The Workplace of the Future: How to Prepare and Preserve Your Career

Workplaces have always evolved with technology, trends, and research. The changing environment of our global economy and advances in technology mean organizations have to adapt to stay competitive. This also means employees should keep their eyes forward and focus on the skills that will keep them employed and open new career opportunities. 

Looking into our immediate future, we’re seeing offices embrace telecommuting tools and implement flexible schedules to retain qualified employees and maintain social responsibility for the health and wellness of their teams. 

With increasing reliance on technology, we’re also seeing a large shift towards prioritizing soft skills. Early adopters of artificial intelligence technology are reporting a 16 percent increase in the need for business leadership roles as the need for researchers drops and advanced technology fills the gap. 

The best way to prepare for the office of the future is to set career goals and develop new skills, like how to run a productive meeting and collaborate within a team to increase productivity. Taking ownership of your skills and output can impress your manager and set you up for success when you negotiate your salary at your next performance review. 

Read more about workplace trends and how to invest in your future below:

Sources: Global Workplace Analytics | NPR | CareerBuilder | SHRM | Gartner | Gensler | Lifesize | KFF | Cengage | Deloitte | IWG | World Economic Forum | Journal of Experimental Social Psychology

The post The Workplace of the Future: How to Prepare and Preserve Your Career appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

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

The Average Salary of an Architect

The Average Salary of an Architect

The average salary of an architect is $76,100 per year.

Have you ever wondered how much an architect earns? Becoming an architect requires an investment of money and time, but pays off in the form of a rewarding career that comes with above-average earnings. And for those lucky few who become “starchitects,” it’s a path to fame. Let’s take a closer look at the average salary of an architect. 

The Average Salary of an Architect: The Basics

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) finds that the average salary of an architect was $76,100 per year, $36.59 per hour in 2015. There is wide range of architect salaries, however. The top 10% of architects earn an average salary of $125,520 per year, $60.34 per hour. The bottom 10% of architects earn an average salary of $46,080 per year, $22.15 per hour.

Architects’ salaries are fairly high, but what do the future job prospects look like for architects? The BLS releases a “job outlook” for the fields it studies. The job outlook predicts the percent by which the number of people in a given job will grow between 2014 and 2024. For architects, the BLS job outlook is 7%, which is around the average for all the jobs the BLS studies. The field isn’t shrinking, but it’s not growing at faster-than-average rates either.

Related Article: The Average Salary of a Doctor 

Where Architects Make the Most

The Average Salary of an Architect

The BLS examines state- and metro-level data on earnings, too. Where does it pay the most to be an architect? According to BLS data, the top-paying state for architects is California, where the annual mean wage for architects is $97,880. Other high-paying states for architects are Georgia ($93,940), Massachusetts ($90,430), New Jersey ($89,130) and Minnesota ($88,680).

What about metro areas? The top-paying metro area for architects is West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Delray Beach, FL, where the mean annual wage for architects is $117,870. Other high-paying metro areas for architects are Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA; Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA; Syracuse, NY and Oakland-Hayward-Berkeley, CA.

Related Article: The Cost of Living in California

The Cost of Becoming an Architect

The first step to becoming an architect is to earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in architecture. A poll by the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) found that poll respondents (all architecture school graduates) had an average post-graduation student debt of $40,000. The students also reported spending thousands on extra costs such as modeling materials, textbooks and more.

After obtaining a degree (often a five-year degree), budding architects do an average of three years at an architecture internship. Finally, they must take the Architect Registration Exam (ARE). That means that even the fastest path to becoming an architect in the U.S. takes eight years, but most people take around 11 years. In the meantime, most of these aspiring architects are paying back student loans. The ARE also comes with stiff fees. Depending on which version of the exam you take, the exam fee itself is either $1,470 or $1,260. If you have to cancel your exam, the fees you pay are non-refundable.

Bottom Line

The Average Salary of an Architect

The job of an architect comes with glamour and prestige, as well as a high salary and a solid job outlook. However, the path to becoming an architect is a long and expensive one and not everyone who wants to become an architect makes it through the multi-year process. Still, if you have the discipline, talent and funds architecture is a financially rewarding career path.

Update: Have financial questions beyond an architect’s average salary? SmartAsset can help. So many people reached out to us looking for tax and long-term financial planning help, we started our own matching service to help you find a financial advisor. The SmartAdvisor matching tool can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and goals. Then the program will narrow down your options from thousands of advisors to up to three registered investment advisors who suit your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while the program does much of the hard work for you.

Photo credit: Â©iStock.com/Geber86, Â©iStock.com/vgajic, Â©iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

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Source: smartasset.com

Dear Penny: My Rich Boyfriend Worries I’ll Burden Him if We Marry

Dear Penny,
Discussing how you’ll split the bills is a vital conversation if you’re merging lives. Some couples choose to keep their finances completely separate, and that’s OK.
It’s been a wonderful two years. You’re talking about growing old together. Then the conversation turns to how little money you make and how you might be a burden to your boyfriend later on.
This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.
Life can also change. What if the two of you married and he got sick, so you had to become his caregiver? Would you think of him as a burden then?
-R

He makes significantly more than I do (between four to five times as much), and he worries that my low income means I’ll be a burden on him when we get older if we decide to marry. The way I see it, I am very responsible with the money I do make. I don’t have any debt, and I pay all my own bills. 
This may be a painful discussion. You may not like the answer you hear. But I suspect a likelier outcome is no answer at all — just a bunch of hemming and hawing. If that’s what you get, then you have your answer.
Do you have any advice for us? This is one neither of us knows how to navigate.
One thing I have to wonder about based on what you told me is whether this is about money at all. Imagine your salary were to quadruple tomorrow. Do you think your boyfriend would be enthusiastic about your future together? Or do you think he’d find another hang-up?
I’m a 35-year-old female who’s divorced, and my boyfriend is 38 and never married. We’ve been dating for two years, and it’s been wonderful. Recently, we’ve been having talks about our future, but money is a bit of a hang-up for him. 
Source: thepennyhoarder.com
That doesn’t sound wonderful to me. That sounds cruel.
Your value goes way beyond your salary. Please don’t waste your time trying to build a future with anyone who doesn’t recognize that.
Paychecks change. There’s no guarantee your boyfriend will always be a high earner. And just because you have a low income at 35 in the midst of a pandemic doesn’t mean you’ll always have a low income. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with not having a high salary. But I don’t want you defining your potential by what you earn right now.
Dear R.,
Most couples encounter this situation to at least a degree. Few people will marry someone whose salary is identical to theirs for their entire careers. You’re marrying a person, not a paycheck.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to AskPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.
It sounds like this is a topic the two of you have been dancing around for some time. This is going to require a brutally honest conversation. Your boyfriend needs to decide whether he  can treat someone who makes way less than he does as an equal partner and back it up with action. Until then, any discussions about how to handle finances are premature.
I’m not asking him for anything, although I do understand that at this rate my retirement savings will be meager while his will be substantial. That could lead to problems if he wants to travel and not feel bitter about having to pay for me for everything later on. 
Ultimately, this is your boyfriend’s hang-up. You’re living within your means. There’s nothing wrong with you just because you can’t afford to live within his means.
But you’re not ready to have that conversation yet. That’s because of a problem that, at least as you’ve described to me, exists entirely in your boyfriend’s head. It doesn’t sound like there’s a concern about whether you can afford a life together. He has no reason to worry that you’ll run up debt or drain his bank account. Is he seriously worried that the bitterness he’d feel over money would overshadow his happiness should he build a life with you? You really need to establish that now so that you can move on if the answer is yes.
Is he willing to shoulder a greater share of the bills for the privilege of building a life with you? Or is he willing to adapt to your more frugal lifestyle so he can have the peace of mind of knowing he never contributed an extra cent? His call.
For some people, money is very much a dealbreaker. But other people get really antsy when they start talking about the future. So they look for a dealbreaker — any dealbreaker — to make you think that you’re the one with the problem, not them. I’m not saying that’s necessarily the case here, but it’s fodder for you to consider. You need to know if you’re dealing with a cheapskate or a commitment-phobe dressed in a cheapskate’s clothes.
But the control factor also worries me here. If you got married and he paid most of the bills, could he still approach this as a true partnership of equals? Or would he make you feel like a child asking a parent for allowance money?

16 Small Steps You Can Take Now to Improve Your Finances

Pretty brunette with moneybox in hands

You have all kinds of financial goals you want to achieve, but where should you begin? There are so many different aspects of money management that it can be difficult to find a starting point when trying to achieve financial success. If you’re feeling lost and overwhelmed, take a deep breath. Progress can be made in tiny, manageable steps. Here’s are 16 small things you can do right now to improve your overall financial health. (See also: These 13 Numbers Are Crucial to Understanding Your Finances)

1. Create a household budget

The biggest step toward effective money management is making a household budget. You first need to figure out exactly how much money comes in each month. Once you have that number, organize your budget in order of financial priorities: essential living expenses, contributions to retirement savings, repaying debt, and any entertainment or lifestyle costs. Having a clear picture of exactly how much is coming in and going out every month is key to reaching your financial goals.

2. Calculate your net worth

Simply put, your net worth is the total of your assets minus your debts and liabilities. You’re left with a positive or negative number. If the number is positive, you’re on the up and up. If the number is negative — which is especially common for young people just starting out — you’ll need to keep chipping away at debt.

Remember that certain assets, like your home, count on both sides of the ledger. While you may have mortgage debt, it is secured by the resale value of your home. (See also: 10 Ways to Increase Your Net Worth This Year)

3. Review your credit reports

Your credit history determines your creditworthiness, including the interest rates you pay on loans and credit cards. It can also affect your employment opportunities and living options. Every 12 months, you can check your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) for free at annualcreditreport.com. It may also be a good idea to request one report from one bureau every four months, so you can keep an eye on your credit throughout the year without paying for it.

Regularly checking your credit report will help you stay on top of every account in your name and can alert you to fraudulent activity.

4. Check your credit score

Your FICO score can range from 300-850. The higher the score, the better. Keep in mind that two of the most important factors that go into making up your credit score are your payment history, specifically negative information, and how much debt you’re carrying: the type of debts, and how much available credit you have at any given time. (See also: How to Boost Your Credit Score in Just 30 Days)

5. Set a monthly savings amount

Transferring a set amount of money to a savings account at the same time you pay your other monthly bills helps ensure that you’re regularly and intentionally saving money for the future. Waiting to see if you have any money left over after paying for all your other discretionary lifestyle expenses can lead to uneven amounts or no savings at all.

6. Make minimum payments on all debts

The first step to maintaining a good credit standing is to avoid making late payments. Build your minimum debt reduction payments into your budget. Then, look for any extra money you can put toward paying down debt principal. (See also: The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt)

7. Increase your retirement saving rate by 1 percent

Your retirement savings and saving rate are the most important determinants of your overall financial success. Strive to save 15 percent of your income for most of your career for retirement, and that includes any employer match you may receive. If you’re not saving that amount yet, plan ahead for ways you can reach that goal. For example, increase your saving rate every time you get a bonus or raise.

8. Open an IRA

An IRA is an easy and accessible retirement savings vehicle that anyone with earned income can access (although you can’t contribute to a traditional IRA past age 70½). Unlike an employer-sponsored account, like a 401(k), an IRA gives you access to unlimited investment choices and is not attached to any particular employer. (See also: Stop Believing These 5 Myths About IRAs)

9. Update your account beneficiaries

Certain assets, like retirement accounts and insurance policies, have their own beneficiary designations and will be distributed based on who you have listed on those documents — not necessarily according to your estate planning documents. Review these every year and whenever you have a major life event, like a marriage.

10. Review your employer benefits

The monetary value of your employment includes your salary in addition to any other employer-provided benefits. Consider these extras part of your wealth-building tools and review them on a yearly basis. For example, a Flexible Spending Arrangement (FSA) can help pay for current health care expenses through your employer and a Health Savings Account (HSA) can help you pay for medical expenses now and in retirement. (See also: 8 Myths About Health Savings Accounts — Debunked!)

11. Review your W-4

The W-4 form you filled out when you first started your job dictates how much your employer withholds for taxes — and you can make changes to it. If you get a refund at tax time, adjusting your tax withholdings can be an easy way to increase your take-home pay. Also, remember to review this form when you have a major life event, like a marriage or after the birth of a child. (See also: Are You Withholding the Right Amount of Taxes from Your Paycheck?)

12. Ponder your need for life insurance

In general, if someone is dependent upon your income, then you may need a life insurance policy. When determining how much insurance you need, consider protecting assets and paying off all outstanding debts, as well as retirement and college costs. (See also: 15 Surprising Insurance Policies You Might Need)

13. Check your FDIC insurance coverage

First, make sure that the banking institutions you use are FDIC insured. For credit unions, you’ll want to confirm it’s a National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) federally-covered institution. Federal deposit insurance protects up to $250,000 of your deposits for each type of bank account you have. To determine your account coverage at a single bank or various banks, visit FDIC.gov.

14. Check your Social Security statements

Set up an online account at SSA.gov to confirm your work and income history and to get an idea of what types of benefits, if any, you’re entitled to — including retirement and disability.

15. Set one financial goal to achieve it by the end of the year

An important part of financial success is recognizing where you need to focus your energy in terms of certain financial goals, like having a fully funded emergency account, for example.

If you’re overwhelmed by trying to simultaneously work on reaching all of your goals, pick one that you can focus on and achieve it by the end of the year. Examples include paying off a credit card, contributing to an IRA, or saving $500.

16. Take a one-month spending break

Unfortunately, you can never take a break from paying your bills, but you do have complete control over how you spend your discretionary income. And that may be the only way to make some progress toward some of your savings goals. Try trimming some of your lifestyle expenses for just one month to cushion your checking or savings account. You could start by bringing your own lunch to work every day or meal-planning for the week to keep your grocery bill lower and forgo eating out. (See also: How a Simple "Do Not Buy" List Keeps Money in Your Pocket)

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With the new year here, it’s time to take control of your financial goals. From creating a household budget, to calculating your net worth, or setting a monthly savings amount, we’ve got 16 small steps you can take to improve your finances. | #personalfinance #moneymatters #budgeting


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What’s the Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b) Retirement Plans?

Investing in your retirement early is the best way to ensure financial stability as you age, especially when it comes to understanding various retirement options. Getting started may feel overwhelming — luckily we’re here to help. We help break down the difference between 401(k) and 403(b) accounts, and how they can impact your financial life.

You may already know the value in adjusting your budget to make saving for a rainy day a priority. But are you also prioritizing your retirement savings? If you’re just getting started in the workforce and looking for ways to invest in yourself, 401(k) and 403(b) plans are great options to know about. And, the main difference between a 401(k) and a 403(b) is the company who’s offering them.

401(k) accounts are offered by for-profit companies and 403(b) accounts are offered by nonprofit, scientific, religious, research, or university companies. To understand the similarities and differences between plans in depth, skip to the sections below or keep reading for an in-depth explanation.

How a 401(k) Works
How a 403(b) Works
The Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b)
The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)
5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings
What is a 401(k) and 403(b)
$19,500 with your employer matches. Plus, most retirement funds have required minimum distributions (RMDs) by the time you turn 70. This essentially means you have to take a minimum amount of money out each month whether you want to or not.

In most cases, employers will offer 401(k) matching to encourage consistent contributions. For example, your employer match may be 50 cents of every dollar you contribute up to six percent of your salary. For example, with this employer match on a $40,000 salary, you would contribute $200 and your employer would contribute an additional $100 each month. This pattern would continue until your annual contributions hit $2,400 and your employer contributes $1,200.

Employee matching is essentially free money. You’re monetarily rewarded for your retirement payments. Be sure to pay attention to vesting periods when setting up your employer match. Vesting periods are an agreed amount of time you need to work at a company before you receive your 401(k) benefits. For example, some companies may require you to work for their team for a year before earning retirement benefits. Other employers may offer retirement benefits starting the day you start working with them.
403(b) accounts include school boards, public schools, churches, hospitals, and more. This type of account is also known as a tax-sheltered annuity plan — they allow pre-tax income to be invested until taken out.

Employers that offer 403(b) retirement plans may offer a pool of provider options that undergo nondiscrimination testing. This allows employers that qualify for this account to shop around for plans that offer the best benefits and don’t discriminate in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). For instance, some 403(b) accounts may charge more administrative fees than others.

Employers are able to offer employee matching on 403(b) accounts if they decide to. To cut costs for nonprofit companies, 403(b) retirement plans generally cost less than 401(k) accounts. Costs associated with starting up these accounts may not affect you, but it may affect your employer.

Account Type
401(k)
403(b)
Yearly Contribution Limit
$19,500
$19,500
Employer-Issued Packages
For-profit employers:
Corporations, private establishments, etc. and sole proprietors
Non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employers:
School boards, public schools, hospitals, etc.
Minimum Withdrawal Age
59.5 years old
59.5 years old
Early Withdrawal Fees
10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary
10% penalty, tax, and additional fees may vary
Source: IRS.org

 

The Differences Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Both a 401(k) and 403(b) are similar in the way they operate, but they do have a few differences. Here are the biggest contrasts to be aware of:

  • Eligibility: 401(k) retirement plans are issued by for-profit employers and the self employed, 403(b) retirement plans are for tax-exempt, non-profit, scientific, religious, research, or university employees. As well as Hospitals and Charities.
  • Investment options: 401(k)s offer more investment opportunities than 403(b)s. 401(k) accounts may include mutual funds, annuities, stocks, and bonds, while 403(b) accounts only offer annuities and mutual funds. Each employer varies in retirement benefits — reach out to a trusted financial advisor if you have questions about your account.
  • Employer expenses: 401(k) accounts are generally more expensive than 403(b) accounts. For-profit 401(k) accounts may pay sales charges, management fees, recordkeeping, and other additional expenses. 403(b) plans may have lower administrative costs to avoid adding a burden for non-profit establishments. These costs vary depending on the employer.
  • Nondiscrimination testing: This form of testing ensures that 403(b) retirement plans are not offered in favor of highly compensated employees (HCEs). However, 401(k) plans do not require this test.

 

The Similarities Between 401(k) and 403(b)

Aside from their differences, both accounts are set up to aid employees in retirement savings. Here’s how:

  • Contribution limits: Both accounts cap your annual contributions at $19,500. In the event you contribute over this limit, your earnings will be distributed back to you by April 15th. If you’re under your retirement contributions by the time you’re 50 years old, you’re allowed to make catch-up contributions. This means that, if you’re eligible, you can contribute $6,500 more than the yearly contribution limit.
  • Withdrawal eligibility: You must be at least 59.5 years old before withdrawing your retirement savings. In the case of an emergency, you may be eligible for early withdrawal. However, you may be charged penalties, taxes, and fees for doing so.
  • Employer matching: Both retirement account options allow employers to match your contributions, but are not required to. When starting your retirement fund, ask your HR representative about potential benefits and employer matching.
  • Early withdrawal penalties: If you choose to withdraw your retirement savings early, you may be penalized. In most cases, you need a valid reason to withdraw your funds early. Eligible reasons may include outstanding debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure, or medical bills. In addition, you may be charged a 10 percent penalty fee, taxes, and other fees. During a downturned economy, as we’ve seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, fees may be waived.

5 Ways to Grow Your Retirement Savings
retirement plan options and their benefits. When employers offer retirement matches, consider contributing as much as you can to meet their match.

2. Set up Monthly Automatic Contributions

Save time and energy by setting up automatic contributions. You may feel less interested in contributing to your retirement as your payday approaches. Taking time to set up a retirement fund and budgeting for this change may be holding you back. To meet your retirement goals, consider setting up automatic payments through your employer. After a while, you may not even notice the slight budget adjustment.

3. Leverage Employer Matching

Employer matching is essentially free money. Employers may put money towards your future for nothing but your own contribution. This encourages employees to consistently put money towards their retirement savings. Not only are you able to earn extra money each month, but this “free money” will grow with interest over time. If you can, match your employer’s contribution percentage, if not more.

4. Avoid Early Withdrawal

Credit card balances, student loans, and mortgages can be stressful. Instead of withdrawing early from your retirement fund to pay for these, consider other debt payoff methods. If you’re eligible to withdraw from your retirement early, you may face penalty fees, taxes, and administrative expenses. This may hinder your savings potential or push back your desired retirement date.

5. Contribute Your Future Raises and Bonuses

If you’re saving less than $19,500 to your retirement fund this year, consider contributing more. If you earn a bonus or a raise, stick to your current budget and consider increasing your contributions. Ask your employer to increase your retirement payments right before you receive a bonus or raise. The more you contribute, the more interest you’ll accrue over time.

Whether your retirement funds are established through a 401(k) or a 403(b), these accounts offer you the chance to build your financial portfolio. Consistently funding your retirement account may better your financial plan and set you at ease. As your contributions age, so do your interest earnings. You’ll be able to make money on your pre-taxed income and set your future self up for success. Get started by checking in on your budget and carving out a specific amount to put towards your retirement each month.

The post What’s the Difference Between 401(k) and 403(b) Retirement Plans? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.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

How I Make Money On TikTok – How I Grew To 350,000 Followers and Made $60,000 In 6 Weeks

Do you want to learn how to make money on TikTok? Here’s how Tori grew from 0 to 350,000 TikTok followers and made $60,000 in just 6 weeks. 

how to make money on TikTokUnless you’ve been living under a rock, you have probably heard something about TikTok. TikTok is one of the most popular social media networks currently, and it is growing like crazy.

There are already over 500 million active monthly users on TikTok around the world.

So, you may be wondering if you can learn how to make money on TikTok, and any TikTok tips so that you can see success too.

That completely makes sense!

Today, I want to introduce you to Tori Dunlap.

Tori Dunlap is a nationally-recognized millennial money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori quit her corporate job in marketing and founded Her First $100K. She has helped over 200,000 women negotiate salary, pay off debt, build savings, and invest.

I met her a couple of years ago in person, and she has built an amazingly successful business. I’m in awe of what she has done, and I enjoy her creative ways of helping people improve their money situation.

I asked Tori to take part in an interview on Making Sense of Cents about her explosive TikTok growth. She went from 0 to over 350,000 TikTok followers, and made $60,000 in just 6 weeks on TikTok.

In this interview, you’ll learn:

  • About Tori’s background and why she decided to start on TikTok
  • How she grew her TikTok to over 350,000 followers in 6 weeks
  • How she has made $60,000 just from TikTok in 6 weeks and how to earn money from TikTok
  • The tools needed to create TikTok videos
  • The length of time it takes to make each TikTok video
  • Whether there is room for new TikTok accounts
  • Her top TikTok tips for a newbie

And more! This interview is packed full of valuable information on how to earn money on TikTok.

I know so many people have questions about TikTok, such as how to grow on TikTok, how to make money from TikTok (including, how much money do TikTokers make?), and more, so hopefully you will find this interview both interesting and informative!

You can find Tori on TikTok here.

Related content that you may be interested in:

  • How Sailing SV Delos Makes Money on Youtube
  • How This 34 Year Old Owns 7 Rental Homes
  • How Amanda Paid Off $133,763 In Debt in 43 Months
  • How One Blogger Grew His Blog to Over 2 Million Visitors In A Year

Here’s how to make money on TikTok.

 

1. Tell me your story. Who are you and what do you do?

I’m nationally-recognized millennial money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, I quit my corporate job in marketing and founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money.

I’ve helped over 350,000 women negotiate salary, pay off debt, build savings, and invest — and I firmly believe that a financial education is a woman’s best form of protest.

A Plutus award winner, my work has been featured on Good Morning America, the Today Show, the New York Times, PEOPLE, TIME, New York Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, and more.

Before becoming a full-time entrepreneur, I led organic marketing strategy for Fortune 500 companies—with clients like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Nike, the NFL, and the Academy Awards—and global financial technology start-ups. For almost five years, I specialized in social media, SEO, content, and influencer marketing to grow community and increase awareness.

I now travel the world writing, speaking, and coaching about personal finance, online businesses, side hustles, and confidence for millennial women.

 

2. How long have you been on TikTok? Why did you decide to start a TikTok account?

I only really started doing TikTok for my business in the last 6 weeks (and gained almost 350,000 followers in the process, which is wild.)

I knew that you could see accelerated growth on the platform — it’s the only main social platform that currently has more people consuming content than creating it — and it fit well with my brand.

I’m passionate about financial education as a form of protest, and making money conversations inclusive — meeting people where they are on TikTok seemed like a perfect way to do that.

To me, going viral and gaining 350,000 followers in such a short amount of time is proof that Gen Z is craving personal finance advice.

 

3. How did you get your TikTok account to explode?

I was shocked by the growth, and I’ve never seen a platform that is so creator-friendly (Facebook, for example, has become more and more business-focused.)

In terms of followers, it took me 3 days to do on TikTok what it took me 3 years to do on Instagram. But I was ready for it — I have an established, global business, credibility, and products to sell. As a former social media manager, it’s a reminder that consistency, credibility, and serving before selling are what grows your account — not paid ads or manufactured authenticity.

The big shift was a video that went viral (as of this writing, it has 3.5 million views and over 730K likes.) Having gone viral multiple times before, this was next level — I was getting 100 followers every 5 minutes.

It’s more than doubled my website traffic, increased my sales, and grown my credibility.

how to monetize tiktok

Tori’s TikTok

4. How do you make money on TikTok?

I make money through promoting my own products (like my resume template and side hustle courses) and my affiliate partners.

For example, I might talk about high yield savings accounts and send folks to the link to my affiliate bank partner.

In the last 6 weeks, I’ve made over $60,000 just from TikTok.

Now that I have a substantial following, I’m also monetizing my platform with brand partnerships, and showcasing products I believe in.

Related: 10 Easy Tips To Increase Your Affiliate Income Free Guide

 

5. How do you decide on your TikTok video ideas?

Just like the rest of my content, I focus on creating actionable resources for my followers.

Most of the questions I answer in my videos or advice I give comes from someone asking me about it, which guarantees I’ll have consumers of that content because I know it’s valuable for them.

Your audience will tell you what they want to see!

One of the smart things I did was waiting to become a creator. I was a consumer on TikTok first, sharing and enjoying videos before I started creating my own. Doing so helped me understand trends, what content well, the way the videos were shot. I got to know the landscape and followed creators doing good work.

So much of TikTok is collaborative creation, so I’ll often duet with another creator and offer my two-sense, or will be inspired by a trend or sound I see elsewhere.

 

6. What tools do you need for your videos? Is it simply your phone?

Your phone is the biggest thing you need. I also invested in a ring light/tripod to make it easier to shoot content, and to make sure the lightning was decent.

If you want to do more advanced videos, you might need editing software, a more professional camera, or props.

There is a learning curve with understanding how to shoot videos, and I was too intimidated to start for a while.

Don’t let that scare you: just like anything, it’s easy once you get the hang of it.

 

How do you get paid on TikTok?

Some of Tori’s TikTok videos.

7. How long does it take you to make each TikTok video?

Batching content has helped me save time, so I make about 5-7 videos in one session.

Because we’re still in quarantine, I often shoot without camera-ready makeup, which I think adds to the spontaneity and authenticity of the video.

I’ve also made the decision to not change clothes for every single video, it just seems like overkill.

My 15-second, talk-to-camera videos take about 10 minutes — 3 to shoot, 7 to add text and a caption.

More in-depth videos — with green screen effects or lots of text that moves — can take about a half hour.

I try to intersperse content — not only for variety’s sake, but also to keep myself sane.

 

8. What do you like about making TikTok videos? What do you not like?

Instagram has started to feel more and more like work, while TikTok allows me to be more creative.

As a theatre major, it’s a perfect platform for me to make weird faces, perform, and showcase my personality in addition to my advice.

I’ve also found TikTok a more welcoming environment. You’ll always have trolls and hateful comments, but I’ve found there’s more support and encouragement from people who aren’t following you on TikTok than on other platforms.

I really love and engage with Instagram Stories, and TikTok doesn’t have a feature like that (yet.) Stories are a good way for your audience to learn more about you and your business in a less polished way, so I think it’s harder for someone to get to know you on TikTok.

Captions are also WAY shorter, and you cannot post your hashtags in the first comment, so any explaining you need to do through text needs to be in the actual video.

 

9. Do you think there is room for new TikTokers?

YES!

More than any other social platform.

Instagram, for example, is very saturated. It’s almost impossible to discover a new account within the platform, unless a friend directly shares it with you. You’re really only seeing posts from people you already follow.

TikTok has a following tab, and also a “For You Page” tab, where they show videos they think you’ll like.

I’ve never seen an algorithm as responsive as TikTok’s, so you’ll find content that actually connects with you and your interests.

 

tiktok tips10. What tips do you have for someone wanting to start on TikTok?

Content that does well is at least one of the following: aspirational, educational, or entertaining.

You have travel vloggers showcasing their Airbnbs in Paris (aspirational), vegan chefs walking you through a recipe (educational), or a thrill-seeker trying a new stunt (entertaining.)

I found my niche between aspirational (talking about how I left my 9-5 job and built my business) and educational (how to pay off debt, invest, etc.)

Like any social platform, consistency is key. TikTok is like Twitter — you have the option of posting 7-10 times per day (and not being punished by the algorithm.) I usually try to put out 2-3 videos per day, some more complicated than others.

 

11. Are there any other TikTok tips you would like to share?

Don’t invest in TikTok unless you know your audience is there.

For example, if your potential customers are men in their 50s, they’re probably not on TikTok.

When I worked in marketing, it was easy to chase platforms or trends. It’s easy to feel like you need to be everywhere in order to make sure you’re relevant.

But if the audience you’re looking to target is largely not on a platform, don’t invest time and money in it.

Do you want to learn how to make money on TikTok and how to grow on TikTok?

The post How I Make Money On TikTok – How I Grew To 350,000 Followers and Made $60,000 In 6 Weeks appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.

Source: makingsenseofcents.com

How to Negotiate Salary Increases and Promotions

There are only two ways to get extra money to save. Either you can cut your expenses or start earning extra income. While reducing your expenses is a good first start to sticking to your budget, there’s only so many soy lattes and unused gym membership that you can get rid of. It’s often much more productive to focus your energy on increasing your income. 

There are a couple of different ways to earn more money. You might consider a side hustle or starting your own business. You can look for another job that pays more or try to get more money from your current employer. In this article, we’ll take a look at how to negotiate salary increases and promotions and make sure that you’re getting paid what you’re worth.

The difference between a promotion and a raise

One important distinction to make is the difference between a promotion and a raise. A promotion is usually a change in job title and/or job responsibilities. A raise is just what it sounds like – more money. The two often come together, but not always. Be careful when you get a promotion that it comes with a salary increase commensurate with the added responsibilities you’ll be taking on.

Know how much you’re worth

Knowing how much you’re worth is a key factor in the negotiations for a promotion and salary increase. There are many online sites where you can see the average salaries for just about every type of job out there. Compare several different sites to see where your salary fits in. If you can show data that you’re underpaid for someone with your experience, education and responsibilities, that can be something your manager can take to HR to approve your promotion and raise.

Track your accomplishments

If you’re looking to negotiate a salary increase or promotion, start by acting the part. Promotions and raises generally are backwards-looking. What that means is that you’re likely to get a raise for work that you’ve done or are doing ALREADY. If you’re planning on talking to your supervisor about a salary increase or promotion, it can be helpful to track your accomplishments. 

If you’ve gone above and beyond your job description, or if you’ve received praise from a customer or co-worker, keep notes of when and what. That can be useful ammunition to show why you deserve this raise. Avoid the temptation of comparing yourself to your peers – instead, look at the job responsibilities of the role you’re aiming for. If you have detailed descriptions of how you’ve been doing those responsibilities already, you’ll be well on your way to getting that promotion.

Have regular conversations with your supervisor

Healthy companies have regular conversations between supervisors and the employees that they manage. It is a trait of a good manager to care about the employment and advancement of the employees that they manage. Don’t be afraid to talk with your supervisor regularly – ask her for constructive and timely feedback, and ask for concrete steps on what you would need to do to merit a promotion. Then document those steps and come back in a few months with details of how you’ve met those steps and deserve a promotion and a raise!

Be prepared to come with a backup plan

It’s important to understand the pay and compensation structure of the company you’re at. Many companies have pay “bands” or ranges of compensation for a given role. Knowing where your salary fits within that range can be helpful when you’re preparing to negotiate a salary increase. 

Also, if the company has announced a hiring freeze or layoffs, it might not be the best time to ask for more money. Understanding the bigger situation can help you pick the right time to have the discussion. Be prepared for what you’ll do or say if your supervisor turns your request for a raise down. Is there anything else that would be meaningful to you? Maybe it’s a more flexible working arrangement, deferred compensation like stock options or other types of non-monetary compensation.

Don’t be afraid to leave

At the end of the day, you’ll have to decide how much working at this job is worth it to you. It’s always a bit nerve wracking to quit your job, but it’s generally much harder to get a significant raise without moving to a new company. You don’t want to be hopping around from job to job every few months, but it’s also important to feel like you are getting paid the money that you are worth. 

If you don’t get the promotion you’re looking for, then it may be time to start exploring other options. After all, the best time to look for a new job is while you still have your OLD one (and don’t have to worry about making ends meet)

The post How to Negotiate Salary Increases and Promotions appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

7 Things to Know Before Taking a Work From Home Tax Deduction

If you’re one of the millions of workers whose home is now doubling as office space due to COVID-19, you may be wondering whether that means a sweet deduction at tax time. Hold up, though: The IRS has strict rules about taking the home office deduction — and they changed drastically under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which passed in late 2017.

7 Essential Rules for Claiming a Work From Home Tax Deduction

Thinking about claiming a home office deduction on your tax return? Follow these tips to avoid raising any eyebrows at the IRS.

1. You can’t claim it if you’re a regular employee, even if your company is requiring you to work from home due to COVID-19.

If you’re employed by a company and you work from home, you can’t deduct home office space from your taxes. This applies whether you’re a permanent remote worker or if your office is temporarily closed because of the pandemic. The rule of thumb is that if you’re a W-2 employee, you’re not eligible.

This wasn’t always the case, though. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act suspended the deduction for miscellaneous unreimbursed employee business expenses, which allowed you to claim a home office if you worked from home for the convenience of your employer, provided that you itemized your tax deductions. The law nearly doubled the standard deduction. As a result, many people who once saved money by itemizing now have a lower tax bill when they take the standard deduction.

2. If you have a regular job but you also have self-employment income, you can qualify.

If you’re self-employed — whether you own a business or you’re a freelancer, gig worker or independent contractor — you probably can take the deduction, even if you’re also a full-time employee of a company you don’t own. It doesn’t matter if you work from home at that full-time job or work from an office, as long as you meet the other criteria that we’ll discuss shortly.

You’re only allowed to deduct the gross income you earn from self-employment, though. That means if you earned $1,000 from your side hustle plus a $50,000 salary from your regular job that you do remotely, $1,000 is the most you can deduct.

3. It needs to be a separate space that you use exclusively for business.

The IRS requires that you have a space that you use “exclusively and regularly” for business purposes. If you have an extra bedroom and you use it solely as your office space, you’re allowed to deduct the space — and that space alone. So if your house is 1,000 square feet and the home office is 200 square feet, you’re allowed to deduct 20% of your home expenses.

But if that home office also doubles as a guest bedroom, it wouldn’t qualify. Same goes for if you’re using that space to do your day job. The IRS takes the word “exclusively” pretty seriously here when it says you need to use the space exclusively for your business purposes.

To avoid running afoul of the rules, be cautious about what you keep in your home office. Photos, posters and other decorations are fine. But if you move your gaming console, exercise equipment or a TV into your office, that’s probably not. Even mixing professional books with personal books could technically cross the line.

4. You don’t need a separate room.

There needs to be a clear division between your home office space and your personal space. That doesn’t mean you have to have an entire room that you use as an office to take the deduction, though. Suppose you have a desk area in that extra bedroom. You can still claim a portion of the room as long as there’s a marker between your office space and the rest of the room.

Pro Tip

An easy way to separate your home office from your personal space, courtesy of TurboTax Intuit: Mark it with duct tape.

5. The space needs to be your principal place of business.

To deduct your home office, it needs to be your principal place of business. But that doesn’t mean you have to conduct all your business activities in the space. If you’re a handyman and you get paid to fix things at other people’s houses, but you handle the bulk of your paperwork, billing and phone calls in your home office, that’s allowed.

There are some exceptions if you operate a day care center or you store inventory. If either of these scenarios apply, check out the IRS rules.

6. Mortgage and rent aren’t the only expenses you can deduct. 

If you use 20% of your home as an office, you can deduct 20% of your mortgage or rent. But that’s not all you can deduct. You’re also allowed to deduct expenses like real estate taxes, homeowner insurance and utilities, though in this example, you’d only be allowed to deduct 20% of any of these expenses.

Be careful here, though. You can only deduct expenses for the part of the home you use for business purposes. So using the example above, if you pay someone to mow your lawn or you’re painting your kitchen, you don’t get to deduct 20% of the expenses.

You’ll also need to account for depreciation if you own the home. That can get complicated. Consider consulting with a tax professional in this situation. If you sell your home for a profit, you’ll owe capital gains taxes on the depreciation. Whenever you’re claiming deductions, it’s essential to keep good records so you can provide them to the IRS if necessary.

If you don’t want to deal with extensive record-keeping or deducting depreciation, the IRS offers a simplified option: You can take a deduction of $5 per square foot, up to a maximum of 300 square feet. This method will probably result in a smaller deduction, but it’s less complicated than the regular method.

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Chance Olwen
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7. Relax. You probably won’t get audited if you follow the rules.

The home office deduction has a notorious reputation as an audit trigger, but it’s mostly undeserved. Deducting your home office expenses is perfectly legal, provided that you follow the IRS guidelines. A more likely audit trigger: You deduct a huge amount of expenses relative to the income you report, regardless of whether they’re related to a home office.

It’s essential to be ready in case you are audited, though. Make sure you can provide a copy of your mortgage or lease, insurance policies, tax records, utility bills, etc., so you can prove your deductions were warranted. You’ll also want to take pictures and be prepared to provide a diagram of your setup to the IRS if necessary.

As always, consult with a tax adviser if you’re not sure whether the expense you’re deducting is allowable. It’s best to shell out a little extra money now to avoid the headache of an audit later.

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Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to DearPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com