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SEC lifts advertising ban: big win for equity crowdfunding

Crowdfunding sites were handed a huge win today in the form of the SEC lifting an 80 year old ban that restricted businesses from advertising their need for funding beyond their personal networks, along with measures designed to protect investors.

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Crowdfunding sites get a nod from the SEC

In a 4-1 vote today by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), an amendment has passed to lift the 80 year ban on the general solicitation and advertising of Regulation D (“Reg D”) offerings which will go into effect in 60 days. While most analysts have focused on hedge funds, the ruling reduces many of the limitations that equity crowdfunding sites have been restricted by – a huge win for companies seeking alternative financing.

EarlyShares CEO Joanna Schwartz explains, “Historically, entrepreneurs and small business owners have been prohibited from advertising their need for capital beyond their personal networks. This presented a huge challenge. How can you raise money if you can’t tell anyone that you need money? With this ruling, advertising will be permitted, eliminating a major barrier to raising capital from accredited investors.”

John A. Kallassy, President and Founding Partner of I-Bankers Direct said, “This ruling will dramatically alter the capital-raising process for private companies, especially for early-stage businesses, which can now cast a much wider net. The welcome transparency that the SEC ruling brings to the process will allow a significantly larger number of investors, many of whom are unaware of their accredited status, to participate in opportunities that, until now, fell almost exclusively in the domain of the investing elite.”

Michael Nugent and Rasmus Goksor, Co-Founders of Bison stated that lifting the solicitation ban brings new Form D filing requirements and enables information to be more freely shared with the public. “There remains, however, a fundamental data problem in the industry stemming from the disparate sources and unstructured format of data. There is a strong need for actors that can augment all industry data and create a true information platform for private equity. This is what we continue to work on at Bison.co.”

The ruling was not unanimous

The approved amendment and others still under consideration are part of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act) and supporters of this specific rule have criticized the SEC for delaying enforcement of the bi-partisan supported Act.

The SEC ruling was not unanimous, and the sole vote against it was Democratic Commissioner Luis Aguilar who said in a statement, “I am disappointed and saddened by the reckless adoption [of the rule].”

SEC Chair Mary Jo White said, “In my view, given the explicit language of the JOBS act as well as the statutory deadline … the commission should act without any further delay.”

In a show of support for investor protection, the SEC unanimously adopted rules that block felons from pitching specific types of private investment deals and in a 3-2 vote adopted a rule that requires firms offering private placements to make additional disclosures to regulators prior to being able to advertise it.

Although strong bipartisan support has been voiced for the JOBS Act amendments, Aguilar’s negative sentiment echoes that of Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) who said, “It’s as if the SEC is jumping out of an airplane today, and then proposing to check the safety of its parachute on the way down.”

Changing the face of crowdfunding

Regardless of criticism, the new rules will soon be in place, and equity crowdfunding will no longer have to persistently disclaim, “once the Securities and Exchange Commission rules are finalized and effective,” as organizations like EarlyShares have been doing since their inception.

Jason Burmer, VC and Angel Relations at EarlyShares said in a statement, “The face of raising capital is changing… in a good way. The convergence of technology and new laws has enabled us to streamline the once cumbersome capital raising process to a more pragmatic approach that enables investing in startups and small businesses over the internet.”

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Business Finance

Once and for all – will we ever get Social Security benefits or not?

(FINANCE) Is it possible to settle the age-old question about Social Security benefits drying up before it’s your turn to receive them?

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Will we have them or won’t we have them? That is the age-old question when it comes to Social Security benefits.

If you’re over 65 years old or planning on living to be 65 years old, odds are you’re relying on Social Security as a source of income to supplement your retirement savings or you’re straight up depending on it to live.

However, we’re facing the largest senior population the US has ever seen thanks to the Baby Boom – and Social Security is at serious risk for going bankrupt well before Gen X’ers, Xennials, Millenials and Gen Z’ers need it.

But why?

Social Security is funded by a 12.4% payroll tax that we all pay into, however, we’re facing a surplus of retirees now that the baby boomers have officially aged into retirement.

In fact, by 2030 every Boomer will be over the age of 65, which means the number of people receiving Social Security benefits will exceed the number of people working jobs and paying into the program.

But let’s back up for a minute. What’s our status right now?

Well, we’re currently working with a surplus of Social Security money that had previously been set aside in a trust fund that was able to close the income gap between the program’s earning and spending. However, this year that gap is going to widen and the program won’t be able to make up for lost income.

The super surge of seniors means that by 2034, the trust fund will be entirely wiped out and while this won’t necessarily bankrupt Social Security it will cause the program to make 25% cuts to all recipients’ benefits.

Eek. So, can anything be done?

Well, we’ve been here before. In 1982, Congress stepped in and made changes to alleviate Social Security’s financial woes by increasing payroll taxes, raising the retirement age, and implementing federal income taxes on certain qualifying retiree income.

Will the current Congress step in before it’s too late? While similar changes have been floated on the floor, a bill has yet to be drafted. For shame.

So, will we or won’t we? We don’t know.

However, the times, they are a’changing and if Congress can pass legislation for universal healthcare and tuition reimbursement, then maybe we won’t need it. Of course, that doesn’t make up for the years of low-to-no earnings Millenials faced during the recession, but it might be what can save us from needing to rely solely on Social Security benefits.

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Business Finance

GoFraudMe: How to 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 cryptocurrency works – basic vocabulary and concepts

(FINANCE) Cryptocurrency is a concept that dates back a decade, but as it becomes newly mainstream, many are struggling to catch up – knowing the basic concepts can get you up to speed.

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One of the most exciting things to arise out of new technology is the idea of better ways to optimize and improve concepts that we already find in the real world. None of us should be surprised when that includes currency.

With cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, Litecoin, Dash, NEM, Ethereum Classic, Monero, and Zcash (to name a few), it may be hard for the average consumer not to just keep up, but to know what’s going on in this revolution in our modern day economy. Knowing how crypto works makes you a better consumer, as well as investor in your future. Let’s get started with the basics.

What is a cryptocurrency?

To ask what cryptocurrency is, one should also contemplate what modern day paper or coin currency is. At its most basic, all currencies share this core trait: you can exchange a unit (or units) which has predetermined value for either goods or services. Whether it’s dollars, Yen, the gold standard, or Dogecoin, all of these currencies allow you to complete basic transactions.

Where cryptocurrency is different, is how these transactions are completed and how cryptocurrencies are processed.

How does crypto differ from common currencies?

Cryptocurrency allows you to send money directly peer-to-peer (p2p) electronically instead of operating through third-party systems like banks or governments.

The technology that makes this happen is called Blockchain. Blockchain technology is the primary difference between the dollars in your wallet and the virtual currencies in your crypto wallet. The Litecoin School of Crypto uses a great analogy to explain how blockchains work:

“In its simplest form, blockchain is data. It’s a list of recorded information called “blocks” strung together in a chain. Think of blocks as folders stuffed with information i.e. how much Litecoin was sent, who sent it, and who received it. The great thing about blockchains is that it’s public and anyone in the world can see it.”

How does a normal crypto transaction work?

Here’s an example using the fictional cryptocurrency, bitquarters: Karen owes Jamal 10 bitquarters for her movie ticket, so she’s going to pay him back. Karen first requests the transaction through her digital wallet. Because of the nature of cryptocurrency, she can’t send him bitquarters she doesn’t have (there is no “overdrawn” account status in crypto, like modern banks), so it’s a good thing she just got paid!

When Karen initiates the transaction, she uses her private key to virtually “sign” it. When a transaction is completed, an individual will “sign” their transaction with their private key – the reason why cryptocurrency is called as such is because of encryption, after all. The requested transaction is sent via peer-to-peer (p2p) sharing to a network of computers called nodes. These computers validate Karen’s key and verify the transaction.

After the transaction is verified, it is added to the blockchain, the virtual ledger, that all bitquarter users have access to. After that is finished, in only a matter of seconds, Jamal is paid!

What is this cryptocurrency “mining” thing I’ve been hearing so much about?

Mining is a vital part of the cryptocurrency transaction. Miners are the only individuals in the crypto process that can confirm transactions. Their job is to take a transaction, to verify that it is legitimate, and spread them p2p in the network.

To make it a part of the public ledger (the blockchain) every node has to add it to its database. Because mining takes a computer’s energy and electricity to perform, miners are rewarded with small amounts of cryptocurrency per transaction (like how you pay to pull money from an ATM). However, to prevent fraudulent transactions, a computer must solve an encrypted puzzle in order to add it to the blockchain.

What are other important crypto terms I need to know?

Address: the only piece of information that needs to be used for a transaction, similar to a user name or email address. Each transaction uses a different address.

Block: a unit of data in the blockchain that holds and validates transactions. A blockchain is where all blocks of transactions reside.

Double spend: the action of trying to spend cryptocurrency to two different recipients simultaneously. Mining as well as the blockchain prevent malicious actions such as this from taking place.

Cryptocurrency is held up by some as being the currency of the future, while many others think that due to over-speculation, that it will be a investment bubble with irrevocable consequences for brick and mortar institutions. Regardless of any market forecasters perspective on cryptocurrency, the technology is here to stay and knowing the basic vocabulary can help you understand where things are going.

Don’t be intimidated by all of the language around this concept – if you choose to dive into the crypto waters, you’ll learn as you go along. If you invest in stocks, you know a specific concept and vocabulary list, and crypto functions differently but is just another finance mechanism, both of which can be overwhelming but learning the parts necessary to your goals is all that matters.

PS: If you’re more of a visual person, there’s a short video available that has circulated that explains Bitcoing well, and applies to crypto in general.

This story was first published in February 2018.

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