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Yes, cryptocurrency pricing has been manipulated

(FINANCE) Research shows that some cryptocurrency value has potential to be manipulated by fraudulent bots. Welp.

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Yes, cryptocurrency price can be manipulated, thanks for asking. A new research paper in the Journal of Monetary Economics dove into how bad actors may be controlling the Bitcoin (BTC) ecosystem, and found that one person may have pushed Bitcoin from $150 to $1000 in 2013. One. One person.

Researchers Neil Gandal, JT Hamrick, Tyler Moore, and Tali Oberman published “Price Manipulation in the Bitcoin Ecosystem,” a paper describing how fraudulent activity likely influenced trading activity leading to increased BTC-USD exchange rates in 2013.

Their paper specifically analyzed suspicious activity on the (since shut down) Mt. Gox Bitcoin currency exchange. Mt. Gox used to be the hotshot for crypto exchange, with over seventy percent of worldwide bitcoin transactions taking place on its platform.

Late in 2013, the USD-BTC exchange rate spiked from around $150 to over $1000 in two months. There was also a period where over 600,000 Bitcoins valued at $188 million were acquired fraudulently.

Former CEO Mark Karpelès worked super hard to cover up the fraudulent activity, but Mt. Gox eventually met its Mount Doom and shut down in 2014.

According to the research, on days where suspicious activity took place, the exchange rate rose an average of four percent a day. Analysis shows that the exchange rate declined on days without suspicious trading activity.

Price manipulation was due in part to how thin the crypto market was in 2013. At the time, only around 80 cryptocurrencies were around compared to over 843 today. This made the market more susceptible to price manipulation.

Fraudulent activity was primarily attributed to Markus and Willy, two bots that appeared to be performing valid trades. However, the bots didn’t own the bitcoin they were using, so all the trades were fake.

When Mt. Gox was hacked and millions of dollars of Bitcoin were stolen, it was due to bots creating fake trades and artificially increasing BTC pricing.

The high volume of trades signaled heavy trading activity, driving up the exchange rate on Mt. Gox. The platform profited greatly from transaction fees from legitimate, non-bot trades. But even without fraudulent activity, exchanges were higher on days these bots were active.

Although it’s alarming that bots potentially jacked up prices, better security systems are set in place for crypto exchange now.

Blockchain keeps users responsible by keeping a record of anyone who changes or updates any element of a crypto transaction.

So while theoretically crypto pricing can still be manipulated, it’s a bit more difficult with the checks blockchain puts in place to identify all users and activity. It’s still worth staying vigilant though, because even with blockchain in place, cryptocurrency markets are not regulated.

This story originally ran on January 22, 2018.

Lindsay is an editor for The American Genius with a Communication Studies degree and English minor from Southwestern University. Lindsay is interested in social interactions across and through various media, particularly television, and will gladly hyper-analyze cartoons and comics with anyone, cats included.

Business Finance

Freelancers, big brands salivating over new UltraFICO scores

(FINANCE) Everyone from freelancers to giant business are impacted by the new UltraFICO scores, ushering in a new era of lending in America.

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If you’re anything like me, then you don’t like to spend money you don’t actually have. I didn’t have a credit card until I was 28 years old. I moved to another country on cash alone. My wife and I bought our first car with cash. We thought this made us responsible. The credit reporting bureaus and financial institutions disagreed.

To our surprise, you’re not considered a “responsible American” unless you’re in a constant cycle of borrowing money from banks through credit cards and loans.

We’re not the only ones who think this system needs improvement. A growing number of millennials have eschewed traditional credit cards and loans for various reasons, and this has left these otherwise responsible Americans out in the lurch regarding their credit scores.

We’ve all heard the adage “bad credit is better than no credit,” but really take a moment to think about how silly that is. In this day and age, having a history of borrowing money from the banks and not paying it back on time is somehow better than paying for everything yourself without help from bank loans, credit card companies, or government programs.

According to the Fair Issac Corp. (issuer of FICO scores), about 7 million consumers have too-low scores (in the high 500s or low 600s) to be considered safe bets for lending. Fortunately, baby steps towards credit reform is on the horizon, in the form of UltraFICO scores.

Next summer, customers unsatisfied with their standard FICO score will be allowed to apply for an UltraFICO score.

The difference between the two is that while a normal FICO score is based off of credit history, an UltraFICO score takes standard everyday bank account history into consideration. Your current checking balance, length of checking history, transaction frequency, and overdraw history will all be a vital part of your UltraFICO score.

The UltraFICO increases the chance of loan approval to millions of Americans that might otherwise be denied, and that has a lot of people happy — including lenders themselves, and the many companies with big ticket items that typically rely on consumers that finance their products (furniture, jewelry, cars, etc. not just housing).

Let’s not kid ourselves here, this isn’t a charity program. The UltraFICO exists to widen the possible customer base for loans as an entire generation opts out carrying debt. The more people approved for loans, the more money credit issuers stand to gain. This is a calculated business move, but it could possibly benefit all parties regardless.

That’s not to say there aren’t pitfalls here. On a macro scale, American consumers already hold $1 trillion worth of credit card debt, and loosening loan requirements could very well cause this debt to balloon even further.

On a micro scale, opting in for an UltraFICO score means handing over sensitive personal data of your banking history over to third parties, which is something we should all be wary of doing.

It’s not a new concept, in fact in 2011, a major data company launched an alternative credit score to include reporting on your phone bills, cable bills, and so forth, to open lending (some mortgage lenders do use this alternative score in their practices).

It’s not just of interest for companies with big ticket items, but for small businesses and freelancers that don’t rely on credit cards, which could open new lines of credit as they build their companies.

Depending on your views, this program either lowers the limits for acceptable loan applicants and puts our economy at risk, or merely broadens our definition of personal fiscal responsibility. As I’m solidly in the second camp, I’m excited to see what these new changes can bring to the table in 2019.

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Business Finance

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.

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Business Finance

How to invest in any cryptocurrency without the IRS hunting you down

(FINANCE) Paying taxes on your cryptocurrency investments doesn’t have to be a headache with this simple tool.

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The next tax season will inevitably approach, and those of you who took a chance on cryptocurrency may be wondering: Do I have to pay tax on my digital investments? Sorry, but yes you do.

Although tax laws are constantly changing, especially in the wild west of cryptocurrency, fear not. Token Tax is the one tool to rule them all, and can help you report cryptocurrency taxes.

In this past year, cryptocurrency investment has skyrocketed. The total market cap rose over 1000 percent, even breaking a record and climbing over $600 billion in December.

Coinbase, the most popular online platform for buying and selling digital currency, gained one million users in one month alone.

Cyrptocurrency’s increasing popularity led to changes in IRS rules.

Although cryptocurrency investors were previously able to use the “like-kind” tax code exemption, the IRS now says digital investments must be taxed as short and long-term capital gains.

Back in 2015, only 802 Americans reported Bitcoin related gains and losses. At the time, cryptocurrency could technically be categorized a property instead of income. The 2017-18 year should show a greater increase in reports due to the new IRS regulations.

It can be difficult to determine how to report your taxes, and many other available tools victimize you with information overload. Understanding your tax liability is no fun at all, but it’s not something you’d want to get wrong unless tax jail sounds exciting.

The newly minted Token Tax does the work for you, integrating directly with Coinbase’s API to import all your investments in an easy to read format that’s directly exportable to the IRS. Kraken, Bittrex, and GDAX are also securely integrated with the platform.

Using FIFO, Token Tax calculates your tax liability and displays it in an easy to read interface. You can then export a fill-out 8949 form directly to your accountant or the IRS for review.

Creators Alex Miles and David Holland Lee say they believe Token tax “could be the TurboTax for crypto.”

Even though Token Tax is still in test mode, not even beta, it caught our attention by winning first place overall in Product Hunt’s Global Hackathon.

If you have invested in cryptocurrency and want to get ahead of the curve for tax season, check out their demo and see for yourself.

This story was first featured here in January of 2018.

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