PPP (Payment Protection Program) loan application was discovered. The program, which was originally conceived to protect small businesses with providing federal loans, was a part of CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act, which was passed by Congress in March.

The application came from Houston resident Lola Shalewa Barbara Kasali (22) for almost $2 million. Kasali claimed she owned two small businesses – Lola’s Level and Charm Hair Extensions – and applied for two separate loans to cover her alleged employees and payroll expenses.

After receiving $1.9 million in loans, Kasali transferred the money to various other bank accounts. She was charged with fraud earlier this week.

Unfortunately, cases of PPP fraud are rampant, meaning that the funds allotted for struggling small businesses in the time of COVID-19 are being misused. While it’s easy to call out individuals who are scamming the system, we are seeing that everyone – even the rich – are trying to get a piece of this pie.

In April, fast casual giant Shake Shack returned their $10 million PPP back to the government in what many saw as a media stunt. Why did a multi-billion-dollar company apply to a program meant for small businesses anyway?

The same can be said about the Los Angeles Lakers. Yes, the team does employ under 300 individuals. But do the wealthy members of a professional basketball team really need additional funds while the rest of the working class suffers?

Additionally, over 10,000 PPP loans were mistakenly dispersed to businesses that had already received a loan or those who were excluded from the program for various reasons.

Initially, the SBA put $349 billion into the program. Due to extremely high need – and many cases of mismanagement or fraud, like those mentioned earlier – the funds went in a flash. Though the SBA did replenish the Paycheck Protection Program with an additional $310 billion in April, the program expired on August 8th. And currently there is no solid plan to extend it, leaving small businesses to fend for themselves.

Another factor to consider regarding the faults of Payment Protection Program is the inherent discrimination. Experts say that, because of how the program is structured, more than 90% of businesses owned by women and people of color are or will be excluded from receiving funds from PPP. Our best bet for the time being is to help each other on a community level as much as we can.

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Business Finance

Small businesses: CapitalOne, GoFundMe want to give you money

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Capital One, GoFundMe, and others are joining forces for good, providing ways for consumers to help lift up small businesses in a time of great need.

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Black man and women in their small businesses attire

Small businesses account for around 44% of U.S. economic activity, according to USA Today. Finding a way to buoy them up now is crucial to their survival. We cannot afford to lose the 58% of small businesses who say they may go under forever.

Short of in-person shopping, how can we as consumers, help? Consumers can now help through smallunites.org, an organization pulled together to share several ways to support small businesses.

The Small Unites platform also provides ways for small business owners to connect with helpful resources, including business and marketing advice. In a surprising twist, the entities tossing this lifesaver to small businesses at risk of sinking are larger companies, including Capital One, HundredX, GoFundMe, the National Urban League, and Ogilvy, among others.

Six months after the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders were issued in the U.S., many small businesses are still struggling to stay afloat. Some are still operating through curbside or online orders only. Others are operating with a reduced capacity, limiting the number of people in their stores at any given time.

The PPP funds have been spent, as have stimulus checks, and many people are watching their budgets. Despite wishful thinking and finally some success with mask wearing, we are nowhere near a full reopening in this country. Even if it were allowed, the majority of people are still social distancing as much as possible and are finding other ways to shop – mainly online.

GoFundMe has a platform to donate money directly to a specific small business for those who can afford to. Consumers may also make a tax deductible donation to the overall fund that distributes the money through small business grants, such as the Small Business Relief Fund via GoFundMe. This money will be sent out in $500 grants to small businesses who apply and qualify.

Some people want to help but are also strapped for cash. Small Unites has come up with a way to contribute without spending or donating money. With HundredX, consumers write a review of a small business on the HundredX platform. HundredX will then donate $2.00 per review to programs in conjunction with the National Urban League to programs supporting minority-owned businesses. Each contributor is able to write up to 50 reviews for a grand total of $100.00 per person. HundredX will continue to donate per review, up to their $1M program cap.

Small business owners, things may look bleak from where you’re sitting. I urge you to seek out some of this support, provided at no cost to you. In addition to perhaps the most urgent need, money, Small Unites also provides tips and guidelines from Ogilvy to businesses that sign up for the program.

These tips include marketing, social media, and communication advice. The Small Unites website also has a “Shop” section to locate small businesses in the immediate area where consumers can shop right now.

The U.S. can’t afford to lose its small businesses. These are often unique places infused with the owner’s passion. Small businesses often support local economies, too, providing a marketplace for local makers, farmers, and other creative people. They are vital businesses, often representing the beating hearts of our communities.

For the skeptical among us, of course Capital One, GoFundMe, and the rest are going to get PR brownie points for this. That doesn’t make the assistance any less significant to saving our small businesses. Motive matters, but let’s not starve on principal. It makes no sense. Someone at these large institutions must also realize that it’s the many small businesses out there that contribute 44% of our economic activity.

Helping the mom-and-pop shops isn’t merely a publicity stunt. It strengthens our economy as a whole. This lifeline also has the ability to strengthen morale and restore hope when they are in short—or at least inconsistent—supply. Knowing that a favorite business is managing to stay afloat amid turbulent waters buoys our spirits.

Small businesses, go sign up for all of the Small Unites assistance! Everybody else, let’s all pull together, with the help of these big corporations, to try and save our small businesses. We need them for our economy. We need them for our mental health. We need them, period.

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Business Finance

Bitcoins worth $300K recovered from an old zip file

(BUSINESS FINANCE) Losing the password to your Bitcoin wallet often means potentially losing your cryptocurrency. But this didn’t stop a Russian investor from getting his money back.

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Stack of bitcoins

At some point in our life, we’ve all lost or misplaced something. I’ve misplaced my phone and keys more times than I can count. They always have a way of finding themselves between the couch cushions. But have you ever lost the private keys to access your $300,000 worth of bitcoins? Neither have I. However, this is exactly what happened to a very unlucky man.

Last month, Defcon’s 28th annual event took place. The event is the most influential security hacking conference held in Las Vegas. Michael Stay, a reverse engineer and current CTO for Pyrofex Corp, shared the story with attendees. He started his presentation by saying, “And today I’m gonna to tell you about how we recovered several hundred thousand dollars worth of Bitcoin from an encrypted zip file.”

About twenty years ago, Stay published a cryptanalysis paper detailing how to break into encrypted zip files. This paper led an anonymous Russian investor to find Stay and send him a surprising message on LinkedIn. “So in October of last year, a guy contacts me out of the blue and says, “I read your paper on known plaintext attacks, and I’ve got this password that I’ve forgotten. Is there anything you can do to help?”” Stay said.

In 2016, the investor purchased $10,000 worth of bitcoins and placed the private keys in an encrypted zip file. After the Bitcoin boom, the purchase proved to be a great investment. There was just one slight problem: He forgot the password and had no way of accessing the Bitcoins.

After stumbling on Stay’s old cryptanalysis paper, he hoped Stay would help him break into the zip file and recover the lost keys. When Stay looked into the case, he soon realized this would be a difficult task. The attack he had written years ago needed five files to break into the zip file. This man only had two files in the archive.

With only two files, this would take Stay a lot of time and money to find a solution to the problem. After doing some calculations, he told the guy it would cost him around $100,000 to attempt to recover the keys. He simply couldn’t use regular “off-the-shelf software” to get this done.

The man agreed without hesitation. Stay’s mind was blown away with his response. “I knew he probably had several hundred thousand dollars of Bitcoin in this thing,” he said. The pressure was on!

To break-in, Stay enlisted his business partner, Nash Foster. Foster helped adapt his CPU based attacks to run on GPUs, and they rented a GPU farm. “Our initial expectation was we would do engineering for a couple of months, and then the attack would have to run for several months to succeed,” Foster told WIRED.

Four months after the initial LinkedIn message, they began the attack. “We had tried it in all our test archives that we’d created. It worked fine,” Stay said. They were hopeful. “Ten days passed, and it didn’t find a key. And we were distraught, pulling our hair out. What have we done wrong?” Stay asked himself.

After combing through the data, the investor, who is a programmer himself, discovered a bug in the GPU. Once Stay and Foster fixed the bug, they were able to restart their attack. Within a day and a half, they found the three keys they needed to decrypt the archive.

In the end, the improvements made to Stay’s old attack made a significant difference. Instead of the $100,000 and year of processing time that Stay estimated it would take, they were able to do it for less than $10,000 in two weeks of processing time.

“Our client was very pleased and gave us a big bonus! And that’s how we recovered his Bitcoin folder,” Stay said.

According to a 2017 research by analysis company, Chainanalysis, nearly 400 million Bitcoins are already lost. Although Bitcoins have no physical form, they can still be lost. Forgotten private keys and passwords, and discarded and lost devices account for this high number.

The Russian investor wasn’t so unlucky after all!

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