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20 states won’t grant or renew a professional license if your student loans default

(FINANCE) If your student loans default, your professional license may be revoked – a hard blow to medical practitioners, Realtors, delivery drivers, and so many more hard working people.

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Student loans represent a significant financial burden for recent graduates, with average loan debt in 2017 hitting $37,172, and the impact of debt repayment at graduation causes many Americans, mainly younger professionals, to delay everything from traveling the world and marriage, and even opening their own business.

Beyond the burden of debt, student loans are particularly tricky because they play by some different rules.

Most debt for example, doesn’t accrue interest while you don’t make any payments, and the flexibility of the repayment options can put borrowers in difficult situations where they don’t recognize their repayment amount. In addition, because the way we relate to the lender (AKA the federal government), the consequences of student loan debt often makes it seem less important to pay.

However, most of that flexibility is limited to non-private student loans. Private student loans have all the troubles of regular loans, with some added bite.

One way that student loan debt is different from other forms of consumer debt is that not even bankruptcy can clear you.

In 1976, Congress passed a law that put public student loan debt in a separate category that can’t be discharged. In 2005, Congress extended that to private student loans.

Not paying your student loans can lead also lead to wage garnishment and tax refund seizure.

But perhaps the most painful and insulting consequence of student loan default can be the withholding of your professional (or even your driving) licenses. If you’re a barber, nurse, teacher, lawyer, psychologist, realtor or need to drive a car, that can be devastating.

NYT uncovered that the following 20 states that allow this include:

  1. Alaska
  2. Arkansas
  3. California
  4. Florida
  5. Georgia
  6. Hawaii
  7. Illinois
  8. Iowa
  9. Kentucky
  10. Louisiana
  11. Massachusetts
  12. Minnesota
  13. Mississippi
  14. New Mexico
  15. North Dakota
  16. South Dakota
  17. Tennessee
  18. Texas
  19. Virginia
  20. Washington

Beyond the damage to credit scores, liens on properties, and the financial consequences, these license seizures can represent financial ruin, and can punish well-meaning borrowers and those who are working on public service loan forgiveness as well.

The most important thing you can do is know your options.

If you have public loans, explore repayment options, explore refinancing with direct loans, and most importantly, communicate with your lender. If you have private loans, consider moving that debt into something more manageable, especially since private loans have no interest cap, a personal loan or a home equity loan can be a more affordable option.

The best way to handle default is to avoid it – and don’t drown by avoiding swimming. Most importantly, get in the know, explore your options, and get talking. And if you’re feeling extra motivated, work with your state representatives and work on getting legislation to help make students loan more manageable.

Kam has a Master's degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, and is an HR professional. Obsessed with food, but writing about virtually anything, he has a passion for LGBT issues, business, technology, and cats.

Business Finance

How freelancers, entrepreneurs can start accepting cryptocurrencies

(FINANCE) If you’re considering accepting cryptocurrencies for your good or services, there are a growing number of options available these days – here are just a few.

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There are many reasons a small business owner, freelancer, or entrepreneur might consider accepting cryptocurrencies as payment.

One of the most noteworthy is the access to the more than 2.3 million people who used bitcoin as payment last year alone – that’s a growing pool of people who want to pay with a decentralized means of digital currency. Many have gravitated to cryptocurrencies as some believe they have proven to have clearer policies compared to traditional banks, less hidden fees, and more security against chargebacks.

More importantly than why though (especially in determining if its worth it to you and your business) is how you can start accepting bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies for your product or service.

Just like PayPal or credit card payments, you’ll need to first integrate a crypto payment processor wherever you plan to accept payment. This can be from your phone, your Shopify website, or your independently designed website. When deciding on which processor (and there are plenty to choose from), it’s important first understand the two types of cryptocurrency services available to you.

Custodial Wallets – These kind of wallets work like a bank do, in that they serve as a third party entity in control of your assets. Custodial services store your private keys, which is the secret alphanumeric code paid with your public keys. When you receive your crypto payments, they go into a wallet, where you request your money by withdrawal. These are popular for freelancers who are interested in converting cryptocurrency to traditional currency. Another advantage for this kind of wallet is you can contact your custodian’s customer service for access to your account if you’ve lost your password. The major disadvantages are that you don’t have complete control of your funds; so your wallet can be frozen by the custodian in case of maintenance, or stolen by hackers if they get into the processor.

Non-Custodial Wallets – These wallets can exist on paper, desktop, hardware, or mobile and are called cold wallets. No matter where it is stored, it is defined as an offline wallet provided for storing bitcoins. Your information is usually stored on a platform not connected to the internet, offering an added level of protection against cyber hacks and other vulnerabilities that a system connected to the internet is vulnerable to. If you don’t already have one of these cold wallets, you’ll need to establish one for a non-custodial processor. These kind of processors do not store or protect your private keys’ information, which allows the user complete control over their coin which can be important to you if you are accepting large amounts of money you want to keep safe, or you want to keep certain information very private. If you lose your private keys though, you lose your coin also since there’s no one to call and retrieve, like with custodial processors.

Once you understand the type of processor is best suited for your business, it’s easier to research and find processors that do exactly what you are looking for. Like I mentioned before, there are lots of different processors to choose from, but we’re going to go over a few custodial and non custodial processors to help inspire you in which direction to go

Custodial Processors:

Bitcharge: Bitcharge has the easiest instructions and interface on this entire list; so if simplicity is what you are after, start here. Instead of web integration, lengthy APIs or email invoices, all you need to start accepting cyrpto payments is a unique link they create for you. Once you have the link, you can give it to your clients however you choose, just like sending your Cash App or Venmo name. Another unique feature at Bitcharge is that they don’t require you to create new wallets for your cyrpto payments – all you have to do is add the address of your existing wallets to receive payment there. Bithcharge accepts Bitcoin, Etherum, and Litecoin, but are planning to add more to their portfolio. There are no transaction fees listed on the Bitcharge website.

Coingate: This payment processor is popular for accepting Altcoin (coins other than Bitcoin) payments, and currently accept over 40. This processor allows freelancers or entrepreneurs to accept payments in-store using an Android, iOS device, or other internet enabled devices. It’s also available as a plug-in so it can be easily integrated into your existing online store. There is a 1% transaction fee to use Coingate, with no additional monthly, registration, or support fees.

Cryptopay: Cyrptopay is a crypto payment processor that provides a guaranteed exchange rate, and also charges a flat 1% transaction fee. With this processor, freelancers can accept Bitcoin, Litecoin, Etherum, or Ripple. This cryptocurrency settles payments daily and provides funds straight to your bank account

Bitpay: Bitpay serves merchants in over six continents and is currently integrated with several different ecommerce solutions, including Shopify. Freelancers can also accept payment from automatically generated email invoices, or in person with a smartphone or tablet. They charge a 1% transaction Fee, with no hidden fees. The only cryptocurrency they accept is Bitcoin for now.

Coinbase Commerce: Coinbase is one of the world’s biggest payment processes and is also integrated with a variety of ecommerce solutions including Shopify and WooCommerce. With this processor, you are able to instantly convert it into fiat (traditional currency) to avoid price volatility. Users with this processor are able to accept Bitcoin Ethereum, Litecoin, or Bitcoin Cash. There is no transaction fee to accept cryptocurrency with Coinbase Commerce.

GoCoin: Go Coin is another popular gateway accepting payments in Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Etherum, Litecoin, Dash, and EOS. It can also be integrated into popular commerce platforms like WooCommerce. Although there is no cost to sign-up for an account with GoCoin, there is a flat 1% transaction fee for each payment you accept. The most unique factor about this processor is the one-on-one help offered for experienced and inexperienced merchants. They also help with integrating the processor, customer invoicing, and payment support.

Non-Custodial Processors

These are newer on the market so there aren’t as many non custodial options, but here are the two options:

BTCPay: This processor is a non custodial, open sourced, and self-hosted payment processor designed for the technologically and cryptocurrency inclined. This particular processor allows the merchant to be in full control with no fees, or third party control like with the aforementioned processors. Payments go directly into their cold wallet, not the processor’s wallet. There are currently no fees to use BTCPay.

Atomic Pay: Atomic Pay is a global, non-custodial cryptocurrency payment processor. They eliminate the involvement of a third party processor by allowing you to accept payments “within seconds.” Unlike the aforementioned services, Atomic Pay does not store or withhold any of your information, so you’ll need to have a cold wallet setup. Atomic Pay also boasts an API Interface that allows developers and business to integrate with their “back end systems, websites, games, mobile applications, and point of sales systems.” The processing fees are 0.9% per transaction for the personal package, 0.8% for businesses, and 0.7% for their Enterprise package.

In conclusion:

Digital currencies continue to expand globally and offers a variety of benefits to small business owners, freelancers, and entrepreneurs. No matter where your potential client is located, international or domestic, both payments are handled the same, without any clearance necessary; unlike a wire transfer payment from an international client that could take up to a week or more. Not to mention the fees are less than credit card payment fees…

Despite all these perks, I am still not a certified accountant, and am merely suggesting you take a look at your business needs and see if those more than 2.3 million potential clients can be of use to you.

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Business Finance

How to spot and avoid crowdfunding scams

(TECH NEWS) Crowdfunding has become ripe for scams, don’t be a sucker — here’s how to spot ’em.

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When it comes to your personal life, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of a crowdfunding campaign because if you’re turning to GoFundMe or YouCaring, it means your house has burned down, you have cancer or your dog has died.

We regularly see these campaigns pop up in our social feeds and for the most part, we believe them because they’re our friends, they’re in need and we trust them so, of course, we pitch in.

However, some people use crowdfunding to fleece you. By now, you’ve probably heard of the couple from New Jersey who teamed up with a homeless man to raise over $400,000. The campaign was a scam, the cash was split and now these crooks are facing some serious consequences in court. Ugh.

We shouldn’t need to write this article, but some people suck and they’re out there duping us. Here’s how to spot them.

This should be obvious, but do not give money to people you do not know or do not at least tangentially know. It never hurts to scroll through the donor list to see if you recognize any of your friends or acquaintances there. If you do and have questions, reach out to them before you reach deep into your wallet.

What about victims of natural disasters? Offer your money to emergency funds run by non-profit organizations. Anyone can create a crowdfunding campaign, but in times of crisis many platforms create verified campaigns.

If the objective of the campaign is unclear, do not donate. We’ve all come across campaigns that are strangely worded or lack enough specifics to piece together a plausible story. If it feels like a Nigerian Prince is the campaign administrator, close the tab.

If a campaign’s photo looks fishy, do a reverse image search on Google to help validate that fishy feeling. If the search yields a lot of results for the photo, scammers have stolen it and are using it to tug at your heartstrings.

Most campaigns run for a very short amount of time, typically a couple of weeks and rarely more than a month. While there is generally a final social push to get to an unmet goal, there are rarely open-ended campaigns. Again, if the goal is unclear or out-of-reach, move on.

We’ve all seen campaigns that are truly gut-wrenching – deaths of loved ones, fights with cancer, entire villages wiped out. As with the case of the three jerks from New Jersey, if it feels too good to be true, it probably is. While some sites may be able to reimburse your donation, others won’t and nothing feels worse than falling for a scam AND losing your money.

And so, dear friends, this is why we at The American Genius almost never, ever write about crowdfunded projects. We care about you and we want you to use your money to help your real friends, fund YOUR next project or pay off your student loans.

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Business Finance

How small companies can compete with free shipping

(BUSINESS FINANCE) When running a smaller shop online, how can you compete with free shipping from giants like Amazon that can afford it?

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It’s hard enough for small businesses to compete with big retailers. But online shops also have to consider the additional cost of shipping. With stores like Amazon and Walmart.com offering very cheap or even free shipping, how is a smaller shop to compete?

Shopify, an e-commerce platform for online shops and point-of-sale-systems, posed this question to Thea Earl, product manager for Shopify Shipping. On the AskShopify blog, she offered some tips for managing shipping costs.

First, Earl points out that while “free shipping is an excellent marketing tool,” if you can’t afford to offer free shipping, it helps to offer a “really clear flat rate.”

Customers who think they’re getting a good deal may balk if they’re surprised by an exorbitant cost to ship. If you can consistently offer a flat rate, and let the customer know right off the bat, they’ll “know what to expect when they hit checkout” and won’t get sticker shock at the last minute, causing cart abandonment.

If you want to offer free or very cheap shipping, consider raising the prices of your products, even by a dollar or so, to help cover delivery costs. Note the ratio between the profit margin and the cost to ship.

Perhaps for highly profitable items, you can afford to absorb the shipping costs, while slightly raising the prices of less profitable products to offset the balance.

Lastly, Earl realizes that small business owners have no control over whether or not a carrier raises its prices to ship.

You do, however, have control over the packaging. Be smart about the types of packaging you use. Measure products and buy envelopes and boxes that are just the right size to save money on weight.

Paper and poly envelopes are lighter, and therefore usually cheaper than cardboard boxes. Also, Earl points out that most carriers have at least a few options for free packaging. Utilize these free options whenever you can.

And of course, you could always join a group like Shopify to take advantage of their bulk mailing partnerships with carriers like UPS, USPS, and DHL.

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