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“Blockchains” is a word you’ve been ignoring, here’s what it’s all about

(FINANCE NEWS) You’re hearing more and more about banks and startups using “blockchain” technology. Confused? We got you.

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Mysterious origins

The first, original blockchain came from Bitcoin, an “electronic cash system” created by the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008. Satoshi aside, there’s nothing secret about the Bitcoin software, as anyone can read the massively disruptive source code that Satoshi unleashed on the world in 2009.

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Bitcoin and the “blockchain” are more or less interchangeable words, as they both have the same origin. But over time, the original Bitcoin idea has inspired 100s of new “altcoins” such as Litecoin, Peercoin and Dash.

Altcoins have blockchains too

Just like Bitcoin, each altcoin has its own blockchain, which you can think of as a breadcrumb trail of confirmed transactions that floats around the world with trusted participants rubber-stamping new transactions as authentic along the way. These participants are called “nodes” and each one keeps a backup copy of the blockchain for reference. According to Bitnodes, there’s approximately 5,300 nodes in the world confirming new Bitcoin transactions.

If you combine the value of all the Bitcoins and altcoins, it’s about $12 billion dollars.

Altcoins comprise about 20% of that market cap. That sounds huge, until you realize Chipotle Mexican Grill is worth more than all the “crypto” coins combined.

What’s the point?

Right now, the Bitcoin blockchain is about 100 gigabytes in size and continues to grow. Hypothetically, an oppressive government could try to detect and block the blockchain, but thus far it’s not a problem for the Bitcoin network.

It seems Bitcoin was designed by Satoshi with resilience in mind, with new transactions (blocks) sized small enough to slip through the greedy fingers of Internet filters.

Early advocates of Bitcoin argued it would mostly appeal to the billions of unbanked people in the world that can’t easily buy and sell goods and services due to prohibitive paperwork, travel distance and other obstacles.

Beyond the coin: trust networks

Speaking of digital money, Bitcoins and altcoins seem to have cracked the code that E-gold trailblazed in the 90s. But beyond the “coin” aspect of blockchain technology, new applications are emerging.

Ethereum aims to use its secure network to create autonomous organizations and decentralized applications to form a “world computer.” And Austin-based Factom uses the blockchain to “safeguard the most critical government, commercial, and non-profit systems.” And Storj offers a blockchain-based encrypted storage service. Also IBM has invested billions in various blockchain technologies, from tracking identity through Bitcoin transactions to enhancing the privacy of cognitive computing for medical applications.

“Blockchain” sounds more credible

For a business, credibility is important and “blockchain” is maybe the safer word compared to “Bitcoin” because it emphasizes the computer science innovation rather than the disruptive economic innovation, which might still make some people nervous. Whatever your point of view, Bitcoin is still the most prominent blockchain by far, and its secure DNA has captured the imaginations of developers and businesses wanting to capitalize on the success of Bitcoin.

#Blockchains

PJ Brunet is a writer, full stack developer, and abstract artist. His first computer was a Texas Instruments TI-99. As a teen, he interned at IBM in Boca where the first PC was born. Graduating with a BFA, he gave California and New York a shot, but fell in love with Texas in 2004, the same year he started blogging about technology.

Business Finance

The forgivable PPP loan may now not be as forgivable as before

(BUSINESS FINANCE) The SBA were handing out forgivable loans like flyers for your friends band, but after a few months it seems many are not quite as forgivable as before.

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paycheck loan

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a federal forgivable loan program established by the CARES Act, was designed to alleviate the burden of companies who experience business disruptions during the coronavirus pandemic. But of course, with every government loan there are stipulations and guidelines for its use and its forgiveness. The main people that are going to have difficulty here are the small businesses however, which one might have thought that this program was for.

The program has guidelines that stipulate how much of it is forgivable. One of the main criteria is how the money is spent, openly requiring that 75% of the loan must be used to cover payroll for it to be forgivable, RED FLAG. What about small businesses that don’t have employees? Well some people may have thought that for a single person business, retirement and health-care would count towards that payroll total. Therefore, keeping costs down and keeping businesses alive. That’s not the case. Those expenses aren’t counted toward forgivable payroll costs, only salaries are.

Now others may have asked why that matters because someone can see that this type of loan wouldn’t be helpful for someone in those conditions. The problem comes in when the calculation for how much a business is able to borrow is done. The amount that can be borrowed through the PPP is based on payroll but it also includes health-care and retirement plan payments.

This is, as a matter of course, different for independent contractors and self-employed people that run their business income through a checking account. They were given a maximum amount that couldn’t exceed according to an April 20th interim final ruling. That amount is the lesser of eight weeks of their 2019 net profit or no more than ~$15K. As it stands currently neither retirement nor health-care premiums are eligible for forgiveness here either.

Something else that doesn’t seem to have been taken into account is rent and mortgage for these one person companies. The 25% that is stipulated in the program is no where near what is necessary for rent or mortgages in some places. The Small Business Administration (SBA) openly stated that they assumed that “many such individuals operate out of either their homes, vehicles or sheds and thus do not incur qualifying mortgage interests, rent or utility payments.” Personally, that small oversight is enough to make me wonder if these people have ever worked in the real world before.

What this means however is that people who have taken out the full amount that they are allowed and cannot stick to the requirement must pay the loan back in full on a two year deadline with an interest rate of 1%. As lawyers gather to attempt to filter through these murky waters and to hopefully make things better for those that need this relief we can only sit back and wait. Anyone looking to take out a loan from this program I highly recommend caution before jumping in.

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Business Finance

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.

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Business Finance

How business owners should handle the trend of COVID-19 surcharges

(BUSINESS FINANCE) COVID-19 has caused a lot of money problems, but some places have decided to counter this with new surcharges, and hopefully they told customers about them.

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COVID-19 surcharges

Hidden surcharges have long been a subject of discussion among consumers. Banks, car dealers, hotels, and credit card companies are much more transparent than they once were. According to a 2019 survey by Consumer Reports, 85% percent of adult consumers were hit by an unexpected fee when paying for a service, so the practice is not completely gone. With COVID-19, some businesses are turning to surcharges to balance out their profit margins.

Can businesses add a COVID surcharge legally?

The impact of COVID-19 is continuing to unravel. FOX8 reports that a Missouri steakhouse and sushi restaurant included a surcharge related to the rising costs of food under the pandemic. A CBS affiliate in Midland, TX reminds consumers to check their bills, because restaurants and salons are adding surcharges. Some businesses are saying that state restrictions are increasing operational costs, while others relate it to the cost of goods. Even UPS has added surcharges to peak delivery slots. According to a librarian at the State Law Library, a private business in Texas has a lot of leeway in deciding what to charge.

A surcharge isn’t necessarily price gouging

In Texas, price gouging following a natural disaster is illegal. The surcharges that we’re discussing aren’t price gouging, just a way for businesses to temporarily raise prices without changing their menu or listing new prices. The Houston BBB recommends that if your business does add a surcharge, it should notify consumers about the charge before the bill arrives. Consumers who believe that they’ve been a victim of price gouging should file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General.

Transparency is part of good customer service

According to Consumer Reports, 96% of the consumers surveyed were annoyed with a hidden fee. I want to talk to the 4%, and find out why they weren’t. A surcharge under COVID-19 conditions can make sense. Cleaning and sanitizing takes time and money. Prices have increased. What’s bad business is trying to hide those surcharges until after the customer checks out. That’s not fair. Be transparent.

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