Who Scams The Scammers? Meet the Scambaiters

Police struggle to catch online fraudsters, often operating from overseas, but now a new breed of amateurs are taking matters into their own hands.

Three to four days a week, for one or two hours at a time, Rosie Okumura, 35, telephones thieves and messes with their minds. For the past two years, the LA-based voice actor has run a sort of reverse call centre, deliberately ringing the people most of us hang up on – scammers who pose as tax agencies or tech-support companies or inform you that you’ve recently been in a car accident you somehow don’t recall. When Okumura gets a scammer on the line, she will pretend to be an old lady, or a six-year-old girl, or do an uncanny impression of Apple’s virtual assistant Siri.

Once, she successfully fooled a fake customer service representative into believing that she was Britney Spears. “I waste their time,” she explains, “and now they’re not stealing from someone’s grandma.” Okumura is a “scambaiter” – a type of vigilante who disrupts, exposes or even scams the world’s scammers. While scambaiting has a troubled 20-year online history, with early forum users employing extreme, often racist, humiliation tactics, a new breed of scambaiters are taking over TikTok and YouTube. Okumura has more than 1.5 million followers across both video platforms, where she likes to keep things “funny and light”.

In April, the then junior health minister Lord Bethell tweeted about a “massive sudden increase” in spam calls, while a month earlier the consumer group Which? found that phone and text fraud was up 83% during the pandemic. In May, Ofcom warned that scammers are increasingly able to “spoof” legitimate telephone numbers, meaning they can make it look as though they really are calling from your bank. In this environment, scambaiters seem like superheroes – but is the story that simple? What motivates people like Okumura? How helpful is their vigilantism? And has a scambaiter ever made a scammer have a change of heart?

Batman became Batman to avenge the death of his parents; Okumura became a scambaiter after her mum was scammed out of $500. In her 60s and living alone, her mother saw a strange pop-up on her computer one day in 2019. It was emblazoned with the Windows logo and said she had a virus; there was also a number to call to get the virus removed. “And so she called and they told her, ‘You’ve got this virus, why don’t we connect to your computer and have a look.” Okumura’s mother granted the scammer remote access to her computer, meaning they could see all of her files. She paid them $500 to “remove the virus” and they also stole personal details, including her social security number.

Thankfully, the bank was able to stop the money leaving her mother’s account, but Okumura wanted more than just a refund. She asked her mum to give her the number she’d called and called it herself, spending an hour and 45 minutes wasting the scammer’s time. “My computer’s giving me the worst vibes,” she began in Kim Kardashian’s voice. “Are you in front of your computer right now?” asked the scammer. “Yeah, well it’s in front of me, is that… that’s like the same thing?” Okumura put the video on YouTube and since then has made over 200 more videos, through which she earns regular advertising revenue (she also takes sponsorships directly from companies).

“A lot of it is entertainment – it’s funny, it’s fun to do, it makes people happy,” she says when asked why she scambaits. “But I also get a few emails a day saying, ‘Oh, thank you so much, if it weren’t for that video, I would’ve lost $1,500.’” Okumura isn’t naive – she knows she can’t stop people scamming, but she hopes to stop people falling for scams. “I think just educating people and preventing it from happening in the first place is easier than trying to get all the scammers put in jail.”

She has a point – in October 2020, the UK’s national fraud hotline, run by City of London Police-affiliated Action Fraud, was labelled “not fit for purpose” after a report by Birmingham City University. An earlier undercover investigation by the Times found that as few as one in 50 fraud reports leads to a suspect being caught, with Action Fraud frequently abandoning cases. Throughout the pandemic, there has been a proliferation of text-based scams asking people to pay delivery fees for nonexistent parcels – one victim lost £80,000 after filling in their details to pay for the “delivery”. (To report a spam text, forward it to 7726.)

Asked whether vigilante scambaiters help or hinder the fight against fraud, an Action Fraud spokesperson skirted the issue. “It is important people who are approached by fraudsters use the correct reporting channels to assist police and other law enforcement agencies with gathering vital intelligence,” they said via email. “Word of mouth can be very helpful in terms of protecting people from fraud, so we would always encourage you to tell your friends and family about any scams you know to be circulating.”

Indeed, some scambaiters do report scammers to the police as part of their operation. Jim Browning is the alias of a Northern Irish YouTuber with nearly 3.5 million subscribers who has been posting scambaiting videos for the past seven years. Browning regularly gets access to scammers’ computers and has even managed to hack into the CCTV footage of call centres in order to identify individuals. He then passes this information to the “relevant authorities” including the police, money-processing firms and internet service providers.

“I wouldn’t call myself a vigilante, but I do enough to say, ‘This is who is running the scam,’ and I pass it on to the right authorities.” He adds that there have only been two instances where he’s seen a scammer get arrested. Earlier this year, he worked with BBC’s Panorama to investigate an Indian call centre – as a result, the centre was raided by local police and the owner was taken into custody.

Browning says becoming a YouTuber was “accidental”. He originally started uploading his footage so he could send links to the authorities as evidence, but then viewers came flooding in. “Unfortunately, YouTube tends to attract a younger audience and the people I’d really love to see looking at videos would be older folks,” he says. As only 10% of Browning’s audience are over 60, he collaborates with the American Association of Retired People to raise awareness of scams in its official magazine. “I deliberately work with them so I can get the message a little bit further afield.”

Still, that doesn’t mean Browning isn’t an entertainer. In his most popular upload, with 40m views, he calmly calls scammers by their real names. “You’ve gone very quiet for some strange reason,” Browning says in the middle of a call, “Are you going to report this to Archit?” The spooked scammer hangs up. One comment on the video – with more than 1,800 likes – describes getting “literal chills”.

But while YouTube’s biggest and most boisterous stars earn millions, Browning regularly finds his videos demonetised by the platform – YouTube’s guidelines are broad, with one clause reading “content that may upset, disgust or shock viewers may not be suitable for advertising”. As such, Browning still also has a full-time job.

YouTube isn’t alone in expressing reservations about scambaiting. Jack Whittaker is a PhD candidate in criminology at the University of Surrey who recently wrote a paper on scambaiting. He explains that many scambaiters are looking for community, others are disgruntled at police inaction, while some are simply bored. He is troubled by the “humiliation tactics” employed by some scambaiters, as well as the underlying “eye for an eye” mentality.

“I’m someone who quite firmly believes that we should live in a system where there’s a rule of law,” Whittaker says. For scambaiting to have credibility, he believes baiters must move past unethical and illegal actions, such as hacking into a scammer’s computer and deleting all their files (one YouTube video entitled “Scammer Rages When I Delete His Files!” has more than 14m views). Whittaker is also troubled by racism in the community, as an overcrowded job market has led to a rise in scam call centres in India. Browning says he has to remove racist comments under his videos.

“I think scambaiters have all the right skills to do some real good in the world. However, they’re directionless,” Whittaker says. “I think there has to be some soul- searching in terms of how we can better utilise volunteers within the policing system as a whole.”

At least one former scambaiter agrees with Whittaker. Edward is an American software engineer who engaged in an infamous bait on the world’s largest scambaiting forum in the early 2000s. Together with some online friends, Edward managed to convince a scammer named Omar that he had been offered a lucrative job. Omar paid for a 600-mile flight to Lagos only to end up stranded.

“He was calling us because he had no money. He had no idea how to get back home. He was crying,” Edward explains. “And I mean, I don’t know if I believe him or not, but that was the one where I was like, ‘Ah, maybe I’m taking things a little too far.’” Edward stopped scambaiting after that – he’d taken it up when stationed in a remote location while in the military. He describes spending four or five hours a day scambaiting: it was a “part-time job” that gave him “a sense of community and friendship”.

“I mean, there’s a reason I asked to remain anonymous, right?” Edward says when asked about his actions now. “I’m kind of embarrassed for myself. There’s a moment where it’s like, ‘Oh, was I being the bad guy?’” Now, Edward doesn’t approve of vigilantism and says the onus is on tech platforms to root out scams.

Yet while the public continue to feel powerless in the face of increasingly sophisticated scams (this summer, Browning himself fell for an email scam which resulted in his YouTube channel being temporarily deleted), But scambaiting likely isn’t going anywhere. Cassandra Raposo, 23, from Ontario began scambaiting during the first lockdown in 2020. Since then, one of her TikTok videos has been viewed 1.5m times. She has told scammers her name is Nancy Drew, given them the address of a police station when asked for her personal details, and repeatedly played dumb to frustrate them.

“I believe the police and tech companies need to do more to prevent and stop these scams, but I understand it’s difficult,” says Raposo, who argues that the authorities and scambaiters should work together. She hopes her videos will encourage young people to talk to their grandparents about the tactics scammers employ and, like Browning, has received grateful emails from potential victims who’ve avoided scams thanks to her content. “My videos are making a small but important difference out there,” she says. “As long as they call me, I’ll keep answering.”

For Okumura, education and prevention remain key, but she’s also had a hand in helping a scammer change heart. “I’ve become friends with a student in school. He stopped scamming and explained why he got into it. The country he lives in doesn’t have a lot of jobs, that’s the norm out there.” The scammer told Okumura he was under the impression that, “Americans are all rich and stupid and selfish,” and that stealing from them ultimately didn’t impact their lives. (Browning is more sceptical – while remotely accessing scammers’ computers, he’s seen many of them browsing for the latest iPhone online.)

“At the end of the day, some people are just desperate,” Okumura says. “Some of them really are jerks and don’t care… and that’s why I keep things funny and light. The worst thing I’ve done is waste their time.”

By:

Source: Who scams the scammers? Meet the scambaiters | Cybercrime | The Guardian

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ISBN9781412960472. “FBI 2017 Internet Crime Report” (PDF). FBI.gov. Federal Bureau of Investigation. May 7, 2018. Retrieved 28 August 2018.

“The Economic Impact of Cybercrime— No Slowing Down” (PDF). McAfee. 2018. Retrieved October 24, 2018. Goel, Rajeev K. (2020).

“Uncharitable Acts in Charity: Socioeconomic Drivers of Charity-Related Fraud”. Social Science Quarterly. 101 (4): 1397–1412. doi:10.1111/ssqu.12794. ISSN1540-6237. Burke, Cathy.

“L.I. charity chief convicted of embezzling nearly $1 million meant for disabled”. nydailynews.com. Retrieved 2021-04-22.

“Charitable Contributions: For use in preparing 2016 Returns” (PDF). “Scam Watch – Nigerian Scams”. Scam Watch – Australian Government. 12 May 2016. Jamie Doward (2008-03-09).

“How boom in rogue ticket websites fleeces Britons”. The Observer. London. Retrieved 9 March 2008.

“USOC and IOC file lawsuit against fraudulent ticket seller”. Sports City. Retrieved 1 August 2008. Jacquelin Magnay (4 August 2008).

“Ticket swindle leaves trail of losers”. The Sydney Morning Herald. Kelly Burke (6 August 2008). “British fraud ran Beijing ticket scam”. The Sydney Morning Herald. Francis, Ryan (2017-05-11).

“What not to get Mom for Mother’s Day”. CSO from IDG. Retrieved 2017-11-28. Hew, Khe Foon (March 2011). “Students’ and teachers’ use of Facebook”. Computers in Human Behavior. 27 (2): 662–676. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2010.11.020. Kugler, Logan (27 October 2014). “Keeping online reviews honest”. Communications of the ACM. 57 (11): 20–23. doi:10.1145/2667111. S2CID11898299. Wilson, Brian (Mar 2017). “Using Social Media to Fight Fraud”. Risk Management. New York. 64 (2): 10–11.

ProQuest1881388527. “Woman loses £320,000 in ‘romance fraud’ scam”. BBC News. Retrieved 20 October 2020. Tom Zeller Jr (April 26, 2005).

“A Common Currency for Online Fraud: Forgers of U.S. Postal Money Orders Grow”. New York Times.

“Counterfeit Money Orders: The Ultimate Guide”. Fraud Guides. 2017-09-07. Retrieved 2021-04-22.

“CyberCops.com – Counterfeit Postal Money Orders”. http://www.cybercops.com. Retrieved 23 May 2017.

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Corporate Taxes Poised to Rise After 136-Country Deal

 
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Nearly 140 countries agreed Friday to the most sweeping overhaul of global tax rules in a century, a move that aims to curtail tax avoidance by multinational corporations and raise additional tax revenue of as much as $150 billion annually.

But the accord, which is a decade in the making, now must be implemented by the signatories, a path that is likely to be far from smooth, including in a closely divided U.S. Congress.

The reform sets out a global minimum corporate tax of 15%, targeted at preventing companies from exploiting low-tax jurisdictions.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the floor set by the global minimum tax was a victory for the U.S. and its ability to raise money from companies. She urged Congress to move swiftly to enact the international tax proposals it has been debating, which would help pay for extending the expanded child tax credit and climate-change initiatives, among other policies.

“International tax policy making is a complex issue, but the arcane language of today’s agreement belies how simple and sweeping the stakes are: when this deal is enacted, Americans will find the global economy a much easier place to land a job, earn a living, or scale a business,” Ms. Yellen said.

The agreement among 136 countries also seeks to address the challenges posed by companies, particularly technology giants, that register the intellectual property that drives their profits anywhere in the world. As a result, many of those countries established operations in low-tax countries such as Ireland to reduce their tax bills.

The final deal gained the backing of Ireland, Estonia and Hungary, three members of the European Union that withheld their support for a preliminary agreement in July. But Nigeria, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Pakistan continued to reject the deal.

The new agreement, if implemented, would divide existing tax revenues in a way that favors countries where customers are based. The biggest countries, as well as the low-tax jurisdictions, must implement the agreement in order for it to meaningfully reduce tax avoidance.

Overall, the OECD estimates the new rules could give governments around the world additional revenue of $150 billion annually.

The final deal is expected to receive the backing of leaders from the Group of 20 leading economies when they meet in Rome at the end of this month. Thereafter, the signatories will have to change their national laws and amend international treaties to put the overhaul into practice.

The signatories set 2023 as a target for implementation, which tax experts said was an ambitious goal. And while the agreement would likely survive the failure of a small economy to pass new laws, it would be greatly weakened if a large economy—such as the U.S.—were to fail.

“We are all relying on all the bigger countries being able to move at roughly the same pace together,” said Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. “Were any big economy not to find itself in a position to implement the agreement,  that would matter for the other countries. But that might not become apparent for a while.”

 

Congress’ work on the deal will be divided into two phases. The first, this year, will be to change the minimum tax on U.S. companies’ foreign income that the U.S. approved in 2017. To comply with the agreement, Democrats intend to raise the rate—the House plan calls for 16.6%—and implement it on a country-by-country basis. Democrats can advance this on their own and they are trying to do so as part of President Biden’s broader policy agenda.

The second phase will be trickier, and the timing is less certain. That is where the U.S. would have to agree to the international deal changing the rules for where income is taxed. Many analysts say that would require a treaty, which would need a two-thirds vote in the Senate and thus some support from Republicans. Ms. Yellen has been more circumspect about the schedule and procedural details of the second phase.

Friction between European countries and the U.S. over the taxation of U.S. tech giants has threatened to trigger a trade war.

In long-running talks about new international tax rules, European officials have argued U.S. tech giants should pay more tax in Europe, and they fought for a system that would reallocate taxing rights on some digital products from countries where the product is produced to where it is consumed.

The U.S., however, resisted. A number of European governments introduced their own taxes on digital services. The U.S. then threatened to respond with new tariffs on imports from Europe.

The compromise was to reallocate taxing rights on all big companies that are above a certain profit threshold.

Under the agreement reached Friday, governments pledged not to introduce any new levies and said they would ultimately withdraw any that are in place. But the timetable for doing that has yet to be settled through bilateral discussions between the U.S. and those countries that have introduced the new levies.

Even though they will likely have to pay more tax after the overhaul, technology companies have long backed efforts to secure an international agreement, which they see as a way to avoid a chaotic network of national levies that threatened to tax the same profit multiple times.

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The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has been guiding the tax talks, estimates that some $125 billion in existing tax revenues would be divided among countries in a new way.

Those new rules would be applied to companies with global turnover of €20 billion (about $23 billion) or more, and with a profit margin of 10% or more. That group is likely to include around 100 companies. Governments have agreed to reallocate the taxing rights to a quarter of the profits of each of those companies above 10%.

The agreement announced Friday specifies that its revenue and profitability thresholds for reallocating taxing rights could also apply to a part of a larger company if that segment is reported in its financial accounts. Such a provision would apply to Amazon.com Inc.’s cloud division, Amazon Web Services, even though Amazon as a whole isn’t profitable enough to qualify because of its low-margin e-commerce business.

The other part of the agreement sets a minimum tax rate of 15% on the profits made by large companies. Smaller companies, with revenues of less than $750 million, are exempted because they don’t typically have international operations and can’t therefore take advantage of the loopholes that big multinational companies have benefited from.

Low-tax countries such as Ireland will see an overall decline in revenues. Developing countries are least happy with the final deal, having pushed for both a higher minimum tax rate and the reallocation of a greater share of the profits of the largest companies.

 
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Why The World’s Wealthy Have Quietly Moved To Dubai

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This summer, fresh from the West Coast of the U.S., a tech entrepreneur arrived in Dubai. In tow were his family, their family office and a fleet of 30 luxury cars. Everything a billionaire needs to start a new life in Dubai.

“It’s very safe here for my children. L.A. isn’t what it used to be. Crime has risen since Covid,” says the entrepreneur in his mid-50s who did not want to be named.

Finding a house with space for 30 cars was not easy, says Rohal Kohyar, marketing director of Luxhabitat Sotheby’s International Realty. Eventually a villa on its own private estate was identified. It had a basement that could be converted into a giant garage.

Nor was setting up the family office straightforward. Family offices on this scale manage hundreds of millions of dollars in private wealth, a task that requires a team of around 30 specialists.

“We’ve had to increase the salary for an E.A. (executive assistant) position for it to be attractive for people to come back to the U.A.E.,” says Zahra Clark, head of the MENA region for Tiger Recruitment.

During the pandemic many expats left Dubai for home. But with so many wealthy families now relocating to Dubai, recruiters are having to offer big incentives to lure investment professionals back to the Emirate.

Kohyar estimates 20 billionaires have bought property in Dubai this year, and Luxhabitat Sotheby’s International Realty has seen around a 300% increase in business compared with the same period last year.

According to the Dubai Land Department, the volume of property sales in Dubai increased by 136.5% in August compared to the same month last year. Villa sales were up 124% thanks in part to the sale of several Dh 100 million ($27 million) villas in Dubai Hills Grove area. “Normally we do one or two Dh 100 million ($27 million) deals a year. This year we’ve already done nine of them,” says Kohyar.

Real estate booms have come before, but this time is different, says Kohyar. “Now people are buying these luxury properties to actually live in them with their families.”

And they are in a rush, he says. Buyers are not waiting around for developments to be finished off. “They have to be ready now now.” The rich are suddenly in a hurry.

There is something else happening in Dubai that is different: People are coming from further afield. Kohyar says most of his clients are coming from major European countries, like the U.K., Switzerland and Germany. Of the super-rich setting up family offices in Dubai, Clark says most are from the U.S. and U.K. Other recruiters say there is a heightened interest from Singapore and Hong Kong.

Many were impressed with the way Dubai handled the pandemic. Vaccines were rolled out quickly among Dubai’s three million residents, P.C.R. tests are cheap and available, and the country only suffered a brief lockdown in March and April of 2020. “We’re busier now than pre-Covid. This will continue for as long as Europe, U.K. and the U.S. can’t get things right in how they’re dealing with the Covid situation,” says Clark.

But in reality, the pandemic hit Dubai very hard. Thousands of skilled expats started heading home as jobs dried up, the cost of living spiraled and they worried about being stranded abroad.

Dubai’s rulers suddenly realized the fallibility of their economy. Expats brought with them businesses, wealth and entertainment. Without them, Dubai’s own talented or entrepreneurial youth might follow them overseas.

In an effort to reverse this brain drain, the U.A.E. government started offering “golden visas” to high achievers. The 10-year residency visa was created in 2019, but since the beginning of this year it has been handed out to top students, successful entrepreneurs and award-winning actors.

In July, 45 students who scored more than 95% in their exams were granted golden visas. Raghad Muaiyad Asseid Danawi, a 17-year-old Jordanian student studying at Dubai’s Qatr Al Nada School was among them. “This is a great opportunity for me, my parents and siblings,” she told Khaleej Times.

That same month, the U.A.E. made 100,000 golden visas available to computer coders. Having lost out to Europe, and Silicon Valley, Dubai now wants to establish itself as a tech hub and has a target to establish 1,000 major digital companies over the next five years.

Alongside students and computer coders, the U.A.E. has also been handing out golden visas to actors. Yasmin Abdelaziz, a popular Egyptian actress was given a golden visa in July, joining a trio of Lebanese pop-stars-Najwa Karam, Marwan Khoury and Ragheb Alama-who have already been given the visa.

All of this makes Dubai more attractive for the wealthy. For Dh 10 million ($2.7 million) they too can have a golden visa. And, thanks to a new law introduced in February this year, (Decree Law 19), they can bring their family offices with them.

But perhaps the most enticing thing about U.A.E. for the lack of income tax. When other parts of the world, and especially the U.S. and U.K., are mooting wealth taxes to pay for the pandemic, Dubai suddenly looks much more attractive.

And, if they start moving their businesses or family offices here, they are more likely to stick around, says Kohyar: “This surge right now is more on a personal level, it’s more rounded, and we think this is going to be much more sustainable because people are moving here with their families and with their businesses so they’ll definitely stay.”

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

I am a freelance journalist with a decade’s experience covering business stories from around the world. When not reporting, I advise governments, businesses and

Source: https://www.forbes.com/

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What The New Outlook For Social Security Means For You

Whew! The pandemic had a smaller impact on the Social Security trust funds — that is, Social Security’s solvency — than many feared during the depths of the pandemic downturn.

According to the new 2021 annual report from the Social Security Trustees, the depletion date for the combined trust funds —retirement and disability — is 2033 without any changes to program benefits. That would be when today’s 54-year-olds reach Social Security’s Full Retirement Age. Still, that’s one year earlier than last year’s 2034 estimate.

Depletion date or insolvency doesn’t mean bankruptcy — far from it. Funding from payroll tax receipts will be enough to pay 78% of promised benefits after the combined Social Security trust funds depletion date is reached.

“The trust fund report should be seen as a strength,” says Eric Kingson, professor of social work and public administration at Syracuse University and co-author with Nancy Altman of “Social Security Works for Everyone: Protecting and Expanding the Insurance Americans Love and Count On.”

What the Social Security Trustees Said

The report, Kingson said, “provides information for Congress and the public on what needs to be done to maintain benefits.”

And Altman, president of Social Security Works, chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition and a rumored possible Biden appointee to run the Social Security Administration, said this when the Trustees report came out on Wednesday: “Today’s report shows that Social Security remains strong and continues to work well, despite a once-in-a-century pandemic. That this year’s projections are so similar to last year’s proves once again that our Social Security system is built to withstand times of crisis, providing a source of certainty in uncertain times.”

But the Social Security Trustees are strikingly cautious about their estimates involving the impact of the pandemic on the Social Security trust fund and its sister trust fund for Medicare, the federal health insurance program primarily for people 65 and older.

Despite the dry language of actuaries, the uncertainty is apparent.

Employment, earnings, interest rates and gross domestic product (GDP) dropped substantially in the second quarter of 2020, the worst economic period of the pandemic. As a result, the decline in payroll-tax receipts which pay for Social Security benefits eroded the trust funds, though the drop in payroll taxes was offset somewhat by higher mortality rates.

“Given the unprecedented level of uncertainty, the Trustees currently assume that the pandemic will have no net effect on the individual long range ultimate assumptions,” they write.

The Pandemic and Social Security Solvency

But, they add, “At this time, there is no consensus on what the lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the long-term experience might be, if any.”

The Trustees say they “will continue to monitor developments and modify the projections in later reports.”

Translation: the status quo remains and the forecast for the pandemic’s effect on Social Security’s solvency is cloudy.

Odds are the coming Social Security financing shortfall won’t get sustained attention from either the Biden administration or Congress despite the need to take action before 2034.

The Trustees aren’t too happy about that.

Their report says: “The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way in order to phase in necessary changes gradually and give workers and beneficiaries time to adjust to them. Implementing changes sooner rather than later would allow more generations to share in the needed revenue increases or reductions in scheduled benefits… With informed discussion, creative thinking, and timely legislative action, Social Security can continue to protect future generations.”

The Political Outlook for Social Security Reforms

But the Biden administration and its Congressional allies are instead focused on threading the political needle for an ambitious $3.5 trillion infrastructure spending package, while also dealing with the fallout from the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Leading Republican legislators have called for so-called entitlement reform (think Social Security benefit cuts), but that’s a tough sell in the current Democratically controlled Congress.

“Does the report mean the timetable argues for real concrete action on [addressing solvency issues of] Social Security? Probably not. Will it revive the rhetoric that the sky is falling? Sure,” says Robert Blancato, national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition advocacy group, president of Matz Blancato and Associates and a 2016 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging.

The issue over how best to restore financial solvency to Social Security isn’t going away. That’s because the program is fundamental to the economic security of retired Americans. Social Security currently pays benefits to 49 million retired workers and dependents of retired workers (as well as survivor benefits to six million younger people and 10 million disabled people).

However, the tenor of the longer-term solvency discussion has significantly changed in recent years.

To be sure, a number of leading Republicans still want to cut Social Security retirement benefits to reduce the impending shortfall. Their latest maneuver is what’s known as The TRUST Act, sponsored by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.

It calls for closed-door meetings of congressionally appointed bipartisan committees to come up with legislation to restore solvency by June 1 of the following year. The TRUST act would also limit Congress to voting yes or no on the proposals. No amendments allowed.

What’s Different About Future Social Security Changes

AARP, responding to the Trustees report news, came out vehemently against The TRUST Act’s closed-door reform plan. “All members of Congress should be held accountable for any action on Social Security and Medicare,” AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said.

“The concern seems to be they would look to cuts first, versus a more comprehensive approach,” says Blancato. A more comprehensive approach could include tax increases for the wealthy and technical changes to the Social Security system.

Something else that’s different is that liberals are no longer trying to simply stave off benefit cuts and preserve the program exactly as it is — the main tactic since Republican Newt Gingrich was House Majority Leader in the mid-1990s. That have bigger and bolder ideas.

Most Democratic members of Congress have co-sponsored legislation to expand Social Security or voted in support of incremental increases in benefits, such as providing more for the oldest old and a new minimum Social Security benefit equal to at least 125% of the poverty level (that translates to $16,100 for a household of one).

Addressing Social Security’s shortfall and paying for the new benefits, with the Democrats’ plans, would come from tax hikes, ranging from gradually raising the 6.2% payroll tax rate to hiking or eliminating the $142,800 limit on annual earnings subject to Social Security taxes to some combination of these.

But Social Security benefit cuts are off the negotiating table for the Democrats.

“Biden has made a commitment not to cut and to make modest improvements in benefits,” says Kingson. “He won’t back off that.”

The President has pushed for raising the Social Security payroll tax cap so people earning incomes over $400,000 would owe taxes on that money, too. He has also backed raising the minimum Social Security benefit to 125% of the poverty level.

The Good News for Social Security Beneficiaries

One more piece of Social Security news to keep in mind: Social Security recipients are likely to get a sizable cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their benefits in 2022. The exact amount will be announced in October and estimates vary widely, from 3% to as high as 6%. A 6% increase would be the highest in 40 years.

But there’s a catch: Medicare Part B premiums for physician and outpatient services — a significant portion of Medicare’s funding —will also go up due to inflation. And those premium payments usually come right out of monthly Social Security checks.

The Trustees report says the estimated standard monthly Medicare Part B premium in 2022 will be $158.50, up about 7% from $148.50 in 2021 and a 9.6% total increase since 2020. (Monthly premiums are based on income, though, and can exceed $500 for high earners.)

The Trustees report says Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund (HITF) has enough funds to pay scheduled benefits until 2026, unchanged from last year. Medicare’s finances stayed stable during the pandemic, with people over 65 largely avoiding elective care. The pandemic “is not expected to have a large effect on the financial status of the [Medicare] trust funds after 2024,” the Trustees report noted.

Like Social Security, the trust fund behind Medicare Part A (which pays for hospitals, nursing facilities, home health and hospice care) is primarily funded by payroll taxes. There will be enough tax income coming in to cover an estimated 91% of total scheduled benefits once the trust fund is insolvent.

Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs, is mostly funded by federal income taxes, premiums and state payments.

But the political story about Medicare is less about its projected 2026 shortfall and more about momentum toward expanding the program. The Biden administration has proposed adding hearing, visual and dental care to Medicare benefits, something also being pushed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) At this time, it’s unclear how those new benefits would be paid for, though they wouldn’t affect the trust fund.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

Next Avenue is public media’s first and only national journalism service for America’s booming older population. Our daily content delivers vital ideas, context and perspectives on issues that matter most as we age.

Source: What The New Outlook For Social Security Means For You

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IRAs For All? Mandatory Retirement Accounts Part Of $3.5 Trillion Budget Plan

Do Americans need a nudge from their employers—and a handout from Washington—to get them to save for retirement? That’s the premise behind draft retirement language in the the House Ways and Means Committee mark up of the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package.

Under the proposal, starting in 2023, employers with five or more employees would have to offer a retirement plan and automatically enroll employees, diverting 6% of their pay to a retirement account. An automatic escalation clause would increase the automatic contribution to 10% of pay by year five. The default plan would be a Roth IRA invested in a target-date fund, a mix of investments based on your expected retirement year.

For employers, it’s a mandate. They would have to offer the plans. Employees would be able to opt out.

“We’re not trying to put an undue burden on the small employer. We’re trying to help the employee who works for a small employer be a lifetime saver,” Ways and Means chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) said at the hearings.

The retirement section of the Build Back Better Act is expected to dramatically expand retirement savings. It would create 62 million new retirement savers and would add an additional $7 trillion in retirement savings over a 10-year period, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Nearly all—98%—of these new savers would be folks who earn less than $100,000 per year.

“We know that people are far more likely to save for retirement if they have access to a retirement plan at work (12 times more likely), but there’s a real access problem – small businesses just never quite seem to get around to setting these up,” says Nevin Adams, chief content officer for the American Retirement Association.

To offset administrative costs for employers, the proposal includes a tax credit to employers for setting up the plans. And a tax penalty of up to $900 per employee per year if they don’t comply.

“Main Street now faces an onerous new mandate from Washington and a tax penalty if you don’t comply. Small business owners know this is yet another, or feels like another, war on work,” Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee said at the hearings.

The small business lobby is crying foul. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) says the tax credits provided to employers for setting up plans are temporary and limited, and that the cost of compliance amounts to a “hidden tax.”

There is evidence that auto-IRAs work for both employers and employees. Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon noted how a similar state-mandated auto-IRA program mandated for all employers in his state has generated $120 million of savings “in our little state” so far. And a Pew survey found that 73% of employers were either satisfied or neutral about the Oregon program.

Hand-in-hand with the auto-IRA provision is a change to the Saver’s Credit. Lower-income Americans, even those who don’t owe taxes, would get a newfangled Saver’s Credit—a government match on their savings—$100 to $500 per person per year from the U.S. Treasury paid into their individual retirement account. The $47 billion cost of the retirement proposal is evenly split between the Saver’s Credit provision and the auto-IRA provision.

This auto-IRA proposal is different from the one that is in pending bipartisan retirement legislation known as SECURE 2.0, which would not mandate that employers offer these accounts but rather make them voluntary. SECURE 2.0 contains other important provisions, such as allowing employers to provide matching money to retirement accounts when workers pay off student loan debt.

Representative Neal said that SECURE 2.0 is “getting over the goal line this year” too. Some of the revenue raisers for the Build Back Better Act under discussion relate to retirement, and Representative Neal said that they could be released this weekend.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

I cover personal finance, with a focus on retirement planning, trusts and estates strategies, and taxwise charitable giving. I’ve written for Forbes since 1997. Follow me on Twitter: @ashleaebeling and contact me by email: ashleaebeling — at — gmail — dot — com

Source: IRAs For All? Mandatory Retirement Accounts Part Of $3.5 Trillion Budget Plan

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IRS Provides Tax Relief for Victims of Hurricane Ida

Hurricane Ida, which began on August 26, barreled through the state of Louisiana and has left millions without power and much of Louisiana in a state of disaster. If you were impacted by Hurricane Ida we want you to know TurboTax is here for you, and we want to keep you up to date with important tax relief information that may help you in this time of need.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared the recent events as a disaster and the IRS announced that victims of the hurricane that occurred in Louisiana now have until January 3, 2022 to file various individual and business tax returns and make certain tax payments. Currently, this includes the entire state of Louisiana, but taxpayers in Ida-impacted localities designated by FEMA in neighboring states will automatically receive the same filing and payment relief.

What are the extended tax and payment deadlines for victims of Hurricane Ida?

The tax relief postpones various tax filing and payment deadlines that occurred starting on August 26, 2021. As a result, affected individuals and businesses will have until January 3, 2022 to file returns and pay any taxes that were originally due during this period. These include:

Your resource on tax filing
Tax season is here! Check out the Tax Center on AOL Finance for all the tips and tools you need to maximize your return.
  • 2020 Individual and Business Returns with Valid Extensions: Individuals that had a valid extension to file their 2020 return due to run out on October 15, 2021 will now have until January 3, 2022 to file. Businesses with extensions also have until January 3, 2022 including, among others, calendar-year corporations whose 2020 extensions run out on October 15, 2021. The IRS noted that because tax payments related to 2020 returns were due on May 17, 2021, those payments are not eligible for an extension.
  • 2020 Quarterly Estimated Tax Payments: 2021 quarterly estimated tax payments with a deadline of September 15, 2021 have been extended until January 3, 2022.
  • Quarterly Payroll and Excise Tax Returns: Quarterly payroll and excise tax returns that are normally due on November 1, 2021, are also extended until January 3, 2022. In addition, penalties on payroll and excise tax deposits due on or after August 26 and before September 10 will be abated as long as the deposits were made by September 10, 2021.

Calendar-year tax-exempt organizations, operating on a calendar-year basis that have a valid 2020 tax return extension due to run out on November 15, 2021 also qualify for the extra time.

What do I need to do to claim the tax extension?

The IRS automatically provides filing and penalty relief to any taxpayer with an IRS address of record located in the disaster area. Taxpayers do not need to contact the IRS to get this relief. However, if an affected taxpayer receives a late filing or late payment penalty notice from the IRS that has an original or extended filing, payment or deposit due date falling within the postponement period, the taxpayer should call the number on the notice to have the penalty abated.

The current list of eligible localities is always available on the disaster relief page on IRS.gov.

Do surrounding areas outside of Louisiana qualify for an extension?

The IRS will work with any taxpayer who lives outside the disaster area but whose records necessary to meet a deadline occurring during the postponement period are located in the affected area. Taxpayers qualifying for relief who live outside the disaster area need to contact the IRS at 866-562-5227. This also includes workers, assisting the relief activities, who are affiliated with a recognized government or philanthropic organization.

How can I claim a casualty and property loss on my taxes if impacted?

Individuals or businesses who suffered uninsured or unreimbursed disaster-related casualty losses can choose to claim them on either the tax return for the year the loss occurred (in this instance, the 2021 return filed in 2022), or the loss can be deducted on the tax return for the prior year (2020). Individuals may also deduct personal property losses that are not covered by insurance or other reimbursements. Be sure to write the FEMA declaration number – 4611 − for Hurricane Ida in Louisiana on any return claiming a loss.

The tax relief is part of a coordinated federal response to the damage caused by the harsh storms and is based on local damage assessments by FEMA. For information on disaster recovery, visit disasterassistance.gov.

If you are not a victim, but you are looking to help those in need, this is a great opportunity to donate or volunteer your time to legitimate 501(c)(3) not-for-profit charities who are providing relief efforts for storm victims.

Check back with the TurboTax blog for more updates on disaster relief. For more tax tips in 5 minutes or less, subscribe to the Turbo Tips podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and iHeartRadio

TurboTax

 

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Source: IRS Provides Tax Relief for Victims of Hurricane Ida

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The IRS Goes Undercover As A Bitcoin Trader In $180,000 Sting

On the hunt for tax cheats, fraudsters, money launderers and dark web drug dealers, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has sent an undercover agent to work on a market for trading bitcoin, ether and other cryptocurrency.

In a search warrant reviewed by Forbes, the undercover IRS agent went by the name of “Mr. Coins” on LocalCryptos.com, a platform exchanging cryptocurrency for dollars and other fiat currencies. Mr. Coins’ profile, still live at the time of publication, had 100% positive feedback after shifting up to $200,000 in digital money.

But his biggest success may have been to take down an alleged dark web drug dealer, tricking him into sending more than $180,000 in cash to the IRS in exchange for cryptocurrencies, according to the warrant.

In June of last year, Mr. Coins put up an advertisement offering to buy bitcoin via cash by mail and above market prices. All sellers had to do was get in touch over encrypted messaging apps Wickr or WhatsApp.

Shortly afterward, a person going by the name “Lucifallen21” got in touch to inquire about the ad, according to the search warrant. The IRS, without saying how, determined that Lucifallen21 was actually Evansville, Indiana, resident Chase Hite. By July, he’d agreed to buy from Mr. Coins, wrapping up $15,040 in cash in clothes, putting the money in a box and posting it to the agent in exchange for approximately 1.59 bitcoin, according to the government’s account.

More payments came in, with nearly $20,000 posted in August, in exchange for approximately 1.34 bitcoin and 45.2 monero, another cryptocurrency that promises better privacy protections than its rivals, the government said, adding that nearly $65,000 was sent to the agent over following months.

Come March this year, investigators were getting ready to home in on the conclusion to the sting operation. A $28,000 cash package from Hite was intercepted and marked as lost by the Postal Service, according to the IRS, which then monitored calls to the post office, waiting for the suspect to call and complain. Investigators linked this call with a phone number that was paid for by Hite.

Further messages over Wickr indicated Hite was involved in dark web drug sales, claiming to sell “pills and opioids,” as well as cocaine and marijuana, the IRS claimed. As they deepened their relationship, the undercover officer agreed to provide Hite with a loan, by which the suspect would send $54,000 in cash and get $79,000 worth of cryptocurrency in return, according to the search warrant. When that last package arrived, forensics took fingerprints and linked them to Hite, the government added.

Hite was arrested in July and has not yet filed a plea. The charges were filed in the Eastern District of New York. His lawyer declined to comment. LocalCryptos hadn’t responded to requests for comment. The IRS declined to provide more information than what had been filed in court.

The tax collecting agency has a track record of going undercover to snare cryptocurrency-using criminals. Earlier this year, it was revealed that the agency had organized a payment to a service called Bitcoin Fog, which offered to launder money.

The agents said they wanted to launder cryptocurrency they’d earned by selling Ecstasy, according to a criminal complaint, first reported by Wired, in which a Russian-Swedish administrator was charged. And in March, the IRS pretended to be a seller of counterfeit Gucci products sourced from China, asking the defendant in that case to convert bitcoin that they claimed to have acquired in selling the merchandise.

But this latest sting is a rare case where the IRS set up a profile on a cryptocurrency trading platform and created what amounts to a watering hole, with agents just waiting for criminals to dive in.

This story is part of The Wire IRL feature in my newsletter, The Wiretap. Out every Monday, it’s a mix of strange true crime and real-world surveillance, with all the relevant search warrants and court documents for you to pore over. There’s also all the cybersecurity and privacy news you need to read. Sign up here.

Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website. Send me a secure tip.

I’m associate editor for Forbes, covering security, surveillance and privacy. I’m also the editor of The Wiretap newsletter, which has exclusive stories on real-world

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Did Inequality Increase During Pandemic?

It is widely believed that the Covid-19 pandemic and the reactions to it by governments and businesses accelerated an already-strong trend toward increasing economic inequality in the U.S. People on the political left think this and people on the political right do too, a heartwarming exception to the political polarization of our age.

This belief is also based on some actual evidence. Thanks to big increases in the prices of stocks and other assets after the initial shock of the pandemic, the nation’s billionaires have in fact added many billions to their net worths, while lots of affluent homeowners and 401(k)-holders have added hundreds of thousands.

The risks of both Covid-19 infection and job loss have been higher for those who can’t work from home, and those who can work from home tend to have more degrees and earn more money than those who can’t. Poorer children have struggled much more with remote schooling than richer ones. And so on.

So yes it’s possible, maybe even likely, that when the dust settles and all the relevant data are available, we will conclude that economic worsened over the course of the pandemic. But I wouldn’t be sure of it. Pandemics are one of the “Four Horsemen” of economic equalization described by historian Walter Scheidel in his acclaimed 2017 book, “The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of from the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century” (the other three being war, revolution and state collapse).

Scheidel did have more devastating diseases in mind than what Covid-19 has proved to be so far, but as of January, Nobel-prize-winning economist Angus Deaton found that economic inequality among countries had decreased during the pandemic, although this didn’t hold on a population-weighted basis because the of India, the largest country in the bottom half of the world’s income distribution (it’s “lower middle-income,” according to the World Bank), had suffered greatly even before this year’s rise of the Delta variant.

Within the US, the very real forces pushing toward more inequality have been counteracted by an unprecedented outpouring of government aid, while trends boosting wages in the lower part of the distribution that were apparent before the pandemic seem to be accelerating now. The numbers available so far, while preliminary and in some cases a bit contradictory, aren’t really telling a story of exploding inequality.

Perhaps the simplest of these numbers, from the distributional financial accounts that the Federal Reserve began releasing quarterly in 2019, is the wealth share of the bottom 50 per cent of the wealth distribution. It bottomed out in the second quarter of 2011 at a barely-there 0.4 per cent of household wealth and has been rising most quarters since, reaching 2 per cent in the first quarter of this year for the first time since just before the Great Recession started in December 2007.

This measure, which I’ve written about before, has its limitations. The Fed estimates wealth by combining household-level data on assets and liabilities from its triennial Survey of Consumer Finances, most recently conducted in 2019, with aggregate numbers from its quarterly Financial Accounts of the United States, and lumps the entire bottom half of the wealth distribution together because it doesn’t have enough information to do otherwise. It is able to slice things more finely within the top half, where the top 1 per cent gained wealth share since the end of 2019 while those between them and the 50th percentile lost ground.

So yes it looks like wealth inequality increased during the pandemic within the top half, and most of the bottom half’s gains came from those just above it in the wealth distribution rather than the very richest. The bottom half did enjoy a bigger percentage wealth gain than the top 1 per cent —30.3 per cent versus 20.7 per cent since the end of 2019 — although because it had so little wealth to start with, that amounted to just $609 billion in new wealth versus $7.1 trillion for the 1 per cent. Still, the total wealth of the bottom 50 per cent in the first quarter of this year amounted to 6.3 per cent of that of the top 1 per cent, up from 5.8 per cent at the end of 2019 and the highest such percentage since 2007. In that sense, at least, inequality between the top and bottom decreased.

That sense may not be enough for most people who are concerned about inequality, but improved conditions for the less-well-off are worth celebrating in any case, and it’s not just the Federal Reserve that’s detecting signs of them. Researchers at the Urban Institute estimated last month that, thanks to big job gains and the benefits included in the American Rescue Plan approved in March and earlier pandemic-aid legislation, the share of Americans below the poverty line would fall to 7.7 per cent this year from what they estimated using the same methodology to have been 13.9 per cent in 2018.

These estimates use what’s called the Supplemental Poverty Measure, a decade-old metric that attempts to better incorporate all the resources available to poor families, and the Urban Institute’s number for 2018 is a bit higher than the 12.8 per cent SPM rate estimated by the Census Bureau and the 12.7 per cent estimated by Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy based on Census data. Measuring poverty is complicated, especially over time. But the trend does seem to be headed in the right direction.Because the expected drop in poverty in 2021 owes so much to federal aid, some of it could prove temporary. But gains for the lower part of the income distribution are also coming from the private sector in the form of higher wages.

It’s hard to know what to make of the 2020 data, which may be skewed by low response rates to government surveys and big job losses among low-wage workers. But the high wage growth before the pandemic and so far this year seems to be for real, and all the anecdotal evidence from the job market points to it continuing. In previous economic expansions the wage gains at the bottom of the scale came only after years of job growth; this time it seems to be the norm from the get-go.

A full picture of the pandemic’s impact on income and wealth inequality will have to wait on more data. The most recent income-distribution numbers available are from 2019 in the case of Census Bureau survey data and 2018 for tax statistics from the Internal Revenue Service. The Census Bureau’s estimate of the Gini coefficient, a measure of how equally incomes are distributed that comes out to one if one person gets all the money and zero if everyone earns the same amount, has been rising at a somewhat slower pace in the 2000s than in the 1980s and 1990s. It even fell slightly in 2018 and 2019, although it seems too early to make much of that.Such broad measures of inequality have taken something of a backseat in recent years to the statistics on income and wealth at the very top compiled from tax data by economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman and others. Saez and Zucman’s most recent updates of the data (and revisions in response to critiques from other economists), show a decade-long plateau in the share of income going to the top 0.1 per cent and a more recent halt in wealth-share gains.

Given what we know from other sources it seems pretty likely that the income and wealth shares of the top 0.1 per cent rose in 2020, and given that I don’t have a great explanation for why inequality was declining — or at least somewhat on hold — before the pandemic, I’m not going to make any confident predictions here about what it will do after.

One thing that is clear from the above chart is that inequality can decline, and decline by a lot. Amid the great equalization of the mid-20th century, economist Simon Kuznets (another Nobel winner) wrote an influential paper in 1955 speculating that it might be in the nature of economic modernization and industrialization for inequality to at first increase and then decline. After decades of rising inequality in the US and other rich countries, such examinations are now more likely to conclude that a growing gap between rich and poor is an inevitable trait of capitalist economies (Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”) or human society in general in the absence of calamity (Scheidel’s book). They may be right! But again, I wouldn’t be sure of it.

By: Justin Fox | Bloomberg Opinion

Source: Did inequality increase during pandemic? Wait for more data to get answers | Business Standard News

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Crypto Investors Get Ready for More Taxes But Clearer Rules

Sure, you might have to actually pay U.S. taxes on those crypto trades. But at least it will be easier to figure out how much you owe.

A new push by Congress to require crypto brokers to report transactions to the Internal Revenue Service could create some unwelcome tax bills but could clarify rules for traders and users of Bitcoin and other digital tokens, potentially strengthening the system in the long run, people in the industry say.

The new rules — a last-minute addition to the $550 billion bipartisan infrastructure package now being considered by the U.S. Senate — would also force businesses to disclose trades of digital assets of more than $10,000. The provisions are designed to raise $28 billion.

The measures add to increased scrutiny the IRS has recently applied to traders of Bitcoin, Ethereum and other digital assets. The agency has promised it will issue new rules that clarify how those virtual currencies should be taxed.

People who trade digital currencies must pay income taxes on any gains, even if some crypto investors have been ignoring their tax obligations. But even for those who want to follow the law, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s owed.

Filing taxes on crypto trades can create huge headaches, especially for those who conduct multiple transactions each year. While traditional stock brokerages are already required to send detailed tax forms to clients, crypto exchanges aren’t. Even if firms wanted to help their clients file taxes, it’s not always clear how to do that under the current regulations.

In addition, tax obligations can pop up in surprising places. People who use digital currencies to pay for things — like, say, a Tesla, or a pizza — are supposed to pay taxes on any increase in value of the crypto they spend. It’s a key difference between using digital “currencies” and actual, fiat currencies such as the U.S. dollar to conduct commerce.

Andrew Johnson, a project manager at a large national bank, has invested tens of thousands in crypto and uses a dedicated service to figure out what he owes in taxes. He’s been using CoinTracker, which he learned about though a YouTube channel that he trusts.

“Most would benefit from a tracking service to help with taxes,” he said. “For me, I decided it was worth the cost to not have to manually track all the trades I did — which could take hours or days.”

Read more from Bloomberg Opinion: How Can I Lower My Taxes on Bitcoin?

Cryptocurrency exchanges and others in the industry have raised concerns that the U.S. Senate is rushing the rules into effect without consulting them first.

Some wondered whether the new rules and regulatory attention would encourage mainstream investors to join the space — or hurt the appeal of cryptocurrencies by killing its anything-goes ethos.

“Some portion of crypto investors may start to have second thoughts about the tax consequences,” said Michael Bailey, director of research at FBB Capital Partners. “It’s almost like crypto is a really fun party, but it’s getting late and a few people are starting to look at their watches as they think about the next morning.”

For years, the IRS has been warning taxpayers to report cryptocurrency transactions on their tax returns. More recently, the agency has made clear that fighting tax evasion through digital currencies is a top priority.

The IRS has started collecting vast amounts of data on blockchain transactions, has subpoenaed crypto exchanges and worked on coordinating enforcement with foreign governments. Last year, the IRS added a yes-or-no question to the front page of the 1040 income tax form asking whether filers had sold or exchanged virtual currencies.

The jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement only reaches so far, and crypto traders who prize secrecy could flee to offshore exchanges, or take other measures to avoid being spotted by the IRS. However, the U.S. has already shown it can crack down on foreign tax evasion by, for example, forcing banks in Switzerland and elsewhere to divulge details on American clients.

Even if parts of the crypto universe remain hidden, it may be difficult to move those assets onshore and turn them into legitimate wealth.

“If a U.S. taxpayer is into crypto for the ability to underreport income from sales or transfers, chances are someone in a chain somewhere may have to disclose it,” said Julio Jimenez, an attorney who is principal in the tax services group at Marks Paneth LLP.

All this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for law-abiding investors in digital assets if they end up with clearer rules and easier-to-understand annual statements from crypto firms.

“I think it will have a positive effect on the industry,” said Brett Cotler, an attorney at Seward and Kissel LLP in New York who specializes in blockchain and cryptocurrency. While exchanges and fintech firms that deal in digital currencies may have to spend money upgrading reporting and compliance systems, it will improve customer service, he said.

Johnson, the crypto trader, said he thinks the new rules will help legitimize the crypto ecosystem and foster international growth.

“While at its heart, crypto assets have been a means of moving value outside of government-controlled rails, I still understand the need for regulation in the crypto space in order for wider adoption to take place,” he said.

— With assistance by Natasha Abellard, and Laura Davison

By ,  , and

Source: Bitcoin (BTC): What Is Impact of Government Plan to Tax Crypto Trades? – Bloomberg

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How To Follow The 50-30-20 Budgeting Strategy

This story is part of CNBC Make It’s One-Minute Money Hacks series, which provides easy, straightforward tips and tricks to help you understand your finances and take control of your money.

Managing your finances and setting a monthly budget can be challenging. But if you’re overwhelmed with where to start, the 50-30-20 strategy can simplify the process. The plan divides your income into three broad categories: necessities, wants, and savings and investments. Here’s a closer look at each.

50% of your paycheck should go toward things you need

This category includes all of your essential costs, such as rent, mortgage payments, food, utilities, health insurance, debt payments and car payments. If your necessary expenses take up more than half of your income, you may need to cut costs or dip into your wants fund.

20% of your paycheck should go toward savings and investments

This category includes liquid savings, like an emergency fund; retirement savings, such as a 401(k) or Roth IRA; and any other investments, such as a brokerage account. Experts typically recommend aiming to have enough cash in your emergency fund to cover between three and six months worth of living expenses.

Some also suggest building up your emergency savings first, then concentrating on long-term investments. And if you have access to a 401(k) account through your employer, it can be a great way to save a portion of your income pre-tax.

30% of your paycheck should go toward things you want

This final category includes anything that isn’t considered an essential cost, such as travel, subscriptions, dining out, shopping and fun. This category can also include luxury upgrades: If you purchase a nicer car instead of a less expensive one, for example, that dips into your wants category.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to money management, but the 50-30-20 plan can be a good place to start if you’re new to budgeting and are wondering how to divide up your income.

Nadine El-Bawab

By: Nadine El-Bawab / @nadineelbawab

Source: How to follow the 50-30-20 budgeting strategy

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Critics:

While that may not be realistic, there are some simple things you can do right now to improve your money situation. Try these five steps for successfully managing your personal finances. Another bonus? If you stick to these five tips, your financial problems may start to diminish, and you can start reaping the rewards of lower debt, saving for the future, and a solid credit score.

Take some time to write specific, long-term financial goals. You may want to take a month-long trip to Europe, buy an investment property, or retire early. All of these goals will affect how you plan your finances. For example, your goal to retire early is dependent on how well you save your money now. Other goals, including home ownership, starting a family, moving, or changing careers, will all be affected by how you manage your finances.

Once you have written down your financial goals, prioritize them. This organizational process ensures that you are paying the most attention to the ones that are of the highest importance to you. You can also list them in the order you want to achieve them, but a long-term goal like saving for retirement requires you to work towards it while also working on your other goals.

Below are some tips on how to get clear on your financial goals:

  • Set long-term goals like getting out of debt, buying a home, or retiring early. These goals are separate from your short-term goals such as saving for a nice date night.
  • Set short-term goals, like following a budget, decreasing your spending, paying down, or not using your credit cards.
  • Prioritize your goals to help you create a financial plan.

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