Crowdfunding is a new trend that has emerged within the last decade and has been a huge part of the Millennial culture. Crowdfunding is defined as, “the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people.” According to Goldman Sachs, crowdfunding raised $34.4 billion dollars in 2015 and is only expected to raise more in the coming years.
There are four major forms of crowdfunding which differ drastically; however, they are all included in the general term “crowdfunding.” Let’s take a look at the differences between each form of crowdfunding including the different ways you can gain by participating in them.
The Most Known Type of Crowdfunding: Reward Crowdfunding
Initially, the crowdfunding industry was dominated by reward-based platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Individuals are able to contribute to entrepreneurs and their prototypes in order to help launch projects into market. With hugely successful projects that which quickly went viral, (the most successful project on Kickstarter raised over $20 Million by over 75,000 individuals) reward-based crowdfunding is typically thought of when “crowdfunding” is mentioned.
If you’re looking for a way to discover new innovative prototype products which could become reality very soon, reward crowdfunding is a great way to do so. Since these are prototype projects, there is of course, some risk in terms of getting what you paid for. Issues in manufacturing and shipping often arise and depending on which reward-based crowdfunding platform you use, you may not be able to get your contribution refunded.
Feel Good by Doing Good: Charity Crowdfunding
Probably the least well known, charity crowdfunding is the act of raising funds for charitable causes. Sites such as GoFundMe are known for helping those facing financial issues. Medical bills, college tuition, the purpose of charity crowdfunding offers can differ drastically.
As the name implies, you are participating in charity when you use this form of crowdfunding. Expect no incentive besides the fact that you knew you helped those in need. This form of crowdfunding is a great way to give back to your community or support a friend in need since you can raise funds for them without their knowledge.
A New Form of Crowdfunding Is Now Open: Equity Crowdfunding:
Equity-based crowdfunding is exactly like it sounds. Individuals can help raise money for a company in return for equity (part ownership) of the company. The more you contribute, the larger the part of the company you own. In October 2015, new legislation was passed which changed who could participate in equity crowdfunding. What was once restricted solely to accredited investors (those with huge quantities of money) is now open to the masses.
Unlike reward-based crowdfunding, when you contribute, you don’t receive a physical repayment. Your compensation comes in the form of shares of a company and the potential dividends paid back in future years. There are stacks and stacks of paper regarding the SEC regulations regarding equity crowdfunding since its direct comparison to public trading.
Marketplace Crowdfunding (a.k.a. Peer to Peer Lending)
Also known as Peer to Peer Lending, this form of lending dominates the overall emerging crowdfunding industry in regards to the total amount of capital funded. Marketplace crowdfunding is based on the idea of lending capital to a business with the understanding that the capital will be repaid with interest or profit.
With marketplace crowdfunding, you are rewarded with the repaid profit offered by the businesses. This form of compensation is often considered one of the best ways to grow your wealth considering the high profits offered by companies utilizing marketplace crowdfunding. However, with most marketplace crowdfunding platforms, your contribution could be at risk as the companies you contribute to could default completely and stop paying back. In most cases, collections agencies are involved with limited success.
New companies are emerging which take the benefits of marketplace crowdfunding. Kickfurther, a Top 10 Company in Richard Branson’s 2015 Extreme Tech Challenge, takes the business model of marketplace crowdfunding and applies it to physical inventory. Instead of lending capital, you purchase physical products through a consignment agreement and earn profit as the product you supported sells. These new business models show the potential impact that crowds could have to the $2.6 trillion dollar retail market.
So to recap…
Rewards-based crowdfunding: You give an amount of money in exchange for a reward (often a physical product which was still in prototype stages).
Donation-based crowdfunding: You donate a small amount of money for a charitable purpose without any expectation of being compensated.
Equity crowdfunding: You invest money in a company of your choosing in exchange for equity in the company and possible dividends.
Debt crowdfunding: You lend money to a business with the expectation that they will pay back your support with interest or profit.
When staying abroad I was pretty confused when a waiter asked me whether I wanted to pay in Euros or Dollars after having made a purchase. I leaped at the chance to purchase in dollars, figuring maybe I could avoid a foreign transaction fee from my credit card by doing so, the chase freedom card which charges a 3% foreign transaction fee. The conversion rate they were offering me didn’t seem terrible, about a 2% upcharge from what google told me, so I figured that I’d go ahead and take it. Imagine my surprise when I checked the internet only to find that, according to the internet, I was terribly wrong.
The Internet’s Take
Article after article I checked suggested, in short order that I had been duped by a shady network of banks intent only on robbing me under the thin veil of providing the dubious convenience of paying them substantially more in dollars than my bank might have charged. Some articles I read suggested that fees could be as much as 4-10%! In a panic I went over my account statement and receipt to try to figure out where these nefarious banks were screwing me out of the additional 2-8%. Fortunately for me the answer seemed to be…nowhere.
Chase hasn’t charged me their 3$ foreign transaction fee for that transaction. Maybe that was an oversight on their part, but I’m not sure. My original plan when I visited Europe was to take advantage of Discover’s no foreign transaction fee policy with gusto. There were two problems with this plan. First, I wasn’t able to find basically any place willing to take discover, or as they call it “Diner’s Club International”. Second, I believe this was because I wasn’t able to find that many places that took a card where I was at all anyway!
After making several more transactions I noted that the surcharge being offered in order to pay in dollars rather than euros seems to be quite reasonable. Generally I saw markups between 0 and 5%. Most of which fell between 1-2%. It seems that the banks have gotten substantially less greedy over the years.
While the rule of thumb has always been to go ahead and choose to pay in the local currency, in my case euros. It seems there are occasionally special exceptions. If you are using a credit card with a foreign transaction fee higher than the markup you will pay (most of the time the amount of the markup was advertised before I had to make the choice), it could be in your best interest to go ahead an pay in dollars.
I have read that sometimes your credit card will go ahead and charge you a foreign transaction fee anyway. This is certainly the worst of both worlds.
Of course the real way to solve this problem is simply to avoid it all together. If you use a card which doesn’t have any foreign transaction fees, most travel cards for example, then you simply choose to pay in the local currency every time. This is certainly what I’ll be doing next time I’m abroad. But, for the meantime, if you’re stuck between bank fees, don’t just assume everything you read on the internet is true.
I recently purchased a house and the mortgage company sold my information to a life insurance company. They gave us a call and now we’re a little overwhelmed trying to figure out how to “diversify our finances”. Should I get an accountant? Would he help me with this? We’re a little worried about the additional expense.
The first thing I can tell you Nicole no-last-name is that you probably don’t need to be worried about the additional expense of an accountant. Generally folks in your position hire an accountant because it saves them money. Generally, an accountant also only handles taxes or accounting. Some will give investment advice, and it can be a reasonable way to get it.
The second thing I can tell you requires a little bit of a story: In the nutrition and diet world there is no lack of self-professed guru’s who claim to know the best way for you to lose weight, or the foods that will keep you healthy. They extol the virtues of their particular diet plan. Claiming miraculous results, and always ready to cherry pick examples and studies which support their particular food-cult. If you’ve been steeped in American culture at all in the last 50 years its impossible not to have noticed the endless “now its good for you”, “now its bad for you”. The best nutrition advice I ever got comes from the book “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan:
1. Eat Food
2. Not too much
3. Mostly plants
This advice I found particularly wise because of its humility. Rather than making psuedo-scientific arguments about human diet instead it just tells the reader the simple rules that account for most problems.
The investment equivalent of these rules must be:
1. Buy assets
2. Keep fees low.
3. Mostly stocks.
A great way to drive me crazy is to talk about the “investment” you made buying a nice vacuum. There’s nothing wrong with vacuums, but you’re spending money. Investing means to part with money for the time being in order to generate income, while being reasonably certain of the safety of your principal. Buying gold, for example, doesn’t satisfy this first test, as Warren Buffet said it best in his annual letter to shareholders in 2011,
Today the world’s gold stock is about 170,000 metric tons. If all of this gold were melded together, it would form a cube of about 68 feet per side. (Picture it fitting comfortably within a baseball infield.) At $1,750 per ounce – gold’s price as I write this – its value would be $9.6 trillion. Call this cube pile A.
Let’s now create a pile B costing an equal amount. For that, we could buy all U.S. cropland (400 million acres with output of about $200 billion annually), plus 16 Exxon Mobils (the world’s most profitable company, one earning more than $40 billion annually). After these purchases, we would have about $1 trillion left over for walking-around money (no sense feeling strapped after this buying binge). Can you imagine an investor with $9.6 trillion selecting pile A over pile B?
Beyond the staggering valuation given the existing stock of gold, current prices make today’s annual production of gold command about $160 billion. Buyers – whether jewelry and industrial users, frightened individuals, or speculators – must continually absorb this additional supply to merely maintain an equilibrium at present prices. A century from now the 400 million acres of farmland will have produced staggering amounts of corn, wheat, cotton, and other crops – and will continue to produce that valuable bounty, whatever the currency may be. Exxon Mobil will probably have delivered trillions of dollars in dividends to its owners and will also hold assets worth many more trillions (and, remember, you get 16 Exxons). The 170,000 tons of gold will be unchanged in size and still incapable of producing anything. You can fondle the cube, but it will not respond.
Keep fees low
This is where whole life insurance generally fails, as well as funds with “loads”. When you have to pay someone thousands of dollars for an investment they refer to as a “product”, you’re fees are not low. Index funds, from say Vanguard, are a much better candidate. Your money is invested at a rock bottom cost. Sometimes 0.1% of your invested assets.
To be fair, this is perhaps the only piece of my advice that isn’t necessarily timeless. In 1999 it was probably bad advice, but in general it has been good. Over time stocks have been the best or one of the best performing asset classes in the world. It’s easy to see why this is the case. Stockholders are the ultimate owners of the businesses in the world. Gold doesn’t care if you make money or lose money. Insurance exists to protect you from disaster, not to make you wealthy. The raison d’etre of a business it to generate a profit for its stockholders.
Don’t fall prey to snake-oil salesmen. If you follow this advice I don’t promise millions, and I can’t promise that you won’t lose money. There will be times where you will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the long run, however, if you stay invested and ride out the ups and downs of the market I think it’s very probable that you will enjoy a satisfactory return.
Sometimes life throws you a curveball and you need to come up with some money on short notice. It might be that you need to replace the windshield on your car, you might suddenly need to take a flight to see an ailing parent. Life works better if there is some slack in your finances.
Why do I bring this up? This article came across my desk earlier this week. Fully two-thirds of American’s don’t have $1,000 lying around in case of an emergency. One hopes that the news isn’t as grim as it sounds, and there are a few problems with some of the facts in the article. (Food prices have been dropping like a rock as a share of disposable income). Other than that it paints a depressing picture about the state of most people’s finances, it also explains the popularity of low/no deductible insurance plans and extended warranties.
The Expense of Illiquidity
Many of the people who can’t come up with $1,000 aren’t even poor. 38% of households making over $100,000 can’t come up with the $1,000. These are people who make more than $8,000 per month, and their finances are run so tightly that they can’t set aside 12% of their income for one month to provide some cushion. This is crazy, mostly because it could mean that you end up paying substantially more for everything.
If you can’t afford to replace your cell phone if you break it that means you either need to buy some sort of insurance, borrow money from friends/family, sell assets, or put it on a credit card. If you throw it on the credit card carrying a balance comes with high aprs. If it takes you 2-3 months to come up with the money you’re looking at $60 of finance charges. Cell phone insurance with a $250 deductible typically runs $8-10 per month or about $100 per year. Naturally my advice there is to not carry cell phone insurance and use that $250 to get a used phone, but that’s just me.
This is repeated over and over for every valuable thing a person owns! Extended warranties for laptops, large appliances, and so on. The profit margin on an extended warranty from Best Buy is estimated to be about 50%. That means, on average, that you’re taking a 50% haircut when you fork over warranty money. All of which could be avoided if you just saved a little bit of money.
The Standard Solution
Dave Ramsey, a popular personal finance guru, suggests that you save up $1,000 for an emergency fund, even if you have credit card debt. Leaving $1,000 in a savings/checking account generates a little interest (well, 3% if you use a high-interest checking account), but mainly it provides you with piece of mind.
It’s easy to get used to the constant stress that comes from living on the edge without an emergency fund. You begin not to realize the pressure you feel every day. Every strange hiccough your car gives creates anxiety. Once you save your first thousand dollars it’s like taking off ski boots. The uncomfortable pain you had been living with all day is suddenly gone. It is replaced with the glorious power to write a large check and not have to care.
The Good Solution
Maybe this is the part where you expect me to say, keep an emergency fund of 10 months expenses sitting around. After all, we haven’t discussed the big emergency. What if I lose my job? Having a giant pile of cash sure helps, but watching a supply of cash melt away while you’re on a job hunt is a recipe for its own sort of anxiety. Yes, this is better than having nothing, but instead I propose that you rethink your budget entirely.
The lower your expenses are relative to your income the better you’ll be able to handle what life has to throw your way. This takes discipline. It’s practically an assumption in the US that your expenses = your income. This is terrible. Instead you need to make sure that your fixed expenses, the bills you have to pay, are a small percentage of your income. They should be less than your income from your main job.
This is easiest if you’re married. The person with the smaller income should be able to cover the mortgage/rent, health insurance, food, utilities, auto insurance, and any finance charges that have to be paid month to month. This means that if one of you loses your job you can search for a new one indefinitely simply by tightening the belt on your wants.
If you’re single this requires a bit more work. Typically when you lose your job you’ll get one last paycheck which you’ll have to stretch for, say 6 months. If you have no income from a side business, then you’ll need to make sure that your fixed expenses are no more than 8% of your income. Considering that you ought to be spending no more than 50% of your income this shouldn’t be impossible.
The thing you have most control over here is your costs. If you make $36,000 per year you should spend $480 on rent, food, and so on. Naturally this gets significantly easier if you make even $200 per month from a side business, that income you can directly add to your fixed expenses. This assumes that if you lose your job your side business will stay intact.
You might be inclined to ask, “Adam, if I’m not spending such a large percentage of my main income why aren’t you including that as money that could be used in the event of job loss?” Well, that money should be shoved into tax advantaged retirement accounts. Any leftover goes into brokerage accounts. In just a few years income from your investments will start to become substantial enough that you could survive on it if you had to.
Your goal this month? Save $1,000. Apparently, that’s enough to put you in the top third of the population.
In personal finance we sometimes have an obsessive focus on cost savings. I think the focus comes from the fact that it’s often a blind-spot for folks when they get into budget trouble. People would always like to make more money. More money is a panacea for problems. People tend to equate cutting costs with cutting happiness. When given a magic lamp no one wishes for their costs to be zero, they wish for wealth. This attitude can spill over to your business as well. Landing new clients is sexy and exciting, but it’s crucial to keep your costs in control as well.
Differences Between Cost Saving in Business and Personal Finance
There are a few differences that we should note before we look into the similarities.
First off in personal finance its usually better to cut $5 of spending rather than make $5, just because of the way income taxes work. If you’re in the 25% bracket and I reduce your electricity bill by $15 per month that’s the same as getting a $20 per month raise.
A business doesn’t need to think this way. Since all costs to a business are tax deductible To a business a penny saved really is only a penny earned, while to your household a penny saved could be almost two pennies earned.
In personal finance most of your consumption is assumed to be directly related to your happiness. If you cut spending on going out to eat, it is seen as hardship because you’ll be less happy. In business the point is to maximize, in the long run, the gap between your revenue and your costs. Psychologically this makes it a little easier to cut expenses in business.
Difference Between Frugal and Cheap
In personal finance this isn’t so important. Everyone can decide what cheap means to them, and while you should make an effort not to be rude (don’t screw folks at the check in the restaurant), generally you don’t have to stay up at night worrying about it.
In business this is a constant worry. Is your ad-spend wasted? If I cut back on payroll is that going to cause revenue to drop more? If I don’t fund computer upgrades is that going to cost me more in hours worked? This isn’t at all easy, and you don’t even have the tax advantages available in personal finance. At every level from your side-business to mega-cap corporations people have a great deal of difficulty getting a handle on this. In part because the challenge increases with the business. If you do freelance writing, it’s pretty straightforward. Does my word processor work? If you’re running Coke it’s an endlessly confusing barrage of questions. Was the dip in profits associated with our new ad campaign, was it due to foreign exchange effects, are the departments reporting to me being honest about their budget needs or are they just trying to maximize their take.
Quick Cost Savings
If I had to pick an area for quick cost savings I’d look at energy efficiency, simply because it is eminently calculable. Utility rates are fairly stable, and if you use a 10 watt bulb instead of a 60 watt bulb you just have to multiply your usage by the power savings. IRR’s (internal rates of return) associated with this are all over the place. Solar panels with tax credits and current utility buyback rates can be north of 10%, but those buyback rates may not be sustainable. Moving from incandescent bulbs to CFL or LED bulbs can have an IRR north of 100%, it’s crazy.
Once you zone in here, there is a lot to find. Improving insulation generally offers a good IRR (north of 20%). Better windows are somewhat worse, generally around 10%. Buying a car on this basis is practically the worst idea. The cars with the best MPG are generally new and expensive. Buying an old smallish car is almost certainly going to work out better for you.
The other quick way to save some money, I’m sure you’ve all heard before, is to start making phone calls to company’s that charge you monthly bills. Generally their ongoing costs are very low, but their customer acquisition costs are high. Line level employees are often given sweeping powers to discount your bill for long periods of time. Obvious targets for this are: your internet subscription, your gym subscription, and your phone subscription.
You may have noticed that I didn’t mention your TV subscription. That’s because you don’t call to discount your TV subscription, you call to cancel your TV subscription.
If you have any idea’s for cost savings please don’t hesitate to point them out. I’m always on the lookout for more efficiency in my finances.
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I’m hoping that this list might save some people some time. After spending a certain amount of time with tax-advantage vehicles there is an inclination to try to get “creative.” Unfortunately, creativity in this space is mostly disallowed, and more often than not it’s a bad idea.
Collectibles in an IRA
The idea: Let’s say that I’m a big fan of Magic: the Gathering. Magic is a trading card game and some of the cards can be quite expensive. Valuable cards used in high-profile tournaments and can run between $50 and $100. Some even sell for as much as $5,000. You might be inclined to think, well, I could just support my hobby tax free. I’ll put money into an IRA and spend that money on these expensive cards that I would have purchased anyway and now I still get to use the “invested” money. Since these cards have marched upwards in value over the last 23 years, you might even have a sensible argument that the money was reasonably invested.
The IRS: The bottom line here is that you can’t own collectibles in an IRA. I think the fear the IRS has here is that you it would be very easy to turn a hobby into a tax deduction if they allowed something like this. (Which, really, is exactly what you’re trying to do). It’d be very hard, I think, for the IRS to distinguish between people who owned, say, an antique arcade game for investment purposes and those who held it because they enjoyed playing antique arcade games. They do make certain exceptions for some US minted gold coins.
Why it was a bad idea anyway: Most collectibles aren’t good investments. First, off they aren’t very liquid finding a buyer for thousands of dollars of magic cards isn’t straightforward. The bid-ask spread (the difference between the price you can buy something at and the price you can readily sell it at) in our magic card example is something like 50%. Most collectibles have similar spreads.
Correctly guessing the future value of collectibles is very difficult and not to be underestimated. They also have the unfortunate quality of just sitting there. They, themselves, don’t throw off cash, and the market gods help you if you decided to invest in Beanie Babies.
Ultimately, if you think some specific collectible will do well, you’re often better off investing in the company that makes them, at least that company is trying to make money, and if it’s part of a diversified portfolio you also get around most of these other drawbacks.
Your Business in an IRA
The idea: Let’s say that you have some freelancing job. Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to pay tax on your profits? Well, what if you formed an LLC and deposited all of its ownership interest in your roth IRA?
Then just do a 72t withdrawal and bam, you’re living tax free!
The IRS: Not even a little okay. Basically if you have any control over the an entity inside your IRA the entire IRA could be declared invalid. This is a very bad thing. You then immediately owe taxes and penalties on the contents of the IRA. What’s more the IRS may even penalize the trustee of your IRA. In practice this means that any self-respecting institution will not allow you to do something like this.
Why it was a bad idea anyway: Your retirement accounts are stupidity insurance. If you put money into an IRA and a 401k it gains not just tax protections, but also many protections from creditors.
You can make serious mistakes with credit cards, real estate, or in your own business. Declare bankruptcy, and in many situations still have a secure retirement. This is an amazing boon. If you engage in certain transactions with your IRA you can lose this bankruptcy protection.
This is one of the few countries in the world where failing once doesn’t ruin your whole life, you wouldn’t want to put yourself in a position where your risky startup could put a bullet hole in your retirement.
Life insurance in an IRA
The idea: If I’m going to buy life insurance anyway, premiums are not typically tax deductible, but my cousin says that life insurance is a great investment. I’ll buy it through my IRA and then I won’t have to pay tax on the premiums!
The IRS: Typically life insurance can’t be purchased in an IRA. There are exceptions, and those exceptions require both specific types of retirement plans (“qualified plans”) and that the “insurance value” of the life insurance plan be incidental compared to the retirement value.
Why it was a bad idea anyway: I don’t want to say all non-term life insurance is a scam.
Your House in an IRA
The idea: The biggest investment I’m ever going to make is probably in my house. I want my biggest investment to be tax sheltered so I’ll try to put it in my IRA, by using my IRA for the down payment.
The IRS: There are many ways to access IRA and other retirement money to use for the down payment on your first house. None of these ways allow you to actually hold the house in your IRA.
Contrary to popular belief, however, it is possible to own real-estate in an IRA. The rules regarding this are a little complicated, but the upshot is that
A) you have to hire an unrelated management company to rent it out, do upkeep, etc.
B) if you get a mortgage the percentage of the real-estate that is mortgaged doesn’t really count as being in the IRA. This means that you have to calculate that portion and make sure that this percentage of the rents you earn doesn’t end up in the IRA and that you do pay taxes on that percentage. This gets complicated fast and you’ll almost certainly need an accountant that has experience with this sort of thing.
Why it was a bad idea anyway: The whole point, if you don’t have a strong opinion of changes in your tax bracket, of the IRA as a tax shelter is that it saves you all of the tax on earnings your investments make.
For your primary residence, up to $250,000 of the gain is tax free! This increases to $500,000 if you include your spouse. Notice I didn’t say if you sell your house for less than $250,000. I said up to $250,000 of the gain is tax free. Given that the median home price is about $222,000 most of you will not have to pay taxes on the gain when you sell it even if the home price doubles. If the home price triples you’ll want to make sure that you get married a few years in advance of the sale.
Even if you have a really expensive house losing the tax benefit of the first half million dollars of gain in your IRA isn’t great news. Also, price appreciation of real-estate over retirement investing timescales is like 3-4%. Compared to stocks this return is quite pitiful.
Stocks, Bonds, and Mutual funds
For now, you’ll just want to stick with these. Getting creative is valuable. Use your creativity in your other endeavors. When it comes to taxes creativity isn’t generally a good idea.