Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer

Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of that—but that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everything—from taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plans—is on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”

What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexing—taxes:

1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own

First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.

For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.

That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFP®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.

When learning how to budget as a freelancer it’s necessary to estimate your income and expenses before setting aside savings for tax payments.

When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.

“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”

After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.

Pro Tip:

To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.

2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas

The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:

Your workspace

Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.

If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.

Pro Tip:

Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.

Digital tools

There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.

The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”

As you manage the cost of being freelance, consider digital tools and accounting services to keep track of invoices, payments and income.

Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.

Pro Tip:

When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.

3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost

Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidies—or a reduced premium based on income—was $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.

“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFP®, at Bridgeworth Financial.

Budgeting as a freelancer allows you to select a healthcare plan that best suits your employment status, income and relationship status.

A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premium—which is how much you pay each month to have your insurance—is a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.

When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:

  • Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
  • COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
  • Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.

Pro Tip:

Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.

4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”

Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.

“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.

He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.

Pro Tip:

Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.

5. Continually update your rates

One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.

Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Have confidence in your freelance career

Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

Mint Money Audit: Affording Life After Grad School

With a brand new PhD under her belt, our latest Mint audit recruit, Renee, is ready to take on the real world with gusto. The 34-year-old is eager to buy a home and ramp up her retirement savings. She currently lives in San Francisco and has just started a full-time earning $87,000 a year (before taxes).

Renee also received a sizeable inheritance, totaling about $200,000 of which she used $30,000 to pay off her student loans.

So, why does Renee want an audit, exactly? Her finances seem perfectly in order, it seems.

As Renee explains, she wants advice around the best ways to plan for big goals like home ownership and retirement. “I’m especially eager to buy my own apartment, but it is extremely daunting (and expensive) in the Bay area,” she says. As a result, she’s leaning to move to New York City (Brooklyn, specifically, where she thinks may offer more bang for her buck in some neighborhoods.)

She wants to know how much of a down payment she can reasonably afford and how to budget for monthly housing costs.

First, though, I wanted to learn more about Renee’s finances. Here’s what the quick audit revealed:

  • Retirement savings: $40,000 in a 403(b) and Roth IRA. She allocates $200 month from her paycheck to the 403(b).
  • Rent: $1,850 per month
  • Groceries: $400 per month
  • Where is all that savings parked? $100,000 in index and mutual funds, another $50,000 in an 11-month CD earning 1.5%, and remaining $20,000 in checking.

My Advice…

Play Retirement Catch-Up

For a 35-year-old worker, one rule of thumb is that you should have an amount equal to your salary in retirement savings. For Renee, who is nearing age 35, that means $80,000 to $90,000. She’s only about halfway there, so my recommendation is to play some retirement catch up. While it’s not realistic to think that she can invest another $40,000 this year, she can do better.

For starters, what about taking advantage of her company’s 403(b) match? She believes her company offers one, but wasn’t sure about the details. I suggested she learn the specifics and try to capitalize on that offer by contributing at least enough to earn the full match. Allocating closer to 10% of her salary would be ideal. (And PS. that contribution is tax deductible!)

Worried that this would stretch her paycheck too thin, I reminded Renee that she can always adjust her retirement contributions each month, but urged her to give it a try. (My bet is that it won’t be as painful as she suspects.)

Pad the Rainy Day Account?

I wasn’t sure how far her $20,000 in checking would last her. She said it would be about a 6-month reserve, which I feel is adequate. No need to make adjustments there. One thought: She may want to move that $20,000 to a savings account that’s a little less accessible (like an online account without a debit card), so that she isn’t tempted to cash it out on a whim.

Protect Your Down Payment

Renee has $100,000 in a brokerage account, which she plans to use towards a down payment in the near future. But here’s something to consider: What if the market plunges six months before you want to make a bid for a home? And you suddenly lose 15 or 20% of your investments? It would take time to recover, more time than you want.

I would personally never risk money in the stock market if I anticipated needing that money in the next five years. And according to Renee, she hopes to buy a home in the next two years. My advice: Protect the down payment from market fluctuations by moving 50% of that money over to a short-term CD and with the other $50,000 she’s got saved in an 11-month CD, use all that savings towards a future down payment.

Know How Much House You Can Really Afford

To buy in NYC or San Francisco, a 20% down payment is standard. With $100,000 to put down, that means that she’s looking at homes valued at around $500,000. With today’s current mortgage rates nearing 4% for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, she’s looking at close to $2,000 a month in payments. But we’ve yet to get to taxes, maintenance and home insurance.

Instead, consider a starter apartment, a studio or junior one-bedroom closer to $400,000. A 20% down payment would be $80,000, leaving her with another $20,000 for closing costs. Her monthly payments would come to around $1,500 per month, close to 30% of her take-home pay, which is a smart cap for housing payments.

 

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

The post Mint Money Audit: Affording Life After Grad School appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

What Long-Term Care Insurance Covers

what does long term care insurance cover
While Medicare and Medicaid both help aging adults afford some of their medical expenses, they may not cover the cost of an extended illness or disability. That’s where long-term care insurance comes into play. Long-term care insurance helps policyholders pay for their long-term care needs such as nursing home care. We’ll explain what long-term care insurance covers and whether or not such coverage is something you or your loved ones should consider.

Long-Term Care Insurance Explained

Long-term care insurance helps individuals pay for a variety of services. Most of these services do not include medical care. Coverage may include the cost of staying in a nursing home or assisted living facility, adult day care or in-home care. This includes nursing care, physical, occupational or speech therapy and help with day to day activities.

A long-term care insurance policy pays for the cost of care due to a chronic illness, a disability, or injury. It also provides an individual with the assistance they may require as a result of the general effects of aging. Primarily, though, long-term care insurance is designed to help pay for the costs of custodial and personal care, versus strictly medical care.

When You Should Consider Long-Term Care Insurance

During the financial planning process, it’s important to consider long-term care costs. This is important if you are close to retirement age. Unfortunately, if you wait too long to purchase coverage, it may be too late. Many applicants may not qualify if they already have a chronic illness or disability.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an adult turning 65 has a 70% chance of needing some form of long-term care. While only one-third of retirees may never need long-term care coverage, 20% may need it for five years or longer. With a private nursing home room averaging about $7,698 per month, long-term care could end up being a huge financial burden for you and your family.

Most health insurance policies won’t cover long-term care costs. Additionally, if you’re counting on Medicare to assist you with these extra expenses, you may be out of luck. Medicare doesn’t cover long-term care or custodial care. Most nursing homes classify under the custodial care category. This classification of care includes the supervision of your daily tasks.

So, if you don’t have long-term care insurance, you’re on the hook for these expenses. However, it’s possible to get help through Medicaid for low income families. But keep in mind, you may only receive coverage after you deplete your life savings. Just know that Medicare may cover short-term nursing care or hospice care, but little of the long-term care in between.

What Does Long Term Care Insurance Cover

what does long term care insurance coverSo what does long term care insurance cover, Well, since the majority of long-term care policies are comprehensive policies, they may cover at-home care, adult day care, assisted living facilities (resident care or alternative care), and nursing home care. At home, long-term care may cover the cost of professional nursing care, occupational therapy, or rehabilitation. This may also include assistance with daily tasks, including bathing or brushing teeth.

Additionally, long-term care coverage can cover short-term hospice care for individuals who are terminally ill. The objective of hospice care is to help with pain management and provide emotional and physical support for all parties involved. Most policies allow beneficiaries to obtain care at a hospice facility, nursing home, or in the comfort of their own home. However, most hospice care is not considered long-term care and may receive coverage through Medicare.

Also, long-term care insurance can help cover the costs of respite care or temporary care. These policy extensions provide time off to those who care for an individual on a regular basis. Usually, respite care provides compensation to caregivers for 14 to 21 days a year. This care can take place at a nursing home, adult daytime care facility, or at home

What Long-Term Care Doesn’t Cover

If you have a pre-existing medical condition, you may not be eligible for long-term care during the exclusion period. The exclusion period can last for several months after your initial purchase of the policy. Also, if a family member provides in-home care, your policy may not pay them for their services.

Keep in mind, long-term care coverage won’t cover medical care costs. Many of your medical costs will fall under your coverage plan if you’re eligible for Medicare.

Long-Term Care Insurance Costs

Some of the following factors may affect the cost of your long-term care policy:

  • The age of the policyholder.
  • The maximum amount the policy will pay per year.
  • The maximum number of days the policy will pay.
  • The lifetime maximum amount that the policy will pay
  • Any additional options or benefits you choose.

If you’re in poor health or you’re currently receiving long-term care, you may not qualify for a plan. However, it’s possible to qualify for a limited amount of coverage with a higher premium rate. Some group policies don’t even require underwriting.

According to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance (AALTCI), a couple in their mid-50s can purchase a new long-term care policy for around $3,000 a year. The combined benefit of this plan would be roughly $770,000. Keep in mind, some policies limit your payout period. These payout limitations may be two to five years, while other policies may offer a lifetime benefit. This is an important consideration when finding the right policy.

Bottom Line

what does long term care insurance coverWhile it’s highly likely that you may need some form of long-term care, it’s wise to consider how you will pay for this additional cost as you age. While a long-term care policy is a viable option, there are alternatives you can consider.

One viable choice would be to boost your retirement savings to help compensate for long-term care costs. Ultimately, it comes down to what level of risk you’re comfortable with and how well a long-term care policy fits into your bigger financial picture.

Retirement Tips

  • If you’re unsure what long-term care might mean to your retirement plans, consider consulting a financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • The looming costs of long-term care may have you thinking about how much money you’ll need for retirement. If you aren’t sure how much your 401(k) or Social Security will factor into the equation, SmartAsset’s retirement guide can help you sort out the details.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz, ©iStock.com/scyther5, ©iStock.com/PeopleImages

The post What Long-Term Care Insurance Covers appeared first on SmartAsset Blog.

Source: smartasset.com