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5 personal finance tips freelancers ought to know
Freelancing can be a liberating and lucrative career decision for many people. You get to decide whom you work with and whom you do not, set your own rates and decide when you want to work and where. However, many things come as a surprise to new freelancers, especially when it comes to money. Here are five financial tips to help you keep your freelance career running smoothly:
1. Prepare for taxes—and file quarterly
One of the biggest surprises freelancers face comes at tax time. Because your traditional employer withholds federal, state and social security taxes for you, you usually don’t realize just how much goes towards taxes. When you transition into freelancing, it is entirely up to you to pay what you owe. If you do not prepare for tax season, you could end up with a massive bill, with added fines and penalties, in April.
As a freelancer, you are responsible for both the employer and employee portion of employment taxes; depending on your tax bracket, that can be anywhere between 20 and 30 percent of your income. The best way to prepare for taxes is to take a third of every invoice and stash it away in a savings account designated just for paying your taxes. That way, you will have the funds handy if you do owe money when you file your taxes.
Depending on how much you make, you may also have to make estimated tax payments every quarter. This can be a tricky process since it can difficult to figure out just how much you owe without underpaying or overpaying, so it is a good idea to read a freelance taxes guide or work with a tax professional used to working with self-employed clients, so you know what to expect.
2. Get health insurance
While the full price of health insurance can come as a shock when compared to employer-subsidized plans, it should be non-negotiable for freelancers. Medical debt is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States, often due to people needing significant medical care who have no insurance or are underinsured. While you may be healthy, accidents still happen. Health insurance is the safeguard from losing all of your assets to a single emergency.
If you are relatively young and do not have any current medical conditions, you can opt for a plan with a lower premium and high-deductible that only covers catastrophes. If you have left your job to start a freelancing career or have another life-qualifying event, such as getting married or having a baby, you are eligible to enroll in health insurance under the Affordable Care Act at any time at Healthcare.gov. Otherwise, open enrollment begins November 1, 2016 and ends January 31, 2017.
3. Establish your own retirement savings
Without a 401K and an employer match, retirement might fall off your radar. However, as a freelancer, preparing for your own retirement is vital. There are several options available to you to start savings, including a ROTH IRA, SEP IRA or solo 401K. If you have been putting it off, it is important to start saving now. As your earnings grow, contribute the maximum to as many accounts as you can to build a solid nest egg.
4. Refinance debt
If you are carrying any debt, such as student loans or credit card balances, that can put a significant burden on your freelancing career. High interest rates can drive up your monthly payments, taking a lot out of your income. Refinancing the debt to get a lower interest rate can reduce the pressure on you as you build up your freelancing clientele.
If you have federal or private student loans, check out if refinancing is an option for you. In some cases, you might have student loans with interest rates as high as six to eight percent; by refinancing, you can reduce your interest rate to just three percent, saving you hundreds or even thousands over the course of your loan.
If you have credit cards with a high interest rate—some can range from 12-30 percent—you can lower your payments and interest by taking out a personal loan to consolidate your balances. You’ll be able to pay off your high-interest debt and make one simple payment at a lower rate.
5. Track your expenses
When you are caught up in your work, it is easy to forget about routine purchases you make that keep your business running. However, from pens to ink toner, those expenses add up. Moreover, if you do not keep track of them (by using Excel to maintain accounts, for example) and hold on to the receipts, you could miss out on valuable tax deductions. You can deduct anything that helps support your business, including computers, conference fees and more. An accountant can help you identify all of your potential deductions and what kind of documentation you need to submit at tax time to reduce how much you owe.
Create an invoicing system
As a freelancer, you not only produce the work, but you also are your own bookkeeper and are responsible for following up with clients to make sure you get paid. Establishing an organized system for creating and following up on invoices can ensure you get paid promptly. A good invoicing system coupled with a freelance contract creator will keep you from losing out on funds you are owed.
With so many people seeing the appeal of working for themselves, more and more are becoming freelancers. While it gives you a lot of freedom and earning potential, freelancing also means you have more responsibilities, particularly when it comes to handling money. By taking the time to understand your new challenges and obligations, you can effectively manage your finances and build a secure financial future.
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