MONEY online shopping

It’ll Probably Be Years Before You’re Forced to Pay Online Sales Tax

man using credit card to make online payment on laptop
Martin Barraud—Getty Images

For that matter, you might never have to pay up.

Two separate bills working their way through Congress could theoretically close the loophole that allows consumers to skip out on paying sales tax on purchases from e-retailers located in different states. Even so, in all likelihood online shoppers won’t be forced into paying sales tax anytime soon.

Over the years, e-retailers and the consumers who shop online to avoid sales taxes have been accused of having a “free ride.” For the most part, the laws stipulate that online sellers must charge sales tax only when the merchant has a physical presence in the state where the purchase is taking place. The net result is that a consumer in state X might not have to automatically pay sales tax when he makes a purchase from an e-retailer based in state Y.

The scenario gives an unfair advantage to the e-retailer over local brick-and-mortar retailers, which obviously have to collect local sales tax. Consumers are supposed to keep track of their online purchases and pay the appropriate sales tax when filing their income taxes, but the number of individuals who do so is approximately … zero. (Well, it’s close to zero anyway.)

Amazon, all-powerful online entity that it is, has come under fire in particular for not universally collecting sales tax on purchases, and it has made agreements with states on a case-by-case basis to charge the appropriate taxes.

Even as the vast majority of Americans now pay sales tax on Amazon purchases regardless of where they live, there are still many e-retailers that aren’t required to collect sales tax on out-of-state purchases. If either the Remote Transaction Parity Act or the Marketplace Fairness Act of 2015 become law, this loophole would be closed and states could start requiring nearly all sellers to collect sales tax.

Yet, as InternetRetailer.com reported, it’s not looking likely that either of the bills will pass in the near future. What’s more, if and when either does manage to become law, in order to allow time for e-retailers to tweak their operations to be in line with new regulations, there will be a delay of at least 12 months before sellers will have to collect sales tax. E-retailers will also be given a reprieve from charging sales tax during the peak winter holiday shopping season in the first year after either bill becomes law.

The upshot for consumers is that even if one of these bills suddenly catches fire in Congress and surprisingly passes soon, “2017 would be the first holiday season it could take effect,” InternetRetailer.com states. Remember, that’s only if one of these bills passes. If neither does, then many online shoppers can continue enjoying their free ride indefinitely.

TIME facebook

Here’s Facebook’s Course To Combat Bias In The Workplace

The company is now sharing it with the public

Facebook is a prestigious Silicon Valley company where many people hope to work, and yet it has had trouble building on a truly diverse workforce despite repeated promises to do so.

So on Tuesday, COO Sheryl Sandberg shared in a blog post the company’s latest effort in that area: an anti-unconscious bias course for its employees. The company is now sharing it with the public via a new website, complete with videos and presentations on various topics.

“One of the most important things we can do to promote diversity in the workplace is to correct for the unconscious bias that all of us have,” Sandberg wrote. “At Facebook, we’ve worked with leading researchers to develop a training course that helps people recognize how bias can affect them, and gives them tools to interrupt and correct for bias when they see it in the workplace.”

Google released a similar body of resources and training materials in 2014.

In mid-June, Facebook released its second annual workforce diversity report. Much like the other large companies that have also released such reports in the last two years, not much has changed in Facebook’s numbers. The company saw only a one percentage-point increase in total female employees (32%) and in women in technical positions (16%). Women in senior positions stayed at the same level — just 23% of the company. Facebook also didn’t see much improvement in racial diversity, still mostly hiring white and Asian employees.

“Diversity is central to Facebook’s mission of creating a more open and connected world. To reflect the diversity of the 1.4 billion people using our products, we need to have people with different backgrounds, races, genders and points of view working at Facebook,” Sandberg wrote.

The videos cover four areas: stereotypes and performance bias, performance attribution bias, competence/likability tradeoff bias, and maternal bias. It’s not clear how Facebook has implemented these training materials within the company, although Sandberg notes that people have asked the company to share the course with others.

TIME Smartphones

Meet the $329 Phone Everyone’s Been Waiting For

The new OnePlus 2 smartphone.
OnePlus The new OnePlus 2 smartphone.

The OnePlus 2 is the best phone you've never heard of

OnePlus, a rising smartphone star in China, released a new, top-of-the-line product this morning. It’s a smartphone called the OnePlus 2—an admittedly clever bit of mathematical marketing—and it’s billed as the “2016 Flagship Killer.”

Translation: Dear Samsung, Apple, Lenovo, Huawei, and LG: We’re comin’ for ya.

The device itself is enticing. It’s based on Google’s Android operating system, as most phones that don’t start with “i” are, and has the latest mobile innards: A Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor rated at 1.8 GHz, four gigabytes of memory, 64 gigabytes of storage, 13- and five-megapixel cameras, a fingerprint sensor, and a 5.5-inch screen (about on par with the iPhone 6). It’s a bit heavier than Apple’s model. (Is it better? I’ll leave it to Fortune’s Jason Cipriani, who will soon answer that question in a forthcoming review.)

Most important, it’s $329 without a contract. That seems expensive to American consumers used to phones (on contract) in the $200 range, but consider that the iPhone is roughly $650 without a two-year service plan and Samsung’s Galaxy S6 is $685. This is a strategy we’ve seen time and time again from Chinese manufacturers: Match the competition’s hardware and software and undercut them on price. It’s a page ripped directly from the South Korean playbook, itself ripped from the Japanese playbook. (For more on this dynamic, as well as the rise of OnePlus, read “Enter the Dragons,” Scott Cendrowski’s feature in the March 2015 issue of Fortune magazine.)

But despite the hyperbole and hyperventilation in the tech press this morning—”So good it makes me want to leave Verizon,” one early reviewer breathlessly wrote; “pushes the boundaries of what a flagship phone can be,” wrote another—the bigger strategic maneuver for OnePlus is clearly found in the business model. All smartphone makers are subject to the same hardware providers (unless they’re big enough to make proprietary components like Apple and Samsung). That leaves user experience (including customer service!) and price. What makes OnePlus different is its ability to match the former while achieving the latter,reportedly at cost. The marketing doesn’t hesitate to encourage it: “Never Settle” is the company’s slogan. “We believe that great products come from great ideas, not multi-million dollar marketing campaigns,” is a Samsung-targeted line it regularly trots out, even as it tries to reconcile both concepts in international courts of law.

It’s easy, of course, for a small company to punch up at the big giants; it’s got little to lose by starting a war with the incumbents. (Take note, 2016 U.S. presidential election contenders.) But OnePlus should not forget that those five companies—two Korean, one American, and two Chinese—comprise more than half of the global market for smartphones, per IDC’s latest estimates. While ascendant, OnePlus is still obscure to most consumers around the world, and it has yet to truly dominate its own, extraordinarily competitive home market. But with attitude aplenty, OnePlus may have already won an important battle before ever having shipped a single unit of its new model: The one for the minds of consumers who look at smartphones and see Apple, Samsung, and no one else. If this new device helps them see OnePlus, too, then it’s the kind of addition that all Chinese smartphone makers should cheer.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

MONEY housing

U.S. Homeownership Drops To Its Lowest Level Since 1967

aerial view of neighborhood
Jake Wyman—Getty Images/Aurora Creative

The last time homeownership levels were this low, LBJ was president.

Data released by the Census Bureau on Tuesday reveal that the U.S. homeownership rate stood at 63.4% for the second quarter of 2015. The rate is down slightly compared to the first quarter (63.7%), and it represents the lowest level of homeownership in America since 1967. If the homeownership rate drops just a few more tenths of a percentage point, it would reach a new all-time low since the government began tracking such data in 1965 and the rate was a flat 63%.

In fact, some housing experts say it’s fairly likely the homeownership rate will continue to fall and will indeed hit a record low in the near future. “We may have another percentage point to go before we see a bottom” in terms of the homeownership rate, Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wells Fargo Securities, told Bloomberg. “We’re still suffering the effects of the housing collapse and the financial crisis.”

The bull market and an improving jobs picture would seem to bring with it rising homeownership levels. Yet as a recent Harvard study pointed out, many would-be homeowners—particularly younger ones, in their 20s, 30s, and 40s—are still struggling in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Wages have been stagnant for the middle class, and many households are cautious about jumping into homeownership in the face of hefty student loan debt and memories of being burned in the housing crash. Rising home prices don’t help ownership levels either.

All combined, these forces are conspiring to make renting seem like the wiser option over buying lately.

For the sake of comparison, the 50-year average for homeownership in the U.S. is 65.3%. The rate rose through the 1970s and early 1980s, before dipping to around 64% or slightly under in the late ’80s and early ’90s, a period marked by economic downturn in much of the world—and a recession that lasted eight months in the U.S.

Fueled by easy credit, a booming economy, and boundless optimism, the homeownership rate soared in the late ’90s and early ’00s, nearly hitting 70%. The 69.2% homeownership rate of 2004 is currently the all-time high. Based on how things have been going, it very well could remain as the record high for years or even decades to come.

TIME Careers & Workplace

8 Sources of Professional Advice and Inspiration

businessman-thinking-window
Getty Images

"Before going to others, look inward"

BusinessCollective Logo for Web

Question: Who do you turn to first for advice and why?

Myself

“Before going to others, look inward. You know your situation better than anyone, and you are capable of amazing creativity. I find it useful to pretend that I’m looking at someone else’s issue instead of my own. If someone else were coming to you with this problem, what advice would you give them? Take a step back and objectively evaluate what is happening. ” — Laura Roeder, MeetEdgar.com

My Social Following

“I will post almost all of my personal or professional questions on Twitter and Facebook because I have some pretty awesome connections. You can expand your social circle online far faster than you ever could in person. Throw out a question and just watch all the great advice roll in. Also, you don’t have to endure endless conversations online. Who has time for that?” — Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media

My Peer Advisor

“I have a daily call with Bhavin Parikh, CEO of Magoosh.com. Even on weekends we talk. While we run completely different businesses (watches for me, test prep for him) we’re going through many of the same struggles of growing a business. He knows everything about Modify, so that when I call and bring up some small issue, he has all of the necessary context and can simply give advice.” — Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

My Father

“My father is without a doubt the first person I turn to for personal and business advice. He has seen just about everything and has met just about every different type of person in his life as a lawyer. He is a very grounded, well-rounded person who has been a successful business person and (more importantly), human being. ” — Jason Grill, JGrill Media | Sock 101

Key Stakeholders

“I go to my key stakeholders, along with my team of external advisers. As the ancient proverb states, “A wise man has many counselors.” You want a diversity of knowledge, experience and education to help create the highest likelihood of success. ” — Parker Powers, ParkerPowers.com

An Executive Coach

One of my most trusted advisors is an executive coach. She has been part of my team since my business was only a few months old. Executive coaches are great because they know more about your business’ inner-workings than an outside mentor, but they are more removed than a board member or colleague. If you find the right one, he/she can be an invaluable impartial resource for key decisions.” — Brittany Hodak, ZinePak

My Wife

“My wife has no business background. She is a teacher. However, she possesses a deep understanding of me unlike anyone else in the world. Bouncing ideas off of her proves to be an effective exercise since she offers a fresh perspective on the issue at hand. ” — Logan Lenz, Endagon

Google

“I turn to Google because I hate asking questions without understanding the topic. Once I have a basic understanding, I am able to ask better questions, which leads to better results. ” — Matthew Moisan, Moisan Legal, P.C.

BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.

This article originally appeared on BusinessCollective

MONEY fitness

Own a Nike+ FuelBand? You Could Be Eligible for a Refund

The new NIKE+ FuelBand, an innovative wristband that tracks and measures everyday movement for what Nike says is to motivate and inspire people to be more active.
Mike Segar—Reuters/Newscom The NIKE+ FuelBand tracks and measures everyday movement for what Nike says is to motivate and inspire people to be more active.

Nike is offering $15 cash or $25 gift cards.

A settlement has been reached in a class action lawsuit first brought against Nike and Apple in 2013, and the net result is that some consumers who purchased Nike+ FuelBands are now eligible for either $15 cash or $25 Nike gift cards.

The suit alleged that “false and/or misleading statements were made regarding the Nike+ FuelBand’s ability to accurately track calories, steps, and NikeFuel, and that there were breaches of the warranty terms of the Nike+ FuelBand,” according to the website created to publicize the settlement’s terms, NikeFuelBandSettlement.com. Both Nike and Apple “deny the claims in the lawsuit and maintain that they did nothing wrong or illegal,” yet decided to settle “in order to avoid the expense, inconvenience, and distraction of continued litigation.”

Under the terms of the settlement, consumers who purchased a Nike+ FuelBand—a fitness-tracking device worn on the wrist that sells for $100 to $250—between January 19, 2012, and June 17, 2015, can receive a payment of $15 in the form of a check, or a $25 gift card valid at Nike stores and Nike.com. Claim forms are available at NikeFuelBandSettlement.com.

The Wall Street Journal noted that while Nike was among the first major companies to get into fitness trackers, the market has since grown crowded with devices from FitBit, JawBone, and others. Many fitness trackers can be purchased today for about $50. Starting around 2014, Nike began shifting its focus away from fitness-tracking hardware, though the Nike+ app is featured on the Apple Watch.

TIME Microsoft

Microsoft Just Unveiled This Totally Unexpected New Product

US-IT-INTERNET-SOFTWARE-MICROSOFT
AFP—AFP/Getty Images The Microsoft logo.

No, it doesn't have anything to do with Windows 10

While many Microsoft customers are patiently awaiting the release of Windows 10, Microsoft has surprised us all by quietly unveiling a completely unexpected new product: Arrow Launcher Beta.

Arrow Launcher is a basic and user-friendly Android launcher with three main pages, and as its name suggests this is an early version of the product.

Your home page contains all of your apps. It’s divided into a Recent section, displaying the ones you recently downloaded, and a Frequent section, showing the apps which you use most often. Swipe to the left of the home page to find your phone and email contacts, which are also organized by frequent use. To the right of the home page are your notes and reminders, a valuable feature that isn’t included in most Android launchers. Swipe up for a list of quick-access apps, settings, and feedback options.

Arrow Launcher is currently in private beta. In order to access it, you need an invitation, which you can ask for by joining this Google+ group. However, you may want to keep in mind that, as with any other product that’s undergoing beta-testing, Arrow Launcher does come with some bugs: the row of apps on the bottom of the home page may be cut off, the Frequent sections on the home and People pages take some time to settle in accurately and, as of yet, the launcher does not support widgets. If you think you’re strong enough to endure all that, you can request an invitation to access it by joining this Google+ group.

MONEY Airlines

This Is the Single Greatest Frequent Flyer Perk Ever

150728_EM_PrivateJetPerk
Alamy—© zechina / Alamy

Get the CEO treatment

Being upgraded to first class is pretty nice. But even the most elite frequent flyers still must deal with many of the hassles of commercial flights—including the long waits to check in, the pass through security gates, and allowing time for hundreds of commoners to board and sandwich themselves into those tiny seats at the back of the plane.

A new upgrade program from Delta could eliminate some of these headaches by moving its best customers from commercial flights entirely. The program, as Bloomberg reports, would allow a very small number of Delta’s most elite “Diamond Medallion” frequent flyers to pay $300 to $800 extra to board private jet flights that accommodate a maximum of a few dozen passengers.

Initially, the program will focus on East Coast flights, and naturally, they’ll be offered by Delta Private Jets, the private jet unit operated by Delta. The move seems motivated by the desire to keep the airline’s highest-spending customers happy, while simultaneously filling up seats on luxury private jets that might otherwise be half full.

“This is truly a groundbreaking new approach from both industry standpoints,” Delta Private Jets vice president of operations James Murray said in a statement. “Nobody else can do what we’re talking about doing.”

Read next: 5 Ways That Traveling on the Cheap Has Changed—for the Better

TIME Personal Finance

Donald Trump Probably Has Less Money Than You Think

Donald Trump Makes Announcement At Trump Tower
Christopher Gregory—Getty Images Business mogul Donald Trump points as he gives a speech as he announces his candidacy for the U.S. presidency at Trump Tower on June 16, 2015 in New York City. Trump is the 12th

But it's still a lot

Donald Trump’s self-valuation of “in excess of TEN BILLION DOLLARS” could be based on a lot of hot air, according to a new analysis.

The Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimates the real estate mogul’s value at $2.9 billion, a valuation that leaves Trump off the site’s top 200 billionaires list. Instead, with a $2.9 billion net worth, Trump is in leagues with lesser-known billionaires, like pet food mogul Clayton Mathile or Panda Express founders Andrew and Peggy Cherng.

According to the Bloomberg finding, which leaned on the financial disclosure form Trump filed as a requirement tied to his presidential run, most of Trump’s wealth comes from real estate holdings. Those assets include golf courses and resort properties, as well as a handful of Manhattan skyscrapers.

The report estimated wealth conservatively, valuing the real estate only on the income it produces. “It doesn’t value Trump’s brand beyond accounting for cash held in accounts for his licensing deals and business partnerships,” Bloomberg noted.

For now, Trump’s big-money claims seem to be helping him stay atop GOP presidential polls despite his often controversial claims about immigrants, fellow Republicans and other targets.

 

TIME Retail

See Converse’s First Chuck Taylor Redesign in Almost 100 Years

Converse Chuck Taylor Shoe
Converse

Good luck spotting the difference on the outside

Converse unveiled newly redesigned iconic Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers last week, the first change to rock the classic shoe in 98 years.

Converse President and CEO Jim Calhoun predicted that the Chuck Taylor All Star II would usher in “not just a new sneaker, but a completely new way of thinking.” In reality, the shoe may leave shoppers wondering what exactly has changed.

The All Star patch is “fully embroidered,” for starters, and the eyelets now come in “monochrome matte.” So much for the exterior.

ConverseChuck Taylor II

Converse wisely reserved the biggest changes for the interior, upgrading the materials in an attempt to give wearers a more comfortable fit. The cushioning has been updated to Nike Lunarlon sockliner, a trademark foam technology developed by Converse’s parent company, Nike. A snugger, padded collar and a redesigned tongue were designed to reduce slippage. A perforated “micro suede” liner enhances breathability.

“The expectations of kids is that things will be broken in, ready to use, super comfortable, super functional from the minute it leaves the store,” Calhoun said in an interview with Fortune.

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