Investing

After years of talk, the world's most familiar digital payment platform, Paypal, is finally embracing cryptocurrency as a form of accepted currencies for all its US users.

Bitcoin, Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash, and Litecoin will be the cryptocurrencies accepted by PayPal. "The shift to digital forms of currencies is inevitable," said Dan Schulman, president, and CEO of PayPal in an October 21st press release.

Experts in the crypto world have often linked the volatility and shortcomings of cryptocurrencies to its lack of accessibility in markets, so this new acceptance on part of Paypal might just be what's needed to propel cryptocurrency use into the mainstream economy. Paypal will develop complementary cryptocurrency educational resources on its website.

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Isn't it refreshing to see a story about someone giving back?

Not every wealthy person is Ebenezer Scrooge, clutching every penny for himself. Some of the wealthiest people on Earth also realize how fortunate they are to have been so blessed, so they share the wealth. When they open their pocketbooks, they aren't stingy.

Just look at Jeff Bezos, who recently announced he was donating $100 million to food banks to help America get through the coronavirus. Wow! That's so much money, and he's just giving it away! It's way more than you or I or several families put together are likely to earn in our entire lifetimes! It's more money than you could fit in your fridge in stacks of $100 bills—unless you're Nancy Pelosi.

If you had that much money in a bank account with just 1% interest compounding annually, you and me and those several families could easily live off that interest without ever touching the principal! Forever! Come to think of it, it's kind of more money than any one person could ever need or even spend on anything reasonable.

Sure, if you want your own private jet to shuttle you around the world eating dinner off the naked bodies of a series of celebrities, you could spend that much pretty easily, but if you just want to have a good, satisfying life, $100 million in the banks isn't much better than an $80,000 salary—depending on factors like your debt burden and the cost of living where you live.

So why don't any one of these mega-billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Michael Bloomberg—if they really are as generous as they seem—just give away their riches and secure a place in history as the person who personally ended world hunger or homelessness in America? They could even keep a few hundred million to continue living like kings (or at least like Warren Buffett).

Surely it must not be that simple? Because if this was just a matter of private greed preventing that kind of transformational change, governments would surely have used their ability to levy taxes for the public good to seize that fallow wealth and make the world a better place. There has to be some reasonable explanation for why they don't just give it all away. Surely...

In this series we'll look at myths around philanthropy, including the notions that it's possible for billionaires to be generous, that their "wealth" is substantially different than money, that their private foundations do a lot of good, and that they are patrons of the arts.

But to start things off, let's look at one of the simplest explanations for this disconnect.

Myth: Charity Is Actually Better Than Taxation

What you'll hear

Government intervention is a blunt instrument, and charity is a scalpel.

The government is okay at helping people, but charity is really the way to go. Private individuals aren't hampered by government bureaucracy and can respond more efficiently and directly to needs as they occur. Over time we should try to shift toward a more voluntary charity-based model of social assistance, rather than relying on big government.

Why It's wrong

Actually the opposite is true.

During economic downturns, when the need is greatest, government assistance like unemployment, food stamps, and welfare kick in automatically to help those in need. They're called automatic stabilizers, and they help to mitigate the impact of these crises and make it easier to shift toward recovery.

Automatic stabilizers | National income and price determination | AP Macroeconomics | Khan Academy www.youtube.com

Meanwhile the wealthy are often anxiously tending to their own floundering finances or businesses amid the tumult and aren't as likely to open their checkbooks for charity. What this means is that charitable giving actually declines when people need it the most.

On top of that, as bad as politicians often are at being responsive to the needs of their constituents, at least they have constituents. By contrast, there's nothing to stop the wealthy from holing up in their gated compounds, beholden to no one and only responsive to the needs of the rarefied elites they know—donating to foundations developing a cure for gout or gene therapy to treat Habsburg Jaw.

To the extent that they are aware of the plight of others, it's often connected to their religious affiliation, which is why religious charities—that often spend money on churches and missionary work and who proselytize to the needy—are among the largest charities in the US.

If you don't mind someone else's idea of God determining which causes are important and who gets helped, then charity is a great way to go. For the rest of us, higher taxes on the wealthy—and reducing the amount they can dodge those taxes through, say "charity"—would be better.

In this sense, a blunt instrument is often exactly what we need—just a flood of money going to everyone who might realistically need it. And while government bureaucracy is annoying and should be cut where possible—particular when it comes to overzealous means testing—the fact that the federal government deals with such massive sums of money actually makes it possible to consolidate administrative overhead.

All this means that the government can actually use its resources for the public good far more efficiently than a bunch of disparate charitable foundations. In other words: Taxation and government handouts are (generally) much better than charity.

Charity: how effective is giving? | The Economist www.youtube.com

While charitable donations have the added value of making rich people feel good and earning them some good PR, they aren't actually better for the world—or even nearly as good—as a robust social safety net. That means we should really limit the amount of taxes that can be written off through charitable donations.

Of course, without that tax incentive a lot of charities might receive substantially less in donations from the ultra-wealthy. But in that case we would have to ask: Are Billionaires really that generous? Check out our next installment to find out.

Sustainable living is more than just a buzzword these days; it has impacted our lives from the products we consume to the food we eat, helping us find balance in our lives, both physically and mentally.

So why not apply this concept to the way we invest our money as well? Enter—socially responsible investing.

Every dollar we spend gives us the ability to make a change in the world and as investors, we are at the forefront of creating a lasting impact. This can be done through Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) which gives us the ability to grow our money while investing in causes we care about.

Investing in clean energy The Star

What is Socially Responsible Investing?

Socially Responsible Investing is when investors consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors when choosing where to put their money. This means choosing businesses that are ethically sound and align with the core values of the investor. SRI also means avoiding industries that have a negative impact on the environment, such as alcohol, tobacco, fast food or fossil fuel production.

The most important ESG factors vary by investor. Some may care most about the size of a company's carbon footprint while others might prioritize fair treatment of employees and ethical practices in the workplace. SRI has become incredibly popular in recent years and The Bank of America estimates that there will be a $20 million flow in this type of investing over the next two decades.

Different ways to invest in SRIs

Socially responsible investing is entirely dependent on what the investor wants to support through his/her investment strategy—be it climate change or workplace equality. Hence, there is no one size fits all approach to this type of investing. Here are a few ways to invest more intentionally:

Mutual Funds

Mutual funds are known to be safe bets for many investors, and they are popular among socially responsible investors as well. There are more than 200 socially responsible mutual funds on the US SIF website for investors to choose from. You can find data on the financial performance of a stock along with information on how the company in question contributes towards a greater social impact.

SRI mutual funds focus on three main areas:

1. Environmental, Social and Governance funds—or ESG for short—are funds invested in industries that have adopted ethical practices. The company's material impact is taken into consideration along with its financial performance.

2. Impact funds—While ESG funds place equal importance on both impact and financial performance of a stock, Impact funds aim to put social impact first. These funds invest in companies that create societal change but may not offer the best financial return. They're good choices for investors who prioritize their social intentions over financial gain.

3. Faith funds—These funds invest in stocks of companies whose values are based on the Christian, Catholic or Islamic faith. Companies that don't fall under this category are excluded.

Alternative Investments

Socially Responsible Investing isn't just limited to mutual funds; other investment assets are getting into the SRI game as well. Alternative investment options for ethical investors include property funds and hedge funds which are said to be a $588 billion industry today. Investors who opt for this type of security have over 780 alternative investment funds to choose from.

What is socially responsible investing? Capital.com

Advantages of SRI funds

People who take the socially responsible investment approach usually tend to go all in. This means that their portfolios only include stocks of companies that are socially and ethically responsible. Here are the benefits of adopting such a strategy:

1. Stick to your values

All our actions and reactions are based on a core set of values that we follow. Socially responsible investing lets us apply this principle to our investment strategy as well. Investing intentionally through SRIs allows you to do more than just discuss social issues; you have the ability to use your money to take action for what you believe in.

2. Invest and let go

Most financial assets we invest in require micromanagement—either by us or a financial advisor. SRI funds, however, are designed to be low risk, allowing you (the investor) to adopt a hands-off approach. You can use your time to focus on riskier assets in your portfolio.

Disadvantages of SRI funds

While SRI funds may seem like a great addition to your portfolio, they do have drawbacks as well. These include:

1. Financial performance takes a backseat

Socially responsible investing allows you to invest in causes that you care about, but very often a strong focus on a company's ethical practices means that financial performance can take a backseat. Studies done on SRIs at different time periods showed that they underperformed in comparison to other stocks. Hence, when picking SRI stocks, it is important that you don't deviate from your financial goals.

2. A marketing gimmick

Although climate change and the carbon footprint are growing concerns, it is also important to remember that we live in a society where profits trump social ethics. Companies that claim to be ethical or socially responsible may be using corporate partnerships to improve their position in the market. In many cases, the illusion of social responsibility is simply a marketing gimmick to earn greater profits. The sad reality is that businesses who promote eco-friendly practices may be the perpetrators of an environmental scandal. A great example of this is when Volkswagen deliberately claimed they would design a system to reduce carbon emissions in order to gain an edge over their competitors; meanwhile, the company's production plant was actually poisoning the planet.

Is SRI the right fit for you?

Millennials and Gen Z are at the forefront of using socially responsible investing to create a lasting impact with their finances. This in no way means that SRIs are a fad that will eventually pass—in fact, they are here to stay. Between 2016 and 2018, the number of investments in SRIs grew by 38 percent. In the world of investing where making money has become the main goal, socially responsible investing allows you to earn an income while promoting change.

At the same time, this investment strategy may not be for everyone. In certain situations, investors should be willing to forgo extra income in favor of supporting a social cause. This trade-off is something that needs to be considered before investing with this approach. However, if you put in the time and effort, it is possible to find stocks that meet both your social and financial goals. Striking that perfect balance can help you feel secure, knowing that your finances are put towards a worthy cause!

From saving for a big purchase to paying off a loan, money management apps can help you take control of your finances. However, selecting one can be more difficult than figuring out the interest, fees, or charges on your latest credit card statement. We rounded up the top three apps to help you manage money.

1. Mint

Since 2006, Mint has helped people stay on a budget and track their finances. This free app is a good choice if you are trying to cut expenses but don't want to resort to an Excel spreadsheet for finance management. Mint doesn't require any software installation, and you can use the mobile app or access the site on a browser.

Mint combines all the different aspects of your financial life into one place. It handles budgets, bills, credit scores, and investments. You can add an unlimited number of accounts, such as bank accounts or credit cards, and automatically track them. Mint provides tips to help you manage money based on the goals you set. In addition, it sends alerts for upcoming bills, organizes all the bills in one place, and alerts you to unusual account changes.

2. Acorns

The Acorns app helps you save money with little effort. Although it is not free, Acorns is very affordable with $1, $2, and $3 per month plans. College students can get the $1 per month plan for free. The app lets you automatically save and invest money on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.

Acorns invests your spare change by rounding up to the nearest dollar every time you make a purchase with a debit or credit card. Then, it takes the spare change from your checking account and moves it into your Acorns investment account. Next, the app automatically invests it in your portfolio. You can also move a lump sum for investing or set up recurring contributions to a retirement account.

3. Credit Karma

Your credit is an important part of your financial life and affects your insurance rates, ability to take out a new loan, or get a lease on a rental property. Credit Karma lets you check your credits scores with an easy app for free. The app provides credit scores from TransUnion and Equifax, along with the reports, so you can track progress. Checking them with this free service doesn't affect your scores.

Credit Karma also gives you personalized recommendations to improve your credit and save money. The insights help you analyze the scores in a simple way. If anything changes, its credit-monitoring feature sends you alerts. It can also track your email address to search for breached accounts and notify you.

Ignoring your finances won't help you get out of debt or manage a budget, but you don't have to do it alone. Try one of these three money management apps to stay on track. We promise that there are no complicated spreadsheets or calculus involved in using them.