Overwhelmed and in too deep
“You know, if it wasn’t for my in-laws, I don’t know what we would have done,” Pete began. “Her cancer, even with the benefits, has cost us at least half a million. That, plus the kids..,” his voice trailed.
“If it wasn’t for the fact that my life insurance didn’t pay off on suicides, I’m not sure that I’d be here now,” he chuckled nervously.
Clouding the mind
We were supposed to be having a one-on-one meeting to discuss recent performance, but it was clear that Pete’s mind wasn’t really there. Generally a man of few words, this was the first time that he’d ever been personal in conversation with me, and his attempt at lightheartedness was flat. Despite his best efforts to the contrary, it was clear that he was burdened.
“Can I ask you a direct question?” I asked.
“You okay?” The silence lingered for a moment, and he responded, “Yeah, I’m good, I’m good.” The repetition seemed more an effort for Pete to convince himself than it was to answer me. We moved on to the business before us, but as he left my office, I turned to my computer and sent him an email, thanking him for our meeting, and making sure he knew of the company’s employee resource plan, which could provide him access to licensed therapists which he could speak to confidentially, and for free.
Financial stress equates to physical and mental concerns
It’s been well-established that downturns or upheavals in personal economic conditions can be a significant stressor. The threat to the ability to care for your needs and those of your family, whether the threat is immediate or foreseen in the future based on current conditions, can cause us to experience a gamut of emotions and lead to inhibited decision making. An extended perception of threat to economic viability can have real physical consequences, as well.
In a 2011 article published in Health Social Work, authors Bisgaier and Rhodes identified correlations between poor health and adverse financial circumstances in a study of over 1,500 emergency room patients.
Patient reactions were examined across five categories of economic need: food insecurity, housing concerns, employment concerns, cost-related medication nonadherence, and cost barriers to accessing physician care.
Nearly half of all patients surveyed identified one or more financial concerns, and nearly one-third reported identifying with two or more categories of economic deprivation.
Furthermore, a significant relationship was found linking the number of financial circumstances and indicators of ill health in the patient: poor/fair self-rated health, depression, high stress, smoking, and illegal drug use. Beyond the critical point that individual concerns related to financial security are relevant to physical health, mental health concerns are often an undiagnosed byproduct of financial stressors as well.
Effect on the entrepreneur
The entrepreneur often bears a dual-edged burden, as the success of their business is often inexorably linked to personal financial success.
Everything the entrepreneur has invested—time, reputation, not to mention leveraging personal resources—can be lost during periods of economic instability, and the stresses that face small business owners during these times are significant.
Even a booming economy is no guarantee that the entrepreneur’s own business will benefit from the rising tide, as the Small Business Administration has identified that the survivorship rate for small businesses over a five year term is only a 50/50 proposition.
Living daily in these circumstances can lead the entrepreneur to be at risk for an unexpected problem: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
What is PTSD?
When we think of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), we often associate it with professions who have frequent or prolonged exposure to traumatic situations, such as first responders or military personnel.
While those two groups often do face a very real challenge with their ongoing exposure to stressors that can lead to troubling symptoms, it is by no means an exclusive fraternity. PTSD is different than your reactions to dealing with day-to-day stress, and it’s also different than your reactions to dealing with a single traumatic event, such as a severe downturn in your business or a bankruptcy. Stress in those situations is normal and you should expect that your behavior and emotions may change over time as you deal with them.
That’s not what PTSD is, nor is it a manifestation of another physical illness or medical condition, or a reaction to outside stimuli, such as prescription medication, alcohol, or drugs.
How it’s triggered
Defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as meeting the diagnostic criteria of exposure to death, either actual or threatened, a serious injury, or a sexual violation, PTSD stems from exposure to these scenarios in which the individual either experiences the event personally, witnesses the event personally, or learns of it occurring to a family member or a friend, or has ongoing or extreme exposure to details of the incident that are troubling.
Regardless of which type of event caused the manifestation of PTSD in the individual, the outcomes are noted to be significantly impactful, making the ability to interact socially with others or to work challenging at best and impossible at worst.
While some experience symptoms soon after the traumatic event, it’s important to note that not all do. For some, the symptoms don’t begin until months or years later, when they are triggered. And it’s important to note that symptoms can come and go over time, and their intensity can spike and wane, depending on the external stimuli you face. For example, you may experience an increase in symptoms or severity when you’re feeling tired or stressed about other things entirely, or when you have an unpleasant reminder of the situation that you’ve faced.
Deeper into the effects of PTSD
Psychiatrists have identified four major areas of symptomology associated with PTSD: re-experiencing, avoidance, negative cognition/mood, and arousal. Depending on with of these areas, or which combination of them, you’re dealing with, individuals can experience a gamut of symptomology.
For some, there may be nightmares and flashbacks about the incident or series of incidents that led to the financial concerns. For others, they become avoidant of situations and/or individuals that they associate with the events in their mind. In some cases, this avoidance can transform into an addiction to work or to activity, as it allows the individual to keep their mind engaged on things other than their financial condition.
Depending on the root cause of the trauma, it is not uncommon for personal beliefs about self and others to change, and a loss of trust can occur, for self, others, and systems. Hyper-aroused states are also common in some individuals as a response; always looking for reoccurrences of the situation may manifest itself if a lack of ability to sleep or concentrate, or in a mood shift towards irritation and anger.
These shifting moods are addressed in the current DSM-5, which notes that individuals suffering from PTSD can vacillate between the “flight” and “fight” modes of response.
Finances and PTSD
There’s always an antecedent to behavior; it’s highly atypical that an individual responds to a situation in a totally unpredictable way. So, when looking at how individuals come to face financial trauma, there’s the issue of what caused them to be in this position in the first place, and then the issue of how they’re left to deal with it.
It’s tempting to label those who are going through financial misfortune as being the product of their own poor choices and decision-making—and some undoubtedly are—but we can all think of incredibly talented, hard-working people for whom a life circumstance or factors within their field of industry have caused a problem to arise.
Once people have begun to experience the effects of finance-induced PTSD, its harder still for them to have the necessary capital to bounce back quickly.
This does not make them lesser, despite the temptation to invoke the stereotype of pulling one’s self up by the proverbial bootstraps.
It makes them our neighbors, who could use our support as they deal with things they never imagined themselves facing, doing the best they know how to do with the resources at hand. Because of the intrusion of the effects of finance-induced PTSD, the individual often isn’t at their optimum when dealing with the business side of things: their debt and how it’s structured, how they need to arrange their lives to deal with the situation at hand, or how to get back to work when they’re facing an unsure employment situation.
Audrey Freshman conducted a survey of victims of the Madoff Ponzi scheme in 2012. In her research, published in Health and Social Work, over half of the respondents met baseline criteria that would put them in line for a possible diagnosis of PTSD according to DSM guidelines. A substantial loss of trust in financial institutions was noted by 90% of the respondents, and nearly 60% reported high levels of anxiety and depression.
How to get help
Remember, if you or a loved one are dealing with either financial concerns or the symptoms of what may be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, you don’t have to deal with them alone.
It’s hard and uncomfortable for some of us to reach out for help about something as personal as our own financial situation, especially when it’s messy, or our health, especially when we’re honest with ourselves that things aren’t what they ought to be.
But by doing so, by seeking information and assistance, you’re allowing yourself the gift of recovery, both fiscal and physical, and can transition forward from this rough patch.
For financial support, especially for the small business owner, the United States Small Business Association is a great resource. From their website, you can find your local chapters, and make an appointment to see a local advisor, who can provide assistance across a range of topics. For personal finances, there are a myriad of late-night TV ads and Internet popups offering credit counseling or debt assistance.
While it’s tempting to have help right at your fingertips, make certain that anyone you talk to is certified as a credit counselor either through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Financial Counseling Association of America. Both of these organizations are creditable and certify other agencies to provide accurate, timely assistance without steering you towards one preferred solution or another.
For your personal health, your healthcare provider is the best first stop for you to discuss your physical or emotional health. Beyond the doctor’s visit, however, your support network who can be there for you is a crucial lifeline to recovery: people who you trust, who you know well and who know you in return, and who you can count on to give advice and support in your best interest.
If you feel that your situation may require more immediate help, there are other easily accessible and confidential resources for those who need them:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 either by calling 1-800-273-8255 or by going to their website at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ and engaging in an online chat.
For those who prefer texting options with qualified crisis counselors, the Crisis Text Line is available 24/7 by texting “Go” to 741741.
As always, if you think you’re in danger of self-harm or suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
With the holidays approaching, many struggles with finances can be felt more intensely. In the spirit of holiday gift-giving, give yourself the best gift of all—peace of mind and a sense of health—by taking care of you, so that you can deal with the situations that have arisen.
This story was originally published in November 2016.
Under-representation of women in fintech: Let’s talk about it
(BUSINESS FINANCE) Representation of women in fintech remains scarce despite a prevalent population of interest. Why is this the case, and what can we do about it?
Women are 50% of the population – so why are there only 9 of us on the 2020 Forbes Fintech 50?
I’m personally shocked by how underrepresented women are in such a lucrative industry. By 2022, it’s predicted that fintech, or financial tech, will be worth $26.5 trillion, and we cannot afford to miss out.
And I’m serious when I say fintech is truly taking over. This includes payment processing, online and mobile banking, person-to-person payments (think Venmo or Cash App), financial software, to name a few. For some perspective, half of consumers use digital banking services as the primary way to manage their money. That’s a big deal.
So why does it matter that women are drastically underrepresented in leading roles at these companies?
- Women CEOs receive only 2.7% of all VC funding – that is astonishingly low, considering that the remaining 97.3% is secured by their male counterparts.
- While a study conducted by the Harvard Business Review on leadership skills found that women scored higher than men in 17 out of 19 categories (I could’ve told you that), women founders make up only 17% of fintech companies. Some of the categories tested on were:
- Bold leadership
- Taking initiative
- High integrity & honesty
- Collaboration and teamwork (this is a big one!)
- Inspiring & motivating others
If you’re a woman interested in business, tech, or entrepreneurship looking to break into the big leagues, here’s some exclusive advice from lady CEOs, founders, and COOs:
- Stay Passionate
Suneera Madhani, Founder + CEO of Fattmerchant, says: “…remember why you started and hold that close to your heart when times get tough.”
- Be Open to Learning
“Never behave as the smartest person in the room because you may miss some of the best ideas.” Says Snejina, Co-founder + CEO of Insurify.
- Trust Your Intuition
As the Founder + CEO of Tala, Shivani Siroya urges us to: “Stay excited, focused on results and be incredibly optimist. It’s okay to really believe in your gut – just make sure that you see the results with it.”
2021 is a new year full of opportunity – even though the odds are (and always have been) stacked against us, let’s have this be the year where women techies and business owners capitalize on their leadership skills. We have lost time – and profit – to account for.
Author’s Note: Thank you to CreditRepair for the linked infographic!
Is the convenience of payment apps worth the risk of fraud?
(FINANCE) Peer-to-peer payment apps like CashApp and Venmo are quick and convenient – for users and scammers alike. What are Square and PayPal doing to help?
More and more people are using peer-to-peer payment services, like Square’s Cash App and PayPal’s Venmo, to make purchases, handle their banking, or just to pitch in on the pizza you and your friends had delivered last night. These payment apps have been particularly useful for folks who may not be able to afford bank fees or have other barriers preventing them from accessing a bank account.
That’s because they are very easy to set up, requiring nothing more than an email address or phone number. Even folks with bank accounts are using these payment apps more as folks are trying to stay home and reduce their in-person contacts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of daily users on Venmo has grown 26% since last year.
While these apps bring a lot of convenience to our lives, they have also made running scams more convenient for cybercriminals. According to experts, the rate of fraud on Venmo and Cash App is three to four times higher than with credit or debit cards. While PayPal and Square don’t provide statistics about scams, there are some telling signs. The New York Times and Apptopia, a mobile services tracking firm, found that the number of users mentioning frauds or scams in Venmo customer reviews had increased by four times in the past year.
It seems that Cash App has the most fraudulent activity, with the Better Business Bureau reporting twice as many complaints about Cash App as Venmo, even though Venmo has more users. Zelle has a better track record when it comes to fraud, most likely because it requires a more thorough authentication process when setting up an account. It also has better legal protections for folks who have been scammed.
Some of the things that make these payment apps so quick and easy are exactly the reasons it’s so easy to scam users. The instantaneous payments mean that there’s not much of a vetting process, and not much time to catch a fraudulent transaction before it’s too late. Because you only need an email address or phone number to set up an account, it’s easy for criminals to set up dummy accounts for running scams.
Other scams have been facilitated by the marketing choices of the companies. For example, Cash App regularly runs a Cash App Friday promotion, in which users are rewarded for sharing their username, or $Cashtag, on social media. Unfortunately, this has essentially created a Rolodex of potential victims for criminals.
Square and PayPal are doing what they can to address the problem. Lena Anderson of Square says that they are “aware that there has been a recent rise in scammers trying to take advantage of customers using financial products, including Cash App. We’ve taken a number of proactive steps and made it our top priority.”
One “proactive step” Square has taken is to roll out a customer service phoneline, not only to make it faster and easier for customers to vet potentially fraudulent transactions or report scams, but also because scammers have been creating fake customer service phonelines to target users and collect their personal information. The phoneline is currently available to only some customers, but Square plans to scale it up to be available for all users over time.
Until these companies come up with more robust security systems, there are several things you can do to avoid scams. While you might get a cash bonus from Cash App, it’s probably not worth it to share your $Cashtag on social media. Only share your username with people you know. Never share your personal or banking information with strangers. Examine all transactions carefully. Some scammers are stealing money by making a payment request from an account that looks legitimate, but may have a slightly different spelling or one-letter change in the name.
No legitimate agents of these services should ever ask you for your sign-in code, or to download software, and you shouldn’t click on any links in messages promising cash prizes. Never send small payments in exchange for a promised reward – if it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. Don’t use digital payment apps to pay for or receive payment from sales on Craigslist, Offer Up, or Facebook Marketplace.
If you think you’ve been scammed, changed your PIN number immediately and contact the company and/or the FTC.
Will your stimulus check be taxed? (and other burning questions)
(BUSINESS FINANCE) One of the biggest questions of 2020 (and potentially further) is whether or not your stimulus check will be taxed. Let’s take a look at this, and other questions.
We’re finally able to put 2020 – and its unending laundry list of concerns, tragedies, and turmoil – behind us. At least, it’s a new year finally, but we’ll still be feeling some of the effects from a historically volatile time for a bit, and part of that includes one of the great certainties in life – filing taxes.
Arguably the biggest question that has been repeatedly asked is whether or not a stimulus check is taxed. This is against the greater backdrop of questions as well – does it affect (lower?) one’s tax refund, whether or not someone qualifies for the checks to begin with, when additional rounds might be deposited, whether or not anything changes when filling out tax forms, and so on.
So let’s break these down as simply as possible.
Are stimulus checks taxed?
In short, no (woohoo!). The tax code states that taxes are levied on “all income from whatever source derived” unless there is a specific exemption. While that makes it sound like a stimulus check would be taxed as a form of income given that it is not directly excluded, stimulus checks are considered an advance payment of a tax credit, and thus are not considered taxable income.
Does the stimulus check lower my tax refund?
Also no (hooray!). If anything, it will increase your tax refund. Essentially, this lowers the amount of taxes you are paying. There’s more to it than that, but this is the quickest summary.
Does anything change when filling out my taxes?
I’ll start by saying this is a bit of a trickier area, and I would absolutely suggest speaking with a CPA if you have any specific or in-depth questions.
When filling out the Form 1040, there will be a line on the second page for “Recovery Rebate Credit,” and this is where a number is entered under certain conditions. This is directly related to taxes filed in 2018 and/or 2019, as these years were used to determine who gets a stimulus check and the amount. The general rule is that if there was a big change between those years – losing a job, having a child, starting a new career, graduated college, etc. – then this line may need to be filled in. Essentially, if you are/were entitled to more stimulus payout, then you would enter in the difference here.
For example, if your taxes from 2018 were used to determine your stimulus amount, and this resulted in a low payout due to a high income for that year, but then you lost your job in 2019, you’d write in the difference here. So if you received $100 in stimulus but were laid off in 2019, you could still be owed $1100 (going by the first stimulus check that was valued at $1200 for an individual). You’d enter that amount on this line, which would then lower your tax bill and potentially (should) lead to a higher refund.
Essentially, this line is where you’re stating that you are still owed additional funds that the stimulus was designed to pay out. The IRS website goes over this in some detail, where it explains that individuals who did not receive the full amount via stimulus checks (called “Economic Impact Payments”) from the CARES Act should fill this line out.
In short, if you did get the full amount? Ignore this line. If you did not, you may be eligible, and should determine what to fill in so that you maximize a potential refund.
Will I get the second stimulus check?
President Trump did sign a COVID relief bill recently that was designed to give $600 checks to individuals, as well as other stimulus benefits for unemployment and various funding programs. However, not everyone is eligible for this second check. This includes high earners (anyone with an adjusted gross incoming of $87,000 or more), dependents, and persons who lack certain legal documents/designations.
If I qualify, when do I get the second stimulus check?
Some people have already received this payment via direct deposit, and these will continue onward for the next few weeks. The IRS cannot send any checks for this second round past January 15th, 2021. If an eligible person does not receive the payment by then, they can utilize the “Recovery Rebate Credit” mentioned above when filing taxes.
It should also be noted that some individuals could receive their stimulus via debit cards, so be sure to always check your mail carefully! There’s no indication this could happen with the second round yet, but it’s always best to keep in mind.
Is the tax deadline still April 15th, 2021?
At this time, this is still the official date that taxes must be filed. It should be noted that the same deadline was originally in place for 2020, but was pushed back once pandemic-related obstacles arrived. As such, there is a chance that the date could change for 2021, but until an official ruling is given, plan on having taxes filed by the standard April 15th date (or filing for an extension if that is a possibility).
Will additional stimulus checks arrive in 2021?
While there has been talk within the government regarding additional rounds, and while many are hopeful for a $2000 check, there is no official word or regulations in place to ensure that this will happen. It is still uncertain what the incoming administration will do, can do, or be able to pass in the future; to speculate would be ill-advised at this time.
Keep in mind that debates on the second stimulus check had been ongoing since July 2020 and were only recently passed; this would suggest that additional rounds could face similar discussion.
So, the good news here is that stimulus checks are not taxed and will not affect your tax refund, and this should help a large number of the populace as we continue to work through these difficult times. There is a chance that additional payments will arrive in the future, but keep in mind that they may not arrive soon. Lastly, as I previously mentioned, know that there is a chance to file for the rebate directly on your tax forms, and that I strongly encourage you to speak with a CPA if you have any questions.
Otherwise, as sincerely as I can say this, good luck in the new year!
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