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A closer look at the HEROES act, and who stands to benefit the most

(BUSINESS FINANCE) The HEROES act helps specifically unemployed, and those just returning to work, with assistance to get them back on their feet.

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HEROES act

Back in May, House Democrats proposed an economic relief bill to address the widespread consequences of COVID-19. The bill, entitled the “Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions” Act (HEROES for short), did not pass as quickly as the Democrats had initially hoped–indeed, it is still being examined as of today–but the likelihood that it does pass in some form seems high, according to White House officials. Here’s what you need to know about the HEROES Act and how it may affect you.

Spoiler alert: It’s mostly positive, but you may need to wait awhile.

We discussed recently the proposition to incentivize employees to return to work via a $450 weekly bonus upon reopening of the economy. This is a byproduct of the HEROES Act, which–according to its original conditions–posited that the unemployment bonus of $600 per week be extended past its initial July 2020 expiration. That idea was criticized by many as incentivizing unemployment, thus culminating in the $450 return-to-work bonus revision.

However, the HEROES Act addresses so much more than a weekly bonus that it’s somewhat overwhelming. The 1815-page bill covers a wide array of topics including state and local support, health care, worker protections, business support, and “other government support”, a category which addresses the United States Postal Service and the Census Bureau.

Primarily, Americans will be enthused to hear that the HEROES Act addresses a second round of stimulus checks totaling up to $6000 per household; while some sources (e.g., Forbes) speculated that the delivered amount per individual might be as high as $2000 per month, the HEROES Act in its original form does not appear to corroborate this claim. Additionally, this bill would provide billions in relief funds to the Department of Labor, housing assistance, and SNAP.

To any college students, the bill proposes “up to” $10,000 in student loan forgiveness.
The bill would also see at least $1 trillion in “state, local, territorial and tribal government” relief, with billions more allocated to utilities, highways, transit, and CDC resources. If that weren’t enough, the country would see a sweeping increase in funds to national health care services such as the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund, HRSA-funded Health Centers, and–not negligibly–funding to fight back against “COVID-19 fraud”.

As you probably know, first responders and frontline workers have shouldered the brunt of the COVID-19. The HEROES Act looks to establish a $200 billion “Heroes’ Fund” for hazard pay to “workers deemed essential during the pandemic”–a list that would feasibly include emergency workers, maintenance staff, and anyone else who was put at risk by way of their occupation.

Finally, the HEROES Act provides small businesses with some additional relief via expansion of the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program; under this expansion, the PPP would include nonprofits, a move that warrants another $659 billion in aid.

As Forbes’ Jeff Rose reports, the current status of the HEROES Act is relatively healthy, if not entirely true to its original form. For example, House Republicans have proposed financial relief in the form of a tax cut instead of sending out checks, and some are suggesting cutting the unemployment bonus of $600 per week to $300 per week (or less) until 2021 instead of the aforementioned $450 weekly return bonus.

It’s also worth noting that the HEROES Act, a bill valued at around $3 trillion, is a bit on the pricey side where Republicans are concerned–which is why their counter-offer runs closer to $1 trillion. President Trump has, in the past, postulated that a $2 trillion price tag is actually feasible, so it appears that there is some wiggle room in how this bill proceeds.

If you’re waiting for another stimulus check, it’s best not to hold your breath–conservative estimates place the next round, if acted upon, no sooner than late July. Waiting to see how the economy responds to the invariable spike in COVID-19 cases is something for which Republicans have demonstrated a propensity, so don’t count your chickens just yet.

Jack Lloyd has a BA in Creative Writing from Forest Grove's Pacific University; he spends his writing days using his degree to pursue semicolons, freelance writing and editing, oxford commas, and enough coffee to kill a bear. His infatuation with rain is matched only by his dry sense of humor.

Business Finance

How should freelancers be saving for retirement (is it even possible)?

(FINANCE) Adulting is hard, but retirement looms no matter your age – here are some ways to start squirreling money away so it’s less stressful later.

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Freelancing is a tenuous approach to employment, made all the more so by a profound lack of amenities usually offered by more stable arrangements – chief among which is a retirement fund. It can feel impossible, especially when your business suffers amidst a pandemic, so some of what follows can be ignored until the ship isn’t sinking, but don’t wait a minute longer than that – deal?

So there are several schools of thought regarding the best way to start saving and where you should put your money, but the bottom line is that, if you’re a freelancer, you should be allocating your own retirement funds. Here are some ways to do just that.

Before you can even get into the weeds of how to invest in retirement, you should have a parachute in case things go sideways. My Bank Tracker suggests starting with an emergency fund of $1,000, adding to it as you can until you have anywhere from 3 to 12 months of expenses covered.

This serves two purposes: ensuring that you’ll have the luxury of time if you need to perform an abrupt job hunt, and establishing how much you can safely put away each month without jeopardizing your business or standard of living (within reason).

Having a relatively large sum of money on hand for emergencies is always good, and if you never have to use it for the purpose for which you set it aside, it can supplement your retirement whenever you decide it’s time to cash in.

My Bank Tracker also suggests storing your emergency fund using a “high-yield” bank account, such as an online savings account, rather than sticking with traditional, low-interest savings options.

You also need to plan for taxes, which in addition to whatever your tax bracket percentage is, includes allocating 15 percent of your income to pay Social Security and Medicare. This means that you’re probably putting aside a pretty hefty sum (at least 30%) each month.

Once you’ve established your emergency fund and planned for taxes, you should have a general idea of what your wiggle room looks like vis-a-vis saving for retirement.

The actual saving part of retirement entails investment in a retirement account such as an IRA, Roth IRA, a 401(k), or a pension plan (referred to as a “defined benefit plan”).

Each of these account types has benefits and drawbacks depending on your situation.

  • A Roth IRA will allow you to contribute a certain amount each year, and you can usually set up an account quickly from a variety of online locations. The money that goes into a Roth IRA is post-tax, meaning you don’t have to pay tax on the retirement funds you pull out. Your income, however, can disqualify you from investing – if you earn above a certain threshold ($140,000 in 2021), you won’t be able to use a Roth IRA.
  • Other IRA options exist as well, each with a cap on how much you can contribute per year and varying tax requirements. For example, a traditional IRA account requires you to pay taxes when you withdraw the money, and there’s an upper limit on how much you can contribute.
  • A SEP IRA is similar, but the upper limit on investment is substantially higher – and you need to be self-employed (or an employer) to have one.

Nerd Wallet also points out that a 401(k) is a reasonable option for self-employed people who don’t employ anyone else, especially if you plan on saving “a lot in some years — say, when business is flush — and less in others.” 401(k) accounts allow you to put up to a certain amount ($58,000 in 2021) in each year pre-tax, and you pay taxes on withdrawals whenever you start pulling out money.

More eccentric retirement options exist as well. Taxable Brokerage Accounts let you invest in stocks and securities through a brokerage, and you’re able to use the money whenever you please – but you’ll have to pay taxes on your gains each year, which can become expensive in the long run.

And defined benefit plans are expensive and entail high fees, but they allow you to set up a pension with high investment opportunities as opposed to some of the lower-investment options.

Whichever option (or options – you can always invest in multiple accounts) you choose, make sure you’re saving for retirement in some capacity. And remember that these accounts represent exponential growth, meaning that the sooner you start saving, the better off you’ll be when you begin your retirement journey.

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Business Finance

Stripe makes it easier to collect money from customers

(FINANCE) Stripe didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they are outshining competitors by adding features that help small businesses.

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Payment processing is an attribute of any sales process that can make or break the customer’s experience – and, with it, your revenue stream.

While coding in a payment portal can be time-intensive and costly, payment processor company, Stripe has a simple alternative: Payment Links.

Stripe Payment Links are exactly what they sound like. Rather than linking a customer to a product and then having them check out via the usual cart process, you can send them a Payment Link for that specific product; the customer then enters their payment information in the ensuing window, and the product is theirs.

It’s a very straight-forward process that is made easier by Stripe’s no-code presentation, a choice that ProductHunt posits is an effort to go with the no-code flow we’ve seen in the last year.

And, the easier the checkout process is, the more likely a customer is to complete a transaction. It’s one of the reasons why Amazon’s “Buy Now” feature is so rewarding (and dangerous, especially at night).

By offering a customer a direct link to a product with a space to enter their card info in a hassle-free manner, Stripe has created an incredibly convenient way for them to pay – and, without the usual process of checking out involved, customers have less time to second-guess that payment.

Call it what you want (manipulative, pushy, morally grey), but if a customer doesn’t get the chance to rethink their purchase before the payment form has been filled out, chances are decent that they’ll follow through.

Certainly, there are drawbacks to this system. The link applies to individual products or services, which means that, while you can create an individual link for each item on your site, your payroll processing will categorize each of those links differently. That can be a mess to sort out at the end of the day.

But it’s a great way to ensure that customers who want something specific can get it quickly and without much ado about anything.

Putting a Payment Link in your bio after advertising a product on Instagram, sharing your link on Twitter, or even DMing links to interested customers is sure to be a productive, if shameless, endeavor.

Here is a quick rundown from Stripe:

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Business Finance

Have fractional shares of stocks *really* democratized the market?

(FINANCE) Fractional shares of stocks and equity have become widely available, and it’s said that the market is being democratized. Is that true?

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fractional shares

Not everyone has the kind of startup cash needed to invest in premium stocks, which is why fractional investing (the practice of buying percentages of stocks rather than an entire share) is making waves. With the ability to purchase equity at a lower cost and with lower stakes, though, comes the question of whether or not the stock market is really becoming democratized.

Any time premium services become routinely accessible to middle- and lower-class members of society, celebration is somewhat hampered by the realization that those services might simply exist to exploit the people to whom they’ve been made available.

Similarly, one can’t help but wonder if such services are just gimmicks by the time they land – played out and generally wasteful.

But fractional investing options comprises anything from stocks like Apple to real estate these days, which makes the notion of investing a lot less scary than the traditional route – and a new player on the block, Bits of Stock, makes it even more interesting.

Bits of Stock is an app that does pretty much what it sounds like: earns you “bits” of stock as you go about your life. After linking the app to your bank account, Bits of Stock will count your spending toward stock-based rewards, allowing you to redeem fractions of various stocks over time.

Users on Just Use App have reported a generally positive experience with Bits of Stock, elaborating on a wealth of supported retailers and variable rewards, though one user explains that one can expect “0.5%” as a baseline for the percentage of stock earned.

It’s worth noting that over the years, other mainstream investment options have added fractional investing. Robinhood is perhaps the most famous, and Schwab launched something called “Slices” to the same effect.

Obviously, more people can gain equity when the price tag is lower, and that’s a good thing…

But, as interest in investment rises and the number of people investing in the stock market in some capacity surges, it will soon become clear whether or not this is a viable future for people’s money.

After all, with minor investment comes minor growth, and tying up the funds of people who usually wouldn’t invest – even if it’s in a stable environment – could have deleterious effects on their personal finances over time.

So have stocks been democratized by fractional investing options? Yes. But at what cost?

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