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Personal finance steps every freelancer must take to avoid ruin

(FINANCE) The government shutdown showcased financial instability, but what do people that have no paycheck guarantee need to do to be secure?

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In light of the recent government shutdown, there has been a lot of attention in regards to how missing paychecks impacts the average American. Most Americans don’t have a regular savings account and could not handle a $1,000 emergency, let alone miss practically a month of pay.

While things look positive for the backpay of those government workers, we all could benefit from some careful reflection about the precarious nature of our personal finances.

Particularly those of us who don’t receive a regular paycheck.

Entrepreneurs and those invested in the gig economy have volatile incomes, and literally no promise of a paycheck ever – that can impact your personal finances in a number of ways.

Variable incomes are normal for this group and can impact entrepreneurs in ways as simple as handling debt.

If this is you – here a few things to keep in mind that can help you deal with the volatility of living on a variable income and handling your personal finances.  

  • Set up an emergency fund. Start with 500 if you have too, and remember this an emergency fund for your personal expenses, not your business. If you have an emergency fund, make sure you identify what an emergency is and also be prepared to put money back when it comes out. If you have a hard time not spending money in front of you, put your money in a local bank or CU that you don’t have immediate access too.
  • Stick to a budget. when you can’t forecast your income appropriately, controlling expenses is so critical it’s the few things that are in your control.
  • Don’t mix business with personal. While you may be pouring your personal energy and time into your start up or gig, be careful about mixing expenses for two reasons: First, it messes up your budget. You need to have separate budgets for personal and business. Second, there could be tax challenges – consult a tax professional for more information. Here’s a little primer to get you started.
  • Save for retirement. There are tax benefits and come on, don’t wait till you can’t work anymore. Also, an IRA IS NOT AN EMERGENCY FUND.
  • Practice good financial behaviors. Automate bill pay. Online statements. Digital receipt tracking. The more you can automate your life, the better you are. You already have so many demands on your time, reduce that so you can spend more time doing what you love and what matters.
  • Consider diversifying your income. Either ensure you have multiple strings or a backup gig (even if it’s just uber driving); or be prepared to do temporary or contract labor during your slow seasons.

The path to entrepreneurship is rough. What we can learn from the very struggles of the federal employees and the government shutdown is that if the government can be unstable, those of you who work in the world of startups, gigs, and entrepreneurship, need to be even more on our toes. The “normal recommendation” for saving is 10% of your income, but normal may not be enough for you. Be prepared and save (more).

Disclaimer: I am neither a tax or investment professional. This is personal financial advice and I encourage you to visit a professional if you need more specific plans of action.

Kam has a Master's degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology, and is an HR professional. Obsessed with food, but writing about virtually anything, he has a passion for LGBT issues, business, technology, and cats.

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Business Finance

Succession planning: Your options when not allocating to dependents

(ENTREPRENEUR) We’ve all heard the phrase “You can’t take it with you,” but succession planning provides peace-of-mind when leaving behind personal assets.

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Succession planning is a forward-looking strategy to ensure the “next in line” is prepped for what is to come. Within an organization, executives or management create a blueprint in hopes of a seamless transition of operations to “partners, future generations, or successor owners,” as Patrick Hicks, the Head of Legal at Trust & Will, states.

Succession planning can be useful in both professional and personal environments, including handing off entrepreneurial businesses or assets of any value. It’s important to create an Estate Plan for whom you plan to replace you in regard to property ownership.

Hicks says that, “Property rights are the cornerstone of modern society.” Property rights include the authority to determine how a resource is used or disposed of after death. This can include giving in a neighbor, a charity, or the most common choice, your family.

“Giving it all to family is typical but giving it all to non-relatives gets second looks. An estate plan is the manifestation of your wishes. It doesn’t matter if anyone else approves.”

It can come as a shock to hear if your assets are undesired by family- or even worse- if it comes as a surprise to them after a loved one’s death. Some choose not to communicate succession plans during one’s lifetime as it could damage familial relationships, but on the other hand, it could also provide a smoother transition. If an heir does not wish to take on the property, there is a chance for contest or litigation that could reduce the benefits of having a succession plan in the first place.

Another scenario is if your dependents do want a hand in property assets after death, but your wishes are to relinquish it elsewhere. Hicks says, “Typically, children do not have a right to claim their inheritance, unless some special rule applies.”

An example is if you leave behind a minor child or surviving spouse, where in that case, they may be entitled to receive support. This could include at least of share of property if no estate plan was in place. However, the necessary support can also be provided by the dearly departed through life insurance or another means.

“When it comes to estate planning, there are societal norms and bounds,” Hicks says, but ultimately, no matter the wishes, having a succession plan can provide peace-of-mind when thinking of the future.

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Business Finance

Tips on setting a more accurate freelance rate

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Setting a freelance rate can be difficult given that any industry has conflicting norms regarding an appropriate billing amount – a fact made more difficult by about a billion other factors such as experience, location, and so on. Whether you prefer to determine your rate the long-form way or you just want a calculator to point you in the correct direction, here are some tips for figuring out how much you should be charging.

Jennifer Bourn, business guru and freelancer extraordinaire, eschews the general “start with the salary you want and work backward” approach. Under this model, you would theoretically determine the amount of money you want in a year, divide that number by the number of hours you plan on working in a year, and charge whatever the quotient is (for example, $100,000 divided by 2080–which is 40 hours per week times 52 weeks in a year–is roughly $50 per hour).

The problem with this model, Bourn posits, is that it doesn’t actually get you what you want to earn. Once you take into account things like your overhead spending, vacation time, insurance, profit margin goals, and actual billable time versus the time you need to do administrative things, you’re looking at a substantially smaller figure at the end of the year.

Bourn’s solution is to start with the salary you want, add all of your expenses, multiply that result by your desired profit margin (e.g., 1.10 for a margin of 10 percent), and then divide by a realistic look at your billable hours for the year–not just the standard 2080 work days in a year (which is already problematic due to the aforementioned vacation time and potential for sick leave).

If all of that sounds like way too much effort, there are a myriad of rate calculators that you could use instead. Each of our following picks has a variety of applications:

  1. Clockify is a simple, straightforward calculator that looks at your industry, location, and experience level to generate an average hourly figure.
  2. Nation 1099starts with your desired salary and then gives you an hourly rate and a daily rate based on many of the factors espoused by Bourn.
  3. Your Rate asks for your desired annual income, your number of weekly billable hours, and your anticipated time off per year to come up with a set of rough figures for weekly, daily, and hourly rates.
  4. Freelance Rate Calculator is a Google Sheets template that takes into account your goals, expenses, billable hours, and more.
  5. All Freelance Writing is a more intensive calculator with an advanced option to determine all of your costs, goals, billable hours, time off, and so on, making it a pleasant option somewhere between Bourn’s long-form calculations and something like Clockify.

You should test your salary calculations in a variety of spaces if you have the time. This will ensure that you end up with a solid, well-corroborated result that you can quote to clients rather than having to fall back on one website’s opinion. Whichever option you choose, though, remember that you deserve to be paid what you’re worth–not just what your services are worth.

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Business Finance

How should freelancers be saving for retirement (is it even possible)?

(FINANCE) Adulting is hard, but retirement looms no matter your age – here are some ways to start squirreling money away so it’s less stressful later.

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retirement savings

Freelancing is a tenuous approach to employment, made all the more so by a profound lack of amenities usually offered by more stable arrangements – chief among which is a retirement fund. It can feel impossible, especially when your business suffers amidst a pandemic, so some of what follows can be ignored until the ship isn’t sinking, but don’t wait a minute longer than that – deal?

So there are several schools of thought regarding the best way to start saving and where you should put your money, but the bottom line is that, if you’re a freelancer, you should be allocating your own retirement funds. Here are some ways to do just that.

Before you can even get into the weeds of how to invest in retirement, you should have a parachute in case things go sideways. My Bank Tracker suggests starting with an emergency fund of $1,000, adding to it as you can until you have anywhere from 3 to 12 months of expenses covered.

This serves two purposes: ensuring that you’ll have the luxury of time if you need to perform an abrupt job hunt, and establishing how much you can safely put away each month without jeopardizing your business or standard of living (within reason).

Having a relatively large sum of money on hand for emergencies is always good, and if you never have to use it for the purpose for which you set it aside, it can supplement your retirement whenever you decide it’s time to cash in.

My Bank Tracker also suggests storing your emergency fund using a “high-yield” bank account, such as an online savings account, rather than sticking with traditional, low-interest savings options.

You also need to plan for taxes, which in addition to whatever your tax bracket percentage is, includes allocating 15 percent of your income to pay Social Security and Medicare. This means that you’re probably putting aside a pretty hefty sum (at least 30%) each month.

Once you’ve established your emergency fund and planned for taxes, you should have a general idea of what your wiggle room looks like vis-a-vis saving for retirement.

The actual saving part of retirement entails investment in a retirement account such as an IRA, Roth IRA, a 401(k), or a pension plan (referred to as a “defined benefit plan”).

Each of these account types has benefits and drawbacks depending on your situation.

  • A Roth IRA will allow you to contribute a certain amount each year, and you can usually set up an account quickly from a variety of online locations. The money that goes into a Roth IRA is post-tax, meaning you don’t have to pay tax on the retirement funds you pull out. Your income, however, can disqualify you from investing – if you earn above a certain threshold ($140,000 in 2021), you won’t be able to use a Roth IRA.
  • Other IRA options exist as well, each with a cap on how much you can contribute per year and varying tax requirements. For example, a traditional IRA account requires you to pay taxes when you withdraw the money, and there’s an upper limit on how much you can contribute.
  • A SEP IRA is similar, but the upper limit on investment is substantially higher – and you need to be self-employed (or an employer) to have one.

Nerd Wallet also points out that a 401(k) is a reasonable option for self-employed people who don’t employ anyone else, especially if you plan on saving “a lot in some years — say, when business is flush — and less in others.” 401(k) accounts allow you to put up to a certain amount ($58,000 in 2021) in each year pre-tax, and you pay taxes on withdrawals whenever you start pulling out money.

More eccentric retirement options exist as well. Taxable Brokerage Accounts let you invest in stocks and securities through a brokerage, and you’re able to use the money whenever you please – but you’ll have to pay taxes on your gains each year, which can become expensive in the long run.

And defined benefit plans are expensive and entail high fees, but they allow you to set up a pension with high investment opportunities as opposed to some of the lower-investment options.

Whichever option (or options – you can always invest in multiple accounts) you choose, make sure you’re saving for retirement in some capacity. And remember that these accounts represent exponential growth, meaning that the sooner you start saving, the better off you’ll be when you begin your retirement journey.

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