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A Bank for Student Hackers (medium.com)
256 points by zachlatta on June 28, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments

I'm not positive, but it seems like a natural direction to look toward would be FIRST robotics teams. New teams face a lot of challenges, one of which is getting to a place where they can get donations and have access to their funds.

As a FIRST alum, this would've been so helpful when looking for sponsors/donations. When you route your money through a school, it becomes a total pain to get access to it. A parent had to call/email the school for months just to get access to the money we needed to buy parts.

This is a great idea.

Have you discussed this with a lawyer? It seems like this would qualify you as a money transmitter which has very strict requirements in many states. There are restrictions on the word "bank" and how that term can be used too.

Fortunately we're not acting as a money transmitter, but rather as a fiscal sponsor - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiscal_sponsorship.

A very common practice in the non-profit world, but very much not something that is accessible to students. Most fiscal sponsors out there are very bureaucratic and not set up to handle short-term engagements like hackathons.

You've had an attorney with experience in this area confirm and help establish (e.g., by drafting the sponsorship contract) this arrangement?

Yup, we're working with a non-profit law firm here.

Hey Zach, if you want to open bank accounts with an API and be able to provide real time balances to your users ping me ... I can help make that a reality

Yeah, this is straight up illegal in my country (Australia) - to call yourself a ‘bank’ referring to financial services you need to be a licensed Authorised Deposit-taking Institution (ADI) with our prudential regulator (APRA). This requires going through a compliance program that would probably take longer than a year, having $50 million (!) of paid up capital, etc.

Just a few months ago they did bring in a new restricted ADI licensing scheme though where you can start with only $3 million and get started quicker but there are a bunch of restrictions.

Whilst what you say is true, I don't think it would be impossible to create a structure that achieves similar outcomes without being a licensed ADI.

If I were attempting to do a similar thing, rather than positioning the "bank" as a separate service, I'd be offering full "auspicing" as many national NGOs have traditionally done for locally-run activities, where the "bank" service is actually just automating internal financial procedures for authorising transfers of money that belongs to the incorporated body rather than accepting deposits on behalf of a separate group of people.

edit: hah, just read the comments below and this seems to be exactly what they're doing

I'm pretty sure that's been relaxed to $35m. ;-)

Although the other onerous requirement for a bank is that it can't have any one owner with more than 5% shareholding (although there's a lender here that's trying to get the government to change that).

The money transmission licenses are very expensive too. You definitely should vet this with a lawyer before proceeding too far.

This is so great. As someone who used to run a Hack Club, it's so exciting to see this (would have solved a lot of problems for me back in high school).

Out of curiosity, are there ever plans to expand this beyond high school?

Potentially. We want to start by focusing on high school events, eventually start to provide more general financial services to clubs, and later may consider doing sponsorship for collegiate events.

So cool to see an alum on HN :-).

> An underlying bank account with 501(c)(3) status, so donations to events are tax deductible

I'm not sure why the bank's tax status is relevant, since the bank doesn't own the funds. Also, most credit unions are nonprofit.

Important thing here is that events working with us can offer tax deductions to donors through our 501(c)(3) tax status.

Most sponsors for high school events want to see some sort of non-profit status when giving and it takes over a year and thousands of dollars to create a new entity in the US. With Hack Club Bank, they can get set up under our parent entity in under a week.

"takes over a year and thousands of dollars to create a new entity in the US" This is a very misleading statement. 4 years ago I setup a 501(c)3 non profit and was able to get state and federal recognition, as well as all licensing necessary handled in a 4 month period from start to finish for under $400. What it does take is persistence and patience.

Sorry, should definitely clarify better - it comes down to whether you're filing a 1023 or a 1023EZ. Many events need to file 1023 due to expected annual budget being over $50K.

I'm happy you were able to get your status so quickly. It took us about a year. The filing fee for the 1023 alone is $600.

The IRS has an overview of the expected timelines at https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/charitable-organiz..., though they often get backlogged by months. The filing instructions for the 1023 are also a fun read: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i1023.pdf

If you are running events in the 50k range you have capital to manage the process. I still fail to see the argument you are making, few groups as you mention here are running 50k events.

The funds are best disbursed through a non-profit because most high school students do not know about legal and accounting procedures. Say an after-school club raises 20k intended for the annual budget. Sponsors which might be individuals but more than likely are companies will not write a check to any student but rather write a check to the school. Schools alone have many bureaucratic hurdles that make managing club funds inefficient. Therefore, although Clubs might have in paper 20k or say even 50k that money is being held by the school or another organization whose priority is not acting as the middleman, therefore, causing delays and all sorts of problems. Tackling a very cumbersome challenge, congrats Hack Club!

I see, donations are technically made to Hack Club. That's a cool hack, though I believe that you need some level of oversight over spending.

Yeah, absolutely. This is really where the automation comes in - there's no way we could run this if we had to manually approve every transaction.

All the debit cards are pre-paid from event account balances and have a system in place to collect receipts and restrict categories that can be spent in, if needed.

We're planning on doing a gradual roll out where we can be extraordinary careful to make sure we catch all the kinks early on.

Are you actually a bank? That’s a highly restricted term. To the point that non-banking subsidiaries of banks (like brokerages) use the word Banc to avoid the restrictions.

This problem/market is very interesting and strange to me. In my country, you're able to open a bank account in 15 minutes, the only requirement is to have a parent present if you're under 15, of course you have to present your identity, and you have to deposit just 200 to 1000 CZK (7.5 to 50 dollars, or 5 to ±30 beers). No credit checks, no solvency requirements, no debt-free only policy, nothing like that, you literally walk out with a working bank account (and a debit card will arrive by mail shortly after) that is completely free for everyone and for all use cases that an average person has.

Bank accounts are treated as marketing for other financial services so you will even get free money if you open it in a bank that currently has a promotion (usually around 200 to 500 CZK - 7.5 to 20 dollars, or 5 to 12 beers).

Plenty of high school kids have bank accounts here. That's not the issue.

The problem is that a personal bank account doesn't qualify as a non-profit under U.S. tax laws. So donors can't write off the donation and the kid would be assessed income taxes on the donation.

Huh, that makes it even stranger. How do you e.g. share flats? Buy tickets for a concert as a group? Buy a plane ticket as a group? This is basic stuff...

None of those are donations, nor are they anywhere near being tax deductible.

Again, you're focused on a totally different issue. There's nothing wrong with splitting costs or reimbursing a friend who bought you something.

Splitting rent or cab fare, etc. is fine, but that certainly doesn't mean a H.S. kid can receive $50k in "donations" in his/her personal bank account without worrying about the tax implications. That's the issue the OP is trying to address.

I see now, thanks.

Just FYI, You can't call yourself a bank. It is a restricted term in most US states and the UK.


This is the new standard for student run hackathons. Now, the students get both control and security for their money.

This is a great idea and solves a huge headache for hackathon organizers. Dealing with taxes and a multiple university accounts was a huge hassle at Bitcamp. We eventually became a non-profit which took over a year to complete. It would have been great to be able to use a service like this instead. Though, given the size of Bitcamp compared to most hackathons, it probably still would make sense to go through the extra effort to be our own non-profit entity.

The fact that you guys show a dashboard is amazing. Ive had too many bad experiences with long response times after asking how much money we had/trying to spend.

I hope you would consider expanding this to cover all student organizations - it's not just hack clubs that hold events or seek donations.

This is a great idea.

Having said that, school groups do spend money, bands, clubs and etc.... how are the others doing it successfully?

"The only person who had access to the bank account was the principal, but nobody knew where he was. 24 hours later, Jake and I were on the phone with the vice principal who was also left in the dark. A week later, the principal showed up in Tokyo and the money was still completely restricted. They missed the deadline for purchasing the flights and the trip was cancelled. What the hell happened?"

What did happen? They never really explain that.

Most store money with their school, but rarely have budgets exceeding $1K. Clubs with larger budgets like band typically have much heavier faculty involvement, which is often not the case with Hack Clubs.

For Kapaa High School, the money is still sitting today in a restricted bank account only the principal has access to - the trip never happened and the donors are frustrated, to say the least.

I blame lawyers.

Amazing! Excited to see how this turns out!

> To do it yourself, you must incorporate and seek non-profit status which can take over a year and thousands of dollars in the United States

Joint business bank account at any major bank solves this. File for an llc in colorado (~$65) and open the account. Tax free, fee-free, and you can get multiple debit cards.

Keep in mind most of our students are minors and many are in situations where creating new entities that increase reported personal income would put them in a compromising position - ex. push their family over the income threshold for a welfare program and disqualify them.

Sponsors for high school events also typically look for 501(c)(3) status before giving to events that benefit their community. I'm sure an LLC is a great solution for many, but there's a reason high schoolers don't already do this for hackathons.

That wouldn't exempt you from federal tax though.

How are you handling debit cards?

Awesome work, congrats Hack Club!

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