Making money online: selling art

If you have ever asked yourself: Can I make money online taking pictures? The answer is yes. If, more specifically, your question is “can I, as a novice, make money taking pictures?” let this novice tell you that absolutely you can! 

Home decor has always been an important part of our self-expression. Just like choosing the perfect outfit everyday, well-curated home furnishings can say a lot about who we are as individuals. 

In this day and age, workers are increasingly working from home rather than in an office. More time at home allows people to reflect on whether or not it’s time to change out the dingy wallpaper or swap out that wall clock that hasn’t even had functioning batteries since April. Big box stores are always an option to buy replacements. But like I said, furnishings can make a statement and “Clearance – 50% off” isn’t the statement most people want to portray. That’s where Redbubble and Society6 come in. These two companies allow creatives to upload files of their artwork to be turned into a wide variety of home goods. Coffee mugs, beach towels, framed prints, coasters, and spiral notebooks are just some examples of the items that could all bear your unique design. There’s no shipping or mailing to worry about, Redbubble and Society6 take care of everything so all an artist needs to do is upload their files and wait for buyers.


A piece of art is shown for decoration.
Here’s an example of the gorgeous pieces you can find on Society6 and Redbubble. This may have even been the product of yours truly 🙂

Now onto my experiences on the two platforms and where I think they excel or could use some improvement. 

Redbubble (RB)

Pros

  • The analytics dashboard they have is great. Creators can even link to Google Analytics to see what is driving traffic to their shop.
  • RB does more staging of their products compared to Society6. RB shows an item along with other home furnishings where as Society6 only shows what the product will look like without a potential buyer being able to envision how it might look in a home.

Con

  • The item selection is more limited than Society6. Society6 has more furnishings (bar stools, patio chairs, etc.) than Redbubble.
Photo shows a picture of art (a photo) on a desk to show how the art may look inside someone's home
An example of how Redbubble stages their products.

Society6

Pro

There is a wider variety of products for buyers, as I mentioned above – including more furniture which has a higher profit margin than smaller items like stationary cards or stickers. 

Con:

There is no analytics page (that I can find). So if you’re running a lot of marketing campaigns to drive traffic to your Society6 shop, you won’t be able to see where viewers are coming from like you can with Redbubble. 


How can I get started?

You’ll need a photo-taking device of some sort and a method to transfer said photos onto a computer (neither Redbubble nor Society6 has the functionality to add artwork via their apps so you’ll need access to their desktop sites). You’ll also need access to software to edit your photos. I use GIMP (it’s completely free – but be sure to donate to the developers to show your appreciation for such a great product). Adobe Photoshop is also another option.

You’ll need to edit your photos because different products require different photo resolutions to ensure the best possible quality. The dimensions needed for a sticker are different than for a full size comforter.

I’d love to hear your experience with either selling on Society6 or Redbubble, or any other platform for independent artists! And if you have any questions on how to get started on these platforms, don’t hesitate to reach out.

— J

Pre-screened Credit Card Offers


  • What’s the difference between being prescreened versus pre-qualified?
    • In short, prescreens are initiated by creditors while pre-qualifications are initiated by consumers. This is why creditors use language like “you’re invited to prequalify” as opposed to flat out telling you that you’re pre-screened.
    • Prescreening is essentially targeted marketing by creditors. The ‘targeting’ is accomplished by creditors selecting consumers (through filtering of information held at major credit bureaus) that they deem to be creditworthy. Prequalification is similar, but a more broad solicitation. For example, creditors can’t prescreen to consumers under 21 – but there are no such restrictions on prequalification.
    • To illustrate – prequalification is asking if the cute girl across the bar is single, prescreening is your best friend telling you that cute girl wants to grab drinks later.
  • How did I get prescreened; how do creditors have my information if I don’t already have an account with them?
    • They utilize tradeline summary data from the major credit bureaus. This doesn’t require a hard inquiry, meaning that being pre-screened doesn’t affect your credit score. Although when you do submit an application for credit, creditors will then pull your full file – resulting in a hard inquiry.
    • The annoying part of prescreening is that you literally don’t have to take any action to be prescreened by creditors. But to stop receiving offers, you have to initiate the process to opt-out. To opt-out of prescreen offers, be prepared to provide your name, address, SSN and date of birth at OptOutPrescreen.com to be removed from the bureaus’ “eligible prescreened candidate list”. You can also call 1-888-567-8688 and provide the same four pieces of information.
  • What criteria are creditors looking for?
    • It depends. As with any other loan product, different creditors have different standards of stringency. But common examples include: whether or not you’ve had a loan charged off, the number of past due payments you’ve had over a certain time period (say three years or so), or bankruptcies.
  • So… what’s in it for me?
    • The good news is that if you’re seeking new credit card offers, many prescreened offers are accompanied by benefits for new customers – temporarily lower APR, cash bonus if spend a certain amount per year, etc.
    • The crux that the prescreen process is built on is that creditors can only pull your credit bureau info if they make you a firm offer of credit. This means that if, at time t = 0, you meet the creditor’s criteria of X, Y, and Z, then when you apply at time, t = 1 and you still meet those criteria, the creditor must approve your application. If there are material differences to your credit profile between t0 and t1, then may not get approved.
    • If you’re not looking for new offers, then on behalf of all those creditors clogging your mailbox, I apologize. Make sure you recycle those letters and opt out of prescreened offers ASAP.
  • Is there anything else I should know about prescreening?
    • Be advised that not all credit card offers that end up in your mailbox are prescreened offers. Sometimes, creditors just invite you to apply via mass marketing campaigns. You can discern prescreen offers by their FCRA disclosure which contains, in legally-required all caps: PRESCREEN FCRA DISCLOSURE.
    • You know those times when you talk about cat food in conversation and then you’re inundated with cat food ads on Google for days and days? A similar phenomenon happens when it comes to pre-screening. Some of the criteria that companies use is information on *where* you’re trying to get credit. If you request a quote for car insurance, you may find several other car insurance offers in your mailbox. It’s not because they’re selling your information to their competition (because why would they?). It’s because part of their prescreening criteria is to filter by what soft inquiries you have on your profile.

What other questions do you all have about credit? I’d love to know and am happy to educate!

— J

(one reason) why your new FinTech bank sucks

The main thing I love about Twitter is all of the inspiration I get. I become inspired to create content, save money, and start new ventures. Thanks guys!

Recently I came across some rumblings about a bank called Chime. Like other FinTech/ de novo banks, it was created within the last decade. Chime boasts, among other things, a “no hidden fees” (their words, not mine) account – including no monthly maintenance fees and no overdraft fees. 

Everyone was making such a fuss because there were several users who had accounts closed with no notification over roughly a month’s time. Let this serve as a reminder that any financial institution can (and commonly does) close customers’ bank accounts without notice and without reason. Loans are a different matter and if a bank or credit union nullifies your loan without any notice that’s a problem and you need to escalate that concern immediately. The document that a bank needs to send in those instances is called an adverse action notice. 

So I made these series of tweets earlier recently: 

Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 4.08.44 PM
Screenshot 2020-01-01 at 4.09.15 PM

The point that I was trying to make was that financial services compliance/banking compliance is very expensive. Partly because it takes a lot of time and partly because good talent will cost a lot of money (there’s a lot to know and us compliance folks aren’t doing this for peanuts mmkay?)

A crux of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) is knowing who your customers are and what they are doing. Part of having and maintaining this knowledge is called doing due diligence. Many banks use a type of ‘scoring criteria’ to identify certain customers as either low, medium, or high risk. This is largely based on historic account activity – and to a smaller degree factors like your location and even whether you have a business or personal account are important. If you all of a sudden have a lot of money coming into or out of your accounts then you will begin to look high risk.  

How this comes into play with new FinTech bank accounts  is that this due diligence can seem very doable with a few thousand customers, but as a bank begins to gain steam and thousands become millions, due diligence gets more and more difficult. 

Once you get a backlog of customers it gets hard to bounce back and stay on top of the work. The path of least resistance is for financial institutions to just close any accounts that look suspicious. Of course, closing any and all of these “suspicious” accounts is bad for a business’ reputation. But a couple hundred accounts closed out of millions will by-and-large go unnoticed by the general public – except for small pockets of internet outrage. This is one way for overworked banks to balance workload with remaining compliant. 

I’m curious if any of you have been victim to a sudden bank account closing? Did the bank attempt at all to get more information on you and your transactions?

— J

Currently kindling…

Hi all! I figured now would be a good time for me to reflect on my financial journey, who I am, and where I want to be in the future. 


The basics… my name is Janae.

it’s me!

I live in Wisconsin, I’ll be 26 in a couple of weeks, I work in financial services compliance, blah blah. When I first created my Twitter back in August – I really didn’t have any desire to create a blog to go with it. But 2019 has been my year to play around with different side hustles/ventures and see what I like the best – I’ve found having a blog/website to be a good place to document my journey (and Twitter has been regulated for memes). 


Onto the main attraction… FIRE. We know it, we love it. If for some reason you’re not yet indoctrinated, FIRE =  financially independent, retiring early. 

What does FIRE and financial independence mean to me?

I had a hard shift in mindset in fall/winter of 2018. In September 2018, I left my first “adult job” for something new in the same field. At my first job, I got to travel all of the time, my coworkers felt like family, and my workload wasn’t too heavy – I didn’t realize how great I had it back then. When I started my second job, I felt the change in culture and atmosphere pretty quickly upon settling in. I was surrounded by a lot of inexperienced, young managers, office morale/outlook was low, and my coworkers were cordial, but not all that nice. It was then that I realized the necessity to secure my financial future and create a life where I didn’t need to work for money.

That’s what FIRE means to me – the security to spend my time how I choose. The freedom to succeed and thrive on my own terms, not when tax laws *allow* me to access my retirement funds. I am no longer comfortable subsidizing my financial freedom with a car payment every month and an apartment full of things. (An aside… that all felt really good and invigorating to write.) ❤

And now… the number$! I have been maintaining a spreadsheet with my net worth since late November 2017 (and thank god because I was probably around -$10k for the majority of 2015 and 2016). A chart of my net worth (NW) since that time is below. 

Key moments:

  • November 2017: Here I had probably 10k in credit card debt and was hardly throwing anything more than the minimum due @ it every month. I took two international trips in 2017, and one in 2016 (each 10 days) – to my bank account’s dismay…
  • Late-fall (?) 2018: The spike in money was relocation incentive and then the subsequent decline was moving expenses for the aforementioned ‘second job’.
  • December 2018: Received a small inheritance from a family member’s passing.
  • June 2019: 10 day trip to Europe and expenses incurred by an out of state move for another new job!
  • September 2019: I finally started to automate my saving. Previously I was just throwing money into my investments whenever I felt like (which wasn’t very often). Now I have an auto transfer from my savings → checking every month. And then from checking → investments. It all happens without any input on my part. 

As it stands now in early December, my net worth is just under $29,000: of which $20k is liquid. My number at which I would FIRE, currently, is $750k ($30k annual spend). So I’m only at 3% FIRE. My beginning goal was to FIRE at 40, but without some major luck & income boosting between now and then, my time frame is likely pushed out to 43-44 – which I’m still very happy with! 

What do your financial goals look like? If you’re after financial independence, do you also want to retire early or no? Looking forward to hearing from you!

-J 

Credit Rules Everything Around Me

You likely know the ‘Big 3’ of credit reporting – Equifax, Experian, TransUnion. But there are PLENTY of other consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) with a variety of information on you and your checking accounts, credit inquiries, job history, and all that. Per the CFPB’s list in 2019, there are over 30 CRAs! In this post, I’ll highlight a couple of these “specialty” CRAs and detail your rights under Federal law. 

The two companies I am about to share are bound under Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provisions that secure your right to a timely and reasonable inquiry to any dispute you raise about inaccurate information. Timely means that they need to investigate within 30 days of receiving your dispute.
————————————

ChexSystems:

This CR reports info on closed checking and savings accounts – including derogatory information like bounced checks and NSFs. They even report items like suspected fraud activity. The below snippet is from ChexSystems’ website and represents a sample line item from their report. 

ChexSystems sample report

LexisNexis (using the RiskView report as an example):

This CRA’s reports are similar to the Big 3, but offer more granular detail like what assets you own and their tax assessed values. Also items like your college education (including major!) and professional licenses. 

LexisNexis Risk View sample report

If you’re anything like me then you might have some questions around why so many CRAs exist, especially when the Big 3 are so dominant in the credit reporting marketplace. Let’s break it down.


Why are there so many CRAs and consumer reports? 

With data being the driving force behind business decision making, everyone is trying to capture the sweet spot between ‘charging as high an interest rate as possible’ and ensuring ‘on-time, full repayment’ of consumer obligations. Creditors are largely figuring out that using the same-old data from the Big 3 isn’t producing new insights, so they are after whatever other information is available. 

CRAs charge fees to furnishers that submit consumer data. Therefore, one business submitting to 10 CRAs might not make business sense, but one user of the information can choose to mix and match different reports as they see fit. 

Why should consumers care about CRAs and all of these various reports?

As previously stated, companies are utilizing as much of your publicly available data as possible. The inclusion of inaccurate negative data or the exclusion of accurate positive data can have a significant effect on your credit score. Your score doesn’t just determine whether or not you get approved for credit – it influences loan pricing and whether or not a creditor will proactively increase or decrease your credit line (in the case of credit cards). 

When it comes to credit decisioning, there are creditors who may deny your application simply due to the inclusion of a very derogatory item in your credit history, regardless of what your numeric score may be. This is commonly the case with charge-offs. A charge off is an account that has become so delinquent that a creditor has written off the balance as uncollectible and closed the account. 

Why do creditors report if it’s costly?

Per Experian, consumers “may be more likely to make payments on time” when they know delinquency could affect their credit history and lower their scores. And to the furnishers’ credit (ha!), despite all of the potentially negative info that can be reported – reporting positive payment history is very helpful for customers. I’m sure you’ve seen lists of credit cards that are seen as “good for building credit” – it’s possible that some consumers choose these businesses *because* they report their credit history and wouldn’t patronize them if they weren’t a furnisher. 

According to an FTC survey in 2015, out of 84 consumers who believed disputed information in their credit report remained inaccurate after the investigation was completed by the CRA, 42 consumers, 50%, planned to abandon their dispute. Their reason for abandoning the dispute was because they didn’t feel it was “important enough” to keep pursuing.

I just want to get on my soapbox quickly and say that you have rights and I really hope you find it within important enough to stick to your guns when you KNOW that something is wrong.

Another right that you have in regards to disputing credit information is to ask a CRA to describe the procedure and steps they took to come to the determination that the data they have is accurate. Ok, I’m off my soapbox now. If you have any questions or comments on credit reporting – I’d love to hear them. 

-J

A loan by any other name…

In today’s edition of “things that don’t sit right with me” – online layaway. I’m being facetious, but the premise is quite similar!

Affirm and Afterpay both offer customers the opportunity to pay for their online purchases over time in more palatable installments versus a lump sum payment. Both set out to solve retailers’ issues of low conversion rates [Conversion is turning traffic into revenue aka sales]. The main difference is that with traditional layaway – you have to make the payments before you receive the merchandise. But with Affirm and Afterpay, you get your stuff and then deal with the bill. A breakdown of some key differences between these two business models…


  • Affirm
    • generally for stores w/ higher priced items – Wayfair (furniture), Priceline (hotels, plane tickets), Purple (mattresses), etc…
    • actually markets itself as a loan (i.e. – lists APRs and is transparent about pulling credit reports)


snapshot of Priceline checkout w/ Affirm


from Affirm’s home page. but the terms of service state that Affirm loans range from a fixed 10% up to 30%, so what’s the truth?


  • Afterpay
    • retailers at this point seem to be mostly clothing stores & other discretionary goods? (Forever 21, Madden, Ulta)
    • interest-free service where you only pay late fees if you miss payments


snapshot of Afterpay




I went through the terms of service for both of these companies just to see what the deal is. Because Affirm is a bit more forthcoming in their advertisement, I’ll switch gears and focus on Afterpay.


What gets me about Afterpay’s marketing is the insistence on “free and easy”. I completely understand that they make (probably a good portion of) their money from marketing. Let’s say Jane Doe is fresh out of college and has landed her first full-time office gig. Hoodies and Uggs may have worked in lecture, but aren’t becoming for the workplace. Now Jane needs office clothes ASAP but money is tight. Urban Outfitters offers Afterpay so she can pay off her clothes easily over time while GAP doesn’t – so she’s going to go with Urban Outfitters instead. I totally comprehend that business value.


I couldn’t figure out how the application decision worked given their lack of transparency around when they decide to pull a credit report. But there IS decisioning logic used on Afterpay’s side, because they frequently reference application approvals in their ToS (so logic would have it that there are denials as well).


And to their credit, why would any business give away thousands upon thousands of dollars only under the protection that I, as a consumer, pinky promise to pay it back? Not to mention, that without the added service of an installment loan, Afterpay would be nothing more than a carbon copy of Rakuten (formerly eBates). The following sentence comes verbatim from their Terms of Service:


You agree to provide any information or documentation reasonably requested by us to verify your identity in connection with your Afterpay Account, and you authorize us to make, directly or through third parties, any inquiries we consider necessary to verify your identity.


So at some point in the future (or perhaps never at all!), Afterpay may pull your credit report to determine that you are who you represent yourself to be. But it’s the uncertainty of pulling the credit report that is a bit troubling. If I’m making a $500 order, will you pull my credit? What if I successfully paid off my first $200 order w/ no issue, but then during my next $600 order – I slip up and am late with my third payment? Before I make my next $650 order, will you make a credit inquiry to see if I’m becoming insolvent or if that was just a fluke? Who knows, but if you agree to the ToS, Afterpay has that right and can invoke it at any point during your agreement.


We may, in our sole discretion, not provide the Installment Feature to you, or cancel an approved order before the goods or services are delivered or supplied for any reason including but not limited to your history of transactions with our service provider Afterpay or to prevent against fraud, legal, regulatory or nonpayment risk.

— From Afterpay’s Purchase Payment Agreement.


I don’t want this post to seem like an indictment of Affirm or Afterpay, or anyone who has used or plans to use these services. The holidays are pretty here, and using an installment loan can certainly help to make the financial hit of the season feel a little less harsh. I just to inform others to be weary of hopping onto the newest, hottest service without doing some due diligence. So… what will be the next innovation in the online shopping experience? Do you use these apps or any other similar services?


– J



My 8-5

So today I decided write a thread on Twitter about my career (tangentially speaking)! The thread was a bit brief, because character limits (while necessary) are quite aggy. The day-in and day-out of my job can get very tedious. But seeing these landmark cases (that I reference in this thread) puts everything into perspective. The work I do, ultimately can have direct impact on consumers (and I am consumer just like the people I help!).

To summarize some major points of the Avant (Chicago-based FinTech company) case from April 2019…

  • Avant forced consumers to repay their loans through automatic (pre-authorized) payments from their bank accounts. This is a violation of Regulation E which explicitly states: “No financial institution or other person may condition an extension of credit to a consumer on the consumer’s repayment by preauthorized electronic fund transfers […]“.
  • Avant also told people that after they completed their loan application, they could change their payment method to “paper check, money order, debit card or credit card”. But when consumers tried to pay by these methods, in many instances, Avant refused.
  • The lawsuit also alleges that Avant charged consumers’ credit cards or took payments from their bank accounts without permission. One consumer’s monthly payment was debited from their account *11* times in one day.

The full text from the FTC alleges that Avant’s limited software system was to blame for these problems. Imagine that you receive hundreds of millions in VC and can’t figure out how to actually facilitate the servicing of the loans you’re soliciting. Couldn’t be me.

The main reason I chose this case in particular is because of the rise of FinTech companies, it’s all about “disruption”. The rush to get to market, the pressure to turn a profit for investors – these challenges often push compliance off on the back burner, but having knowledge people on your team (even on retainer) can make the difference between whether or not you’re cutting checks for a settlement and legal fees.

– J

First Post! | Home Sales vs. Avg. Family Income

Background; Data Sources

To determine the average sales price, I pulled data from the City of Milwaukee’s OpenData site. This file contained the square footage, property type, and even lot sizes of various properties sold in 2018 (among other things). What became a pain was structuring my data so that I could compare it against the Census’ income data. 

The sales data included addresses but not census tract information. Luckily, the Census has a batch geocoding tool so I didn’t have to painstakingly geocode 5,000+ sales entries separately. Perhaps, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself… “geocoding”? 

Per the Census’ own technical documentation, geocoding is “an address look-up tool that converts your address to an approximate coordinate (longitude/latitude) and returns information about the address and the census geography.” If you geocode on the Census website, you’ll get a result such as this below. 

Pretty boring and a bit noisy. The relevant data point here is “Census Tract 77”. A more interesting view can be found at the FFIEC’s (Federal Financial Institution Examination Council) website. Here, you can enter an address and see demographic data, and a map view of the census tract you’re looking for. Fun!

The specific Census report I used was “DP03: Economic Characteristics” with the geographic constraints of all Census tracts in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. Now onto the analysis!

What I Learned

The trend line that resulted in Tableau was: 

  • Avg. sales price of homes in a Census Tract = 2.02485 * Average Family Income of the Census Tract
    • R2 = 0.928
    • P-value: <.001

So it seems we’ve got a fairly significant relationship between the two variables – neat! 

Overall, the results didn’t surprise me. The five outlying data points are all census tracts in Milwaukee’s “East Side” and there are quite a few properties within those tracts that offer views of Lake Michigan. The point at the top of the graph, Census Tract 143, contains high rises where a few Bucks and Brewers players are rumored to reside. 

This was a fun first exercise. I’m looking forward to much more analysis and knowledge sharing in the future. Thanks for reading!!
-J

P.S. – My public tableau can be found here.