Maintaining a healthy credit score requires a good bit of focus, determination and hard work. Thereâs a lot to keep up with: We need to pay ourÂ bills on time, reduce debt and maintain a low debt-to-credit ratio, among other requirementsâall to ensure a top-notch credit score. We can use all the help we can get! To that end, here are eightÂ credit monitoring appsÂ that can help keep your credit building on track.
One of the only truly free credit monitoring appsâmost others require you to have a paid subscription to their digital service in order to use the âfreeâ appâthe Credit.com mobile app allows you to access your entire credit profile, including your credit score and insight into how it compares to your peers. Youâll see where you currently stand, see how your score has changedâand whyâand get credit information and money-saving tips tailored to your score.
Availability: Apple and Android
The myFICO app is free, but it requires an active myFICO account, which means it effectively costs $20 per month or more, depending on which features you want. With this app, though, you can view and monitor your FICO scoresâthe most widely used credit scoreâand credit reports. They also provide a FICO Score Simulator, which shows you how your score may be affected if you take certain actions.
Availability: Apple and Android
Cost: Free, but requires an active myFICO account
3. Lock & Alert from Equifax
Lock & Alert from Equifax lets you lock and unlock your Equifax credit report to protect against identity theft and fraud. Youâll get an alert any time your account is locked or unlocked so you know youâre the one in control. A credit lock is not as secure as a credit freeze, but it does offer some level of protection and is generally easier to turn on and off. This app works only for your Equifax credit report, so if you want to lock all three reports, youâll have to work with TransUnion and Experian separately.
Availability: Apple and Android
The Experian mobile credit monitoring app lets you track your Experian credit report and FICO score, with an automatically updated credit report every 30 days. The app also comes with Experian Boost, which can help you boost your score. The app alerts you when changes to your report or score occur, and offers suggested credit cards based on your FICO score.
Availability: Apple and Android
Cost: Free, but some features require a paid Experian account
5. Lexington Law
If youâve signed up for credit repair services with Lexington Law, you can use their free mobile app to keep track of your progress. In addition to providing access to your credit reports from all three credit bureaus and updates on ongoing disputes, the money manager feature, similar to Mint, helps you track your income, spending, budgets and debts.
Availability: Apple and Android
Cost: Free, but requires a paid Lexington Law account
The TransUnion mobile app allows you to refresh your credit score and credit report daily to see where you stand. It offers instant alerts if anything changes and offers Credit Lock Plus, which allows you to lock your TransUnion credit report to avoid identity theft and fraud. The Debt Analysis tool lets you calculate your debt-to-income ratio, and it allows you to view public records associated with your name.
Availability: Apple and Android
Cost: Free, but requires a paid TransUnion Credit Monitoring account
7. ScoreSense Scores To Go
ScoreSense offers credit scores and reports from all three credit bureaus and daily credit monitoring and alerts to changes on your reports. This app also provides creditor contact information so you can address errors on your report quickly and efficiently. Score tracking features let you review how your score changes over time and how it compares to your peers.
Availability: Apple and Android
Cost: Free, but requires a paid ScoreSense account
Self helps you buildâand trackâyour credit, making it great for people just establishing their credit profile or trying to rebuild damaged credit. Self offers one- and two-year loan terms, but instead of getting the money up front, the amount is deposited into a CD. You make regular payments for the term of the loan (at least $25 per month), and then get access to the money. There is no hard inquiry to open the account, but your payments are reported to all three credit bureaus, helping build your credit. Plus, while you are repaying your loan, you will have access to free credit monitoring and you VantageScore so you can track your progress.
Availability: Apple and Android
Cost: Free, but requires a Self loan repayment of at least $25 per month
Credit Monitoring Apps to Fit Your Needs
With so many different options, youâre sure to find a credit monitoring app that meets your needs. And donât forget: you can always check your score for free using Credit.comâs free Credit Report Card.
The post Boost Your Credit Score: 8 Helpful Credit Monitoring Apps appeared first on Credit.com.
Summer camp is a rite of passage. A place where traditions begin and memories are made. A unique venue with a structured opportunity for kids to grow and learn new skills. As enriching as it may seem, embarking on the process each year can be intense: How do I choose a camp? Should it have a philosophy? How do I know my child will have fun? But often the question at the top of the list is, “How do I budget for summer camp?”
Whether you’re scrambling for camp arrangements for this year or getting a jump-start on next summer, you’re in need of a working budget for summer camp. “As a parent who sent several kids to summer camp for many years, I know how expensive it can be,” says Leslie H. Tayne, author and founder of debt solutions law firm Tayne Law Group.
Read on for expert budgeting tips for summer camp and how to save money on summer camp so you can make the best decisions concerning your wallet and your child’s wish list:
1. Get a handle on camp tuition
According to the American Camp Association, sleep-away camp tuition can range from $630 to more than $2,000 per camper per week. Day camp tuition isn’t too far behind, ranging from $199 to more than $800 per week.
One of the best ways to budget for summer camp and prepare for tuition costs is to understand your needs for the summer as well as your child’s interests. This will help you determine ‘how much’ and ‘what type’ of camp you want: Is day-camp coverage important all summer because of work? Does your child want to experience sleep-away camp for a portion of the time? Is a camp with a specific focus (say a sport or hobby) on the list?
Depending on your circumstances and child’s expectations, it’s not unusual to be looking at a combination of campsâand tuition costsâin one season. If you have multiple kids at different ages, with different interests, creating a budget for summer camp and understanding how much you’ll need to dish out in tuition becomes especially important.
Once your camp plan is in place, assess how much you’ll need to pay in tuition for the summer months with school out of session. The sooner you’ve arrived at this figure, the easier it will be to work the expense into your household budget, says Heather Schisler, money-saving expert and founder of deal site Passion for Savings. “It’s much easier to set aside $30 a month than it is to come up with $300 to $400 at one time,” Schisler says.
Sleep-away camp tuition can range from $630 to more than $2,000 per camper per week. Day camp tuition ranges from $199 to more than $800 per week.
2. Plan for expenses beyond tuition
One of the biggest budgeting tips for summer camp is planning for the many costs outside of tuition. Tayne points out that sleep-away camp usually comes with a longer supply list than day campâsuch as specific clothing or gear and toiletries to cover the length of stay. If your child is heading to a sleep-away camp far from home, your budget for summer camp may also need to factor in the cost of transportation or the cost to ship luggage. Day camps can also have fees for extended hours or transportation if your child rides a camp bus each day.
Once you’ve selected a campâday camp or sleep-awayâcheck its website for camper packing lists and guidelines. Most camps offer checklists that you can print out, which can be good for tracking supplies and costs as you go. After you enroll, your camp may provide access to an online portal that can help you manage tuition and track additional expenses, like canteen money, which is cash your child can use for snacks and additional supplies while away.
3. Create a year-round savings strategy
By calculating the necessary expenses ahead of time for the camps you and your campers have chosen, you’ll be able to determine an overall budget for summer camp. A budgeting tip for summer camp is to save money monthly throughout the year. To determine a monthly savings goal, divide your total summer camp costs by the amount of months you have until camp starts. If camp is quickly approaching and you’re feeling the budget crunch, you may want to start saving for next year’s costs once it’s back-to-school time so you can spread out your costs over a longer period of time.
Once you start saving, you’ll need a place to put it, right? When it comes to budgeting tips for summer camp, consider placing your cash in a dedicated account, which will keep it separate from your regular expenses and help you avoid tapping it for other reasons. “Then you can have your bank set up an auto draft [for the summer camp money] so it automatically goes into your account each month and you will have the money you need when summer rolls around,” Schisler says. If you use a Discover Online Savings Account for this purpose, you’ll also earn interest that can be put toward camp expenses.
âIt’s much easier to set aside $30 a month than it is to come up with $300 to $400 at one time.â
4. Find ways to fund your summer camp account
To boost cash in your summer camp savings account, consider asking relatives and family friends to gift your children cash for camp in lieu of birthday and holiday gifts, says Tracie Fobes of budget blog Penny Pinchin’ Mom. “If your child has his or her heart set on sleep-away camp, they may be willing to forgo a gift or two,” Fobes says.
Another budgeting tip for summer camp is to put your cashback rewards toward your budget for summer camp. For example, if you open a checking account with Discoverâcalled Cashback Debitâyou’ll earn 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.1 You can enroll to have that cashback bonus automatically deposited into your Discover Online Savings Account so it remains designated for camp costs (and can grow with interest).
Say hello to cash back on debit card purchases.
No monthly fees. No balance requirements. No, really.
Discover Bank, Member FDIC
Lastly, if you don’t have your tax refund earmarked for another financial goal, you could use the windfall to kick-start your summer camp savings fund. Depending on the refund amount and your total camp costs, it could reduce your monthly summer camp savings goal significantly.
5. Reduce camp-related costs
Despite having your budget for summer camp in full view and planning in advance, camp can still be expensive. Here are some ways to save money on summer camp by cutting down on camp costs:
Ask about scholarships and grants: “Some camps offer scholarships or discounts for children and families,” Fobes says. Research your camp to see if they have anything similar to help offsetâor even pay forâthe cost of tuition.
Use a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account (DCFSA): A Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account is a pre-tax benefit account that can be used to pay for eligible dependent care services. You can use this type of account to “cover dependent care [costs], and camp may qualify,” Fobes says.
Negotiate price: “Many people don’t think about negotiating the cost of summer camp, but it is possible,” Tayne says, and more and more camps are open to it.
See if there’s an “honor system”: Some camps have what’s known as an honor system, where the camp offers a range of costs, or tiered pricing, and parents can pay what they can comfortably afford. Every child enjoys the same camp experience, regardless of which price point, and billing is kept private.
Take advantage of discounts: Attention early birds and web surfers: “There are sometimes discounts offered when you sign up early or register online,” Fobes says.
Volunteer: If your summer schedule allows, “offer to work at the camp,” Fobes says. If you lend your servicesâperhaps for the camp blog or cleaning the camp house before the season startsâyour child may be able to attend camp for free or a reduced rate.
Don’t let summer camp costs become a family budget-buster. Plan ahead and look for money-saving opportunities and work your budget for summer camp into your annual financial plan.
To save money on summer camp, remember that you only need to focus on camp necessities. “Don’t spend a lot of extra money on new clothing, bedding, trunks or suitcases,” Schisler says. “Remember, summer camp is all about the experience, not the things.”
1 ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as VenmoÂ® and PayPal, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple, the Apple logo and Apple Pay are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.
The post Your Guide to Budgeting for Summer Camp appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Love it or hate it, many Americans are spending more time at home. The coronavirus pandemic not only accelerated the work-from-home trend to warp speed, but it also shuttered schools and summer camps, scratched travel plans and canceled brunch and dinner reservations across the country.
Jen Dawson, a certified financial planner and managing director in Chicago, found that the uncertainty and stay-at-home lifestyle created by the pandemic prompted her clients to look at their financial situations in a new light.
âI think it just gives opportunities for people and families to reflect,â Dawson says. ââWhat do we want out of life? What do we want from our money?â Those conversations are really valuable.â
As Dawsonâs clients reflect on their goals, they (and many others) are also wondering, âHow should I adjust my household budget if weâre spending more time at home?â
How to optimize your budget for the stay-at-home economy in 4 steps
Ellen Rogin, a former wealth advisor and now a speaker, author and entrepreneur, notes that people across the country were affected by the pandemic in very different ways. While many workers were able to keep their jobs as they transitioned to working from home, many were not.
âThere are people who have lost their jobs and are being forced to make difficult decisions,â Rogin says. âAnd there are people who are still employed and earning the same income they did before, who have more options as they decide how they’re spending their money now.â
Even if youâve been spared serious financial challenges, you should still consider updating or creating a household budget or spending plan. This will allow you to determine how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy.
Rogin and Dawson encourage you to use this opportunity to ensure youâre at least staying on track to meet your savings goalsâand at best, shortening your savings timelines. Itâs also a chance to make sure that your spending habits, which have likely changed as youâve spent more time at home, are maximizing your happiness.
Below, we break down insights from Rogin and Dawson into four actionable steps you can take to save money in quarantine while living the best life possible. It all starts with taking an objective look at how your spending habits changed as you transitioned to a more domestic lifestyle.
Read on to see how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy by creating a new household budget:
1. Compare your spending trends before and during quarantine
As you set about creating a household budget for an at-home lifestyle and determining how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy, start by reviewing your spending.
âMost people donât really know how much money theyâre spending, whether times are good or bad. But it can really make you feel calmer to know what it takes to run your lifestyle.â
Dawson encourages you to refer to your debit and credit card statements to analyze the differences between your spending before staying home became the norm, and after. âYou can compare it and contrast and have observations and discussions around what changed,â she says. âWhat do you like that you want to keep going, and what do you not like about it?”
All you need, Dawson says, is a spreadsheet to total up your major expenses, such as housing, utilities, transportation, food and dining, travel, shopping and entertainment. Then, subtract the sum of those costs from the money you earned (aka income) over the same timeframe.
Do this exercise for three months of spending before quarantine and then again for three months of spending during quarantine. Youâll be able to compare the data to see whether you have more or less disposable income as a member of the stay-at-home economy.
Rogin notes that it can be a little scary to examine your finances like this, but thereâs no reason to feel anxious.
âMost people donât really know how much money theyâre spending, whether times are good or bad,â she says. âBut it can really make you feel calmer to know what it takes to run your lifestyle.â
If you see that your disposable income decreased while in quarantine (or that you no longer have disposable income at all), then youâll need to find ways to cut back on spending if you want to keep your savings goals on track. If your extra cash increased and youâre actually saving more money in quarantine, then you can start to consider how you might hit some or all of your savings goals more quickly.
Either way, you still have work to do as you consider how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy. Rather than focusing on external factors that are out of your control, Rogin and Dawson recommend that, as a next step, you ask yourself what matters most to you.
2. Ask yourself how your spending habits impact your happiness
Rogin considers the distanced, more remote way of life as a chance to reflect on whatâs really important in order to create your household budget. One example she points to is how many people have been cooking at home far more often than they once did.
âMaybe youâre spending more on groceries, but thatâs less than you were spending on eating outâand you enjoy it,â she says. âYouâre spending more time with your family. Youâre eating more healthily. So it gives you the opportunity to really assess your budget in a different way.â
Another example is travel. Rogin says that some people have told her that they really miss it, but others have been surprised to find how happy they are to pump the brakes on their jet-setting ways. In addition to saving money in quarantine from reimbursed travel and no more expensive trips, itâs allowed them to slow down and enjoy their time at home with family.
For her part, Rogin found that she wore the same two pairs of shoes during quarantine because theyâre comfortable, and no one can see them when sheâs video conferencing during work. As a result, Rogin cut this expense from her stay-at-home budget.
Whether youâre facing a cash shortage or surplus from more time spent at home, Rogin says that extending this line of thinking into a âvalues-based spending planâ for the stay-at-home economy will allow you to direct your money to what matters most to you, while diverting funds away from what doesnât.
Once you add up the expenses that are no longer necessary in your stay-at-home budget, itâs time to put that money to work.
Tip: When looking at quarantine spending, donât get too granular
Dawson underscores that evaluating spending patterns can be an emotional exercise. If youâre reviewing your finances with a family member, partner or spouse, try to resist the urge to nitpick every purchase. The trends should be easy enough to spot from a birdâs-eye view.
3. Put your stay-at-home savings toward your financial goals
Dawson and Rogin recommend having a plan when youâre trying to figure out how to save more money in the stay-at-home economy. That plan should include what youâre saving for, as well as where youâll keep the funds as they add up.
Rogin recommends framing your financial goals from a positive angle. For example, when you create a household budget, instead of focusing on cutting spending, you can set a goal for how much extra money you want to save.
If you have children or live with a partner or spouse, Dawson notes that this goal-oriented approach can help get them involved. The objective might be to start an emergency fund to ride out unexpected headwinds. Or, the focus could be on saving up for a big vacation to look forward to when travel restrictions ease.
When deciding where to keep your savings, a standard checking account wonât allow your money to grow like a high-yield online savings account will. Rather than pooling the money youâve saved in quarantine into one account, Dawson suggests opening multiple savings accounts, one for each of your savings goals.
âBe really clear about what each savings account is for,â she says. âThen youâre more likely to fund it.â
Of course, luxury savings goals like a vacation should not take priority over your long-term savings goals, such as retirement or college funds.
4. When saving money in quarantine, remember to support those in need if you can
If you are saving money in quarantine, Rogin suggests considering all the benefits of earmarking extra cash for philanthropic causes. It could go directly to the local small businesses you love that are hurting for revenue. Or it could go to any number of nonprofit organizations that are doing good in the world.
âSo many people are in need now,â Rogin says. âThere are so many beautiful ways that can help you feel like youâre making a difference for people by reallocating some of that money towards causes and people that you want to support.â
How will you start saving money in quarantine?
The stay-at home lifestyle may not have been in your plans, but you have the opportunity to gain control of your finances inside your home by creating a household budget that works for you in this new reality.
When you analyze, assess and optimize your spending and consider how to save money in quarantine, youâll be in as strong a financial position as possible when life gets back to normal.
If youâve been fortunate enough to save money in quarantine, consider starting or adding to your emergency fund. Not sure where to store your savings? Check out the four best places to keep your emergency fund.
Articles may contain information from third-parties. The inclusion of such information does not imply an affiliation with the bank or bank sponsorship, endorsement, or verification regarding the third-party or information.
The post How to Save More Money in the Stay-at-Home Economy by Focusing on What Matters Most appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Prepping for a new baby’s arrival might kick your nesting instinct into high gear, as you make sure everything is just right before the big day. One thing to add to your new-baby to-do list is figuring out how to financially prepare for maternity leave if you’ll be taking time away from work.
Lauren Mochizuki, a nurse and budgeting expert at personal finance blog Casa Mochi, took time off from work for the births of both her children. Because she had only partial paid leave each time, she says a budget was critical in making sure money wasn’t a source of stress.
“The purpose of budgeting for maternity leave is to have enough money saved to replace your income for your desired leave time,” Mochizuki says.
But the question “How do I budget for maternity leave?” is a big one. One thing’s for sureâthe answer will be different for everyone, since not everyone’s leave or financial situation is the same. What matters most is taking action early to get a grip on your finances while there’s still time to plan.
Before you get caught up in the new-baby glow, here’s what you need to do to financially prepare for maternity leave:
1. Estimate how long you’ll need your maternity budget to last
To financially prepare for maternity leave, you need to know how long you plan to be away from work without pay.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave from work per year for certain family and medical reasons, including for the birth of a child. Some employers may also offer a period of paid leave for new parents.
When estimating how long you’ll need your maternity budget to last, Mochizuki says to consider how much unpaid leave you plan to take based on your personal needs and budget. For example, you could find you’re not able to take the full period offered by FMLA after reviewing your expenses (more on that below) and how much you have in savings.
Even if your employer does offer paid maternity leave, you may decide to extend your time at home by supplementing your paid leave with unpaid time off, Mochizuki says.
Keep in mind that despite all of your budgeting for maternity leave, your health and the health of your baby may also influence how much unpaid time off you take and how long your maternity leave budget needs to stretch.
As you’re financially preparing for maternity leave, make sure your spouse or partner is also considering what benefits may be available to them through their employer. Together you should know what benefits are available for maternity or paternity leave, either paid or unpaid, and how to apply for them as you jointly navigate the budgeting for maternity leave process. You can then decide how to coordinate the amount of time each of you should take and when that leave should begin.
Contact your HR department to learn about your company’s maternity leave policy, how to apply for leave and whether there are any conditions you need to meet to qualify for leave. Ask if you’re able to leverage sick days, vacation days or short-term disability for paid maternity leave.
2. Babyproof your budget
When budgeting for maternity leave, make sure you review your current monthly budget to assess how budgeting for a new baby fits in.
In Mochizuki’s case, she and her husband added a category to save for maternity leave within their existing budget for household expenses (e.g., mortgage, utilities, groceries).
“We treated it as another emergency fund, meaning we had a goal of how much we wanted to save and we kept working and saving until we reached that goal,” Mochizuki says.
As you financially prepare for maternity leave, consider the following questions:
What new expenses need to be added to your budget? Diapers, for instance, can cost a family around $900 per year, according to the National Diaper Bank Network. You may also be spending money on formula, bottles, wipes, clothes and toys for your new one, all of which can increase your monthly budget. And don’t forget the cost of any new products or items that mom will need along the way. Running the numbers with a first-year baby costs calculator can help you accurately estimate your new expenses and help with financial planning for new parents.
Will any of your current spending be reduced while you’re on leave? As you think about the new expenses you’ll need to add when budgeting for maternity leave, don’t forget the ones you may be able to nix. For example, your budget may dip when it comes to commuting costs if you’re not driving or using public transit to get to work every day. If you have room in your budget for meals out or entertainment expenses, those may naturally be cut if you’re eating at home more often and taking it easy with the little one.
3. Tighten up the budgetâthen tighten some more
Once you’ve evaluated your budget, consider whether you can streamline it further as you financially prepare for maternity leave. This can help ease any loss of income associated with taking time off or counter the new expenses you’ve added to your maternity leave budget.
Becky Beach, founder of Mom Beach, a personal finance blog for moms, says that to make her maternity leave budget workâwhich included three months of unpaid leaveâshe and her husband got serious about reducing unnecessary expenses.
Cut existing costs
As you budget for maternity leave, go through your existing budget by each spending category.
“The best tip is to cut costs on things you don’t need, like subscriptions, movie streaming services, new clothes, eating out, date nights, etc.,” Beach says. “That money should be earmarked for your new baby’s food, clothes and diapers.”
Cutting out those discretionary “wants” is an obvious choice, but look more closely at other ways you could save. For example, could you negotiate a better deal on your car insurance or homeowner’s insurance? Can you better plan and prep for meals to save money on food costs? How about reducing your internet service package or refinancing your debt?
Find ways to earn
Something else to consider as you budget for maternity leave is how you could add income back into your budget if all or part of your leave is unpaid and you want to try and close some of the income gap. For example, before your maternity leave starts, you could turn selling unwanted household items into a side hustle you can do while working full time to bring in some extra cash and declutter before baby arrives.
Reduce new costs
As you save for maternity leave, also think about how you could reduce expenses associated with welcoming a new baby. Rather than buying brand-new furniture or clothing, for example, you could buy those things gently used from consignment shops, friends or relatives and online marketplaces. If someone is planning to throw a baby shower on your behalf, you could create a specific wish list of items you’d prefer to receive as gifts in order to offset costs.
4. Set a savings goal and give every dollar a purpose
When Beach and her husband saved for maternity leave, they set out to save $20,000 prior to their baby’s birth. They cut their spending, used coupons and lived frugally to make it happen.
In Beach’s case, they chose $20,000 since that’s what she would have earned over her three-month maternity leave, had she been working. You might use a similar guideline to choose a savings goal. If you’re receiving paid leave, you may strive to save enough to cover your new expenses.
As you make your plan to save for maternity leave, make sure to account for your loss of income and the new expenses in your maternity leave budget. Don’t forget to factor in any savings you already have set aside and plan to use to help you financially prepare for maternity leave.
Once you’ve come up with your savings target, consider dividing your maternity savings into different buckets, or categories, to help ensure the funds last as long as you need them to. This could also make it harder to overspend in any one category.
For instance, when saving for maternity leave, you may leverage buckets like:
“The purpose of budgeting for maternity leave is to have enough money saved to replace your income for your desired leave time.”
Budgeting for maternity leaveâand beyond
Once maternity leave ends, your budget will evolve again as your income changes and new baby-related expenses are introduced. As you prepare to go back to work, review your budget again and factor in any new costs. For example, in-home childcare or daycare may be something you have to account for, along with ongoing healthcare costs for new-baby checkups.
Then, schedule a regular date going forward to review your budget and expenses as your baby grows. You can do this once at the beginning or end of the month or every payday. Take a look at your income and expenses to see what has increased or decreased and what adjustments, if any, you need to make to keep your budget running smoothly.
Budgeting for maternity leave takes a little time and planning, but it’s well worth the effort. Knowing that your finances are in order lets you relax and enjoy making memoriesâinstead of stressing over money.
The post What You Need to Know About Budgeting for Maternity Leave appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
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 thatâbut 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.”
Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everythingâfrom taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plansâis 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 perplexingâtaxes:
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, CFPÂ®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!’”
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.
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 subsidiesâor a reduced premium based on incomeâwas $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, CFPÂ®, at Bridgeworth Financial.
A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premiumâwhich is how much you pay each month to have your insuranceâis 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.
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.
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.”
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.