Imagine this: You’ve gone to collegeâeven grad schoolâto pursue a career path you always thought you wanted. But after a few years and many tuition dollars spent, it suddenly hits you: If you have to write one more press release, it might push you over the edge. If this is the case, it’s time to prepare for a career change.
Transitioning careers is not unusual. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the American Staffing Association, 38 percent of working adults say they are likely to change careers within the next year. The only problem is, if you are unsure of how to make a career change and whether it will be financially sound, you might be hesitant to make the leap.
âNo one wants to change careers without knowing the chances of success,” says Mark Anthony Dyson, host of The Voice of Job Seekers podcast, a show designed to help those in career transition. “Adequate preparation can make all the difference.”
âPreparation in every formâfrom updating job skills to financial planning and really taking time to think about what you desire in a fulfilling careerâwill be a huge factor in your career-change success.â
“How do I make a big career change with this adequate preparation,” you ask?
Learning how to prepare for a career change financially and finding out which skills you’ll need in your new career are great places to start. Take these steps to understand your career intentions, then determine the best financial strategies for achieving them:
Figure out if a career change is right for you
Before preparing for a career change, start by doing an honest self-assessment on whether or not a switch is right for you. This is important, says Dyson, because you’ll want to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of changing careers versus exploring a job transition within your current field. Doing the latter might make more sense for you if you aren’t quite ready to go through a full-blown career transition. Either way, taking the time for self-reflection will help you get to your desired career path sooner.
When you are thinking about how to make a career change and if it’s the right time for you, Dyson suggests asking yourself these questions:
What are the professional and financial impacts if I stay on my current career path? A quick list of pros and cons might help your analysis.
Are there other opportunities in my current field that I haven’t yet considered? Talk to a human resources professional or research online to understand the qualifications, salaries and opportunities for advancement within your area of expertise.
What does my ideal career look like?
Do I currently have the skills and experience that can transfer to a new career?
What are the possible financial and professional outcomes if my new career doesn’t work out?
Kelan Kline, a jail deputy turned personal finance blogger for The Savvy Couple, felt stifled by his previous job and the limitations it imposed on his time. He believed that in order to achieve career growth and increase his money-making potential, he would have to change careers. “I knew I was done working for others altogether,” Kline adds.
You may not think you have the skills and experience necessary to transition into a new career, but a tip to prepare for a career change is to consider the skills that have led to your career success thus far. That’s what 10-year human resources veteran Lisa Cassella did when she decided a new career direction was in order and wanted to follow her passion for real estate.
“As hiring and program manager for a senior living facility, I met face-to-face with with people everyday,” says Cassella, now a licensed real estate salesperson for the brokerage firm Compass. “Sometimes you have to have some difficult conversations,” she continues. “It’s the same in real estate. But for the most part, you are helping peopleâwhich is what I enjoy and a strong connection between both careers.”
Sasha Korobov, a career and success strategist, agrees that a tip for preparing for a career change is to use your current skills as a foundation for a new career. Having undergone a career change herself, she advises people to âreally think about what you want to do next, and see if you can start getting those skills and experience in the job you’re already in.”
Once you understand your motives and capabilities, you’ll have the groundwork for what needs to come next: smart ways to financially support yourself through the transition.
Prepare yourself financially for making the switch
One of the best things you can do when figuring out how to make a career change is to have a financial plan. Depending on how you approach your career change, the steps that you take to move to a new industry could impact your finances in various ways.
For example, when you start out in a new industry, you might be taking a lower level position than what you had in your previous career. This may come with a dip in income, for which you will need to adjust your budget as you progress in your new career.
If you plan to take any time off before you make the switch, you may experience a gap in income. “You have to think about how many months of income you need to save to get over that hump,” Cassella says. Cassella planned in advance so that she had at least six months of income in the bank before she made the switch to her new career.
Another consideration when you prepare for a career change is whether there is a cost investment required in moving to the new career you have chosen. For example, you might need to spend money on additional education, training, certifications and other measures before you can move into your new role. Your financial plan will have to consider dips in income that could occur if you need to reduce your hours or quit working in order to get the training and education your new career requires, Korobov says. Cassella had to get licensed before moving into real estate sales. She quit her job and took a two-week course, then immediately took the state test.
If your career change means starting your own business venture, you may have to prepare for all of the financial scenarios mentioned above. Your income might decrease as you establish your own business and gain traction, for instance. You might also have to pay for things that were once provided to you by an employer, such as supplies, computer equipment, software and health insurance.
Because of these potential challenges, having a savings plan is key when considering tips to prepare for a career change.
Fine-tune your savings to prepare for a career change
No matter which path you choose, preparing for a career change may present you with some financial risk. Therefore, it’s beneficial to have savings set aside to manage the transition. With just a few small lifestyle changes that will save you money, you can build the financial safety cushion you need to prepare for a career change, says finance blogger Kline.
Here are Kline’s tips to prepare for a career change and the areas he focused on most when he prepared for his professional move:
Reduce unnecessary expenses. As you work on how to make a career change, consider cutting back on discretionary spending such as eating out, entertainment and vacations, and set that money aside for your career change. Don’t already have a budget to track your expenses? Now is the perfect time to start one.
Pick the right type of savings account. You’ll want to put the money you save from reducing your expenses into the best type of account to support your career transition. A high-yield savings account, such as the Discover Online Savings Account, will help you grow your savings. For a long-term savings strategy, a Discover Certificate of Deposit might be a great fit.
You earned it. Now earn more withÂ it.
Online savings with no minimum balance.
Discover Bank, Member FDIC
Start an emergency fund. Similar to establishing a budget and picking a savings account, if you haven’t already started an emergency fund, now is the time to create one (or add to it if you already have some momentum with your rainy day savings). An emergency fund can help you prepare for unexpected expenses and the financial risks involved in changing careers. Experts suggest that you keep at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses in your emergency fund.
Pay down debt. If you are able to pay down debt, such as student loan and credit card debt, it will free up cash to save toward your career transition. Pay more than the monthly minimum to reduce or eliminate the debt altogether as you prepare for a career change.
With just a few small lifestyle changes that will save you money, you can build the financial safety cushion you need to prepare for a career change.
Approach your new career at a gradual pace
For some, a slower transition, with moonlighting or side hustling until they are ready to go full time, has proven effective. When Jeff Neal started his online retail site selling bait and live feeders, he was still a full-time project manager in e-commerce, but not passionate about his day-to-day. He was able to use his skills from this position to build his own online ventures.
Neal says he started his online business as a side hustle, with the intention of always having a full-time job keeping his household afloat. He has now been able to transition into being a full-time internet entrepreneur.
Korobov, the career and success strategist, also started to prepare for her career change with a part-time entrepreneurial venture that grew out of corporate coaching. “I wanted to go into business for myself as a career strategist for women, and I knew that having corporate coaching experience would fast-track my credibility with a lot of potential clients,” she says.
“I began offering workshops and brown-bag lunches at my office,” Korobov continues. This experience was a valuable lesson for Korobov in how to make a career change, helping her boost her confidence and allowing her to tweak her workshops as she got more experience.
One of Korobov’s biggest tips to prepare for a career change that she learned firsthand: “Your entrepreneurial ventures, even if done part-time, can make the transition into your career smoother, while giving you extra income to help with your financial preparation process.”
Ensure your path to career-change success
Making a career change can seem like a huge risk, since you don’t really know if it will work out in your favor. But with research and readiness, you can confidently prepare for a career change. Dyson, of The Voice of Job Seekers podcast, can’t emphasize enough that âpreparation in every formâfrom updating job skills to financial planning and really taking time to think about what you desire in a fulfilling careerâwill be a huge factor in your career-change success.”
Understanding your goals and expectationsâand trusting your gutâbefore you begin is a big step in the right direction. Says Cassella of her move into real estate: “It just made a lot of sense for me and my family. My expectations are that once I really get going, there is no limit to what I can make.”
The post Taking the Leap: How to Make a Career Change and Land on Your Feet appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
If you have an irregular income, you know how great the good times feelâand how difficult the lean times can be. While you can’t always control when you get paid or the size of each paycheck if you’re a freelancer, contractor or work in the gig economy, you can take control of your money by creating a budget that will help you manage these financial extremes.
Antowoine Winters, a financial planner and principal at Next Steps Financial Planning, LLC, says creating a budget with a variable income can require big-picture thinking. You may need to spend time testing out different methods when you first start budgeting, but, âif done correctly, it can really empower you to control your life,” Winters says.
How do you budget on an irregular income? Consider these four strategies to help you budget with a variable income and gain financial confidence:
1. Determine your average income and expenses
If you want to start budgeting on a fluctuating income, you need to know how much money you have coming in and how much you’re spending.
Of course, that’s the basis for any budget. But it can be particularly important if you’re trying to budget on an irregular income because you may have especially high- or low-income periods. You want to start tracking as soon as possible to build up accurate data on your average income and expenses.
For example, once you have six months’ worth of income and expenses documented, you can divide the total by six to determine your average income and expenses by month.
Many financial apps and websites can help with the tracking, including ones that can connect to your online bank and credit card accounts and automatically pull in your transactions. You may even be able to pull in previous months’ or years’ worth of data, which you can use to calculate your averages.
If you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income and apps aren’t your thing, you can use a spreadsheet or even a pen and notebook to track your cash flow. However, without automated tracking, it can be difficult to consistently keep your information up to date.
2. Try a zero-sum budget
“There are several strategies you can use to budget with an irregular income, but one of the easiest ones is the zero-sum budget,” says Holly Johnson. As a full-time freelance writer, she’s been budgeting with a variable income for over seven years and is the coauthor of the book Zero Down Your Debt.
With a zero-sum budget, your income and expenses should even out so there’s nothing left over at the end of the month. The trick is to treat your savings goals as expenses. For example, your “expenses” may include saving for an emergency, vacation or homeownership.
“There are several strategies you can use to budget with an irregular income, but one of the easiest ones is the zero-sum budget.”
Johnson says if you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income, you can adopt the zero-sum budget by creating a “salary” for yourself. Consider your average monthly expenses (shameless plug for tip 1) and use that number as your baseline.
For example, if your monthly household bills, groceries, business expenses, savings goals and other necessities add up to $4,000, that’s your salary for the month. During months when you make over $4,000, put the extra money into a separate savings account. During months when you make less than $4,000, draw from that account to bring your salary up to $4,000.
“We call this fund the ‘boom and bust’ fund,” Johnson says. “By building up an adequate amount of savings, you will create a situation where you can pay yourself the salary you need each month.”
3. Separate your saving and spending money
Physically separating your savings from your everyday spending money may be especially important when you’re creating a budget on an irregular income. You may be tempted to pull funds from your savings goals during low-income months, and stashing your savings in a separate, high-yield savings account can force you to pause and think twice before dipping in.
You earned it. Now earn more withÂ it.
Online savings with no minimum balance.
Discover Bank, Member FDIC
An easy way to put this tip into action when creating a budget with a variable income is to have all of your income deposited into one account, then disburse it into separate savings and spending accounts. “Transfer a set amount on the first of every month to a bill-paying account and a set amount to a spending account,” Winters, the financial planner, says.
“The bill pay account is used to pay for all of the regular expenses, like rent, insurance, car payments, student loans, etc.,” Winters says. These bills generally stay the same each month. The spending account can be used for your variable expenses, such as groceries and gas.
When considering your savings accounts, Winters also suggests funding a retirement account, such as an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).
If you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income as a contract worker or freelancer, you may also want to set money aside for taxes because the income and payroll taxes you’ll owe aren’t automatically taken out of your paychecks.
4. Build up your emergency fund
“The best way to weather low-income periods is to prepare with an adequate emergency fund,” freelancer Johnson says. An emergency fund is money you set aside for necessary expenses during an emergency, such as a medical issue or broken-down vehicle.
Generally, you’ll want to save up enough money to cover three to six months of your regular expenses. Once you build your fund, you can put extra savings toward other financial goals.
When you’re budgeting on a fluctuating income, having the emergency fund can help you feel more at ease knowing that you’ll be able to pay your necessary bills if the unexpected happens or when you’re stuck in a low-income period for longer than anticipated.
A budget can make living with a variable income easier
It can be challenging to budget on an irregular income, especially when you’re first starting. You might have to cut back on expenses for several months to start building up your savings and try multiple budgeting methods before finding the one that works best for you.
“Budgeting requires a mindset change regardless of which type of budget you try,” Johnson explains.
“The best way to weather low-income periods is to prepare with an adequate emergency fund.”
However, once in place, a budget on an irregular income can also help free you from worrying about the boom-and-bust cycle that many variable-income workers deal with throughout the year.
The goal is to get to the point where you can budget with a variable income and don’t have to worry about when you’ll get paid next because you set your budget based on your averages, planned ahead during the high times and have savings ready for your low times.
The post 4 Tricks for Budgeting on a Fluctuating Income appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
You probably donât need us to tell you that the earlier you start saving for retirement, the better. But letâs face it: For a lot of people, the problem isnât that they donât understand how compounding works. They start saving late because their paychecks will only stretch so far.
Whether youâre in your 20s or your golden years are fast-approaching, saving and investing whatever you can will help make your retirement more comfortable. Weâll discuss how to save for retirement during each decade, along with the hurdles you may face at different stages of life.
How Much Should You Save for Retirement?
A good rule of thumb is to save between 10% and 20% of pre-tax income for retirement. But the truth is, the actual amount you need to save for retirement depends on a lot of factors, including:
Your age. If you get a late start, youâll need to save more.
Whether your employer matches contributions. The 10% to 20% guideline includes your employerâs match. So if your employer matches your contributions dollar-for-dollar, you may be able to get away with less.
How aggressively you invest. Taking more risk usually leads to larger returns, but your losses will be steeper if the stock market tanks.
How long you plan to spend in retirement. Itâs impossible to predict how long youâll be able to work or how long youâll live. But if you plan to retire early or people in your family often live into their mid-90s, youâll want to save more.
How to Save for Retirement at Every Age
Now that youâre ready to start saving, hereâs a decade-by-decade breakdown of savings strategies and how to make your retirement a priority.
Saving for Retirement in Your 20s
A dollar invested in your 20s is worth more than a dollar invested in your 30s or 40s. The problem: When youâre living on an entry-level salary, you just donât have that many dollars to invest, particularly if you have student loan debt.
Prioritize Your 401(k) Match
If your company offers a 401(k) plan, a 403(b) plan or any retirement account with matching contributions, contribute enough to get the full match â unless of course you wouldnât be able to pay bills as a result. The stock market delivers annual returns of about 8% on average. But if your employer gives you a 50% match, youâre getting a 50% return on your contribution before your money is even invested. Thatâs free money no investor would ever pass up.
Pay off High-Interest Debt
After getting that employer match, focus on tackling any high-interest debt. Those 8% average annual stock market returns pale in comparison to the average 16% interest rate for people who have credit card debt. In a typical year, youâd expect aÂ $100 investment could earn you $8. Put that $100 toward your balance? Youâre guaranteed to save $16.
Take More Risks
Look, weâre not telling you to throw your money into risky investments like bitcoin or the penny stock your cousin wonât shut up about. But when you start investing, youâll probably answer some questions to assess your risk tolerance. Take on as much risk as you can mentally handle, which means youâll invest mostly in stocks with a small percentage in bonds. Donât worry too much about a stock market crash. Missing out on growth is a bigger concern right now.
Build Your Emergency Fund
Building an emergency fund that could cover your expenses for three to six months is a great way to safeguard your retirement savings. That way you wonât need to tap your growing nest egg in a cash crunch. This isnât money you should have invested, though. Keep it in a high-yield savings account, a money market account or a certificate of deposit (CD).
Tame Lifestyle Inflation
We want you to enjoy those much-deserved raises ahead of you â but keep lifestyle inflation in check. Donât spend every dollar each time your paycheck gets higher. Commit to investing a certain percentage of each raise and then use the rest as you please.
Saving for Retirement in Your 30s
If youâre just starting to save in your 30s, the picture isnât too dire. You still have about three decades left until retirement, but itâs essential not to delay any further. Saving may be a challenge now, though, if youâve added kids and homeownership to the mix.
Invest in an IRA
Opening a Roth IRA is a great way to supplement your savings if youâve only been investing in your 401(k) thus far. A Roth IRA is a solid bet because youâll get tax-free money in retirement.
In both 2020 and 2021, you can contribute up to $6,000, or $7,000 if youâre over 50. The deadline to contribute isnât until tax day for any given year, so you can still make 2020 contributions until April 15, 2021. If you earn too much to fund a Roth IRA, or you want the tax break now (even though it means paying taxes in retirement), you can contribute to a traditional IRA.
Your investment options with a 401(k) are limited. But with an IRA, you can invest in whatever stocks, bonds, mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) you choose.
If you or your spouse isnât working but you can afford to save for retirement, consider a spousal IRA. Itâs a regular IRA, but the working spouse funds it for the non-earning spouse.Â
Avoid Mixing Retirement Money With Other Savings
Youâre allowed to take a 401(k) loan for a home purchase. The Roth IRA rules give you the flexibility to use your investment money for a first-time home purchase or college tuition. Youâre also allowed to withdraw your contributions whenever you want. Wait, though. That doesnât mean you should.
The obvious drawback is that youâre taking money out of the market before itâs had time to compound. But thereâs another downside. Itâs hard to figure out if youâre on track for your retirement goals when your Roth IRA is doing double duty as a college savings account or down payment fund.
Start a 529 Plan While Your Kids Are Young
Saving for your own future takes higher priority than saving for your kidsâ college. But if your retirement funds are in shipshape, opening a 529 plan to save for your childrenâs education is a smart move. Not only will you keep the money separate from your nest egg, but by planning for their education early, youâll avoid having to tap your savings for their needs later on.
Keep Investing When the Stock Market Crashes
The stock market has a major meltdown like the March 2020 COVID-19 crash about once a decade. But when a crash happens in your 30s, itâs often the first time you have enough invested to see your net worth take a hit. Donât let panic take over. No cashing out. Commit to dollar-cost averaging and keep investing as usual, even when youâre terrified.
Saving for Retirement in Your 40s
If youâre in your 40s and started saving early, you may have a healthy nest egg by now. But if youâre behind on your retirement goals, now is the time to ramp things up. You still have plenty of time to save, but youâve missed out on those early years of compounding.
Continue Taking Enough Risk
You may feel like you can afford less investment risk in your 40s, but you still realistically have another two decades left until retirement. Your money still has â and needs â plenty of time to grow. Stay invested mostly in stocks, even if itâs more unnerving than ever when you see the stock market tank.
Put Your Retirement Above Your Kidsâ College Fund
You can only afford to pay for your kidsâ college if youâre on track for retirement. Talk to your kids early on about what you can afford, as well their options for avoiding massive student loan debt, including attending a cheaper school, getting financial aid, and working while going to school. Your options for funding your retirement are much more limited.
Keep Your Mortgage
Mortgage rates are historically low â well below 3% as of December 2020. Your potential returns are much higher for investing, so youâre better off putting extra money into your retirement accounts. If you havenât already done so, consider refinancing your mortgage to get the lowest rate.
Invest Even More
Now is the time to invest even more if you can afford to. Keep getting that full employer 401(k) match. Beyond that, try to max out your IRA contributions. If you have extra money to invest on top of that, consider allocating more to your 401(k). Or you could invest in a taxable brokerage account if you want more flexibility on how to invest.
Meet With a Financial Adviser
Youâre about halfway through your working years when youâre in your 40s. Now is a good time to meet with a financial adviser. If you canât afford one, a financial counselor is typically less expensive. Theyâll focus on fundamentals like budgeting and paying off debt, rather than giving investment advice.
Saving for Retirement in Your 50s
By your 50s, those retirement years that once seemed like they were an eternity away are getting closer. Maybe thatâs an exciting prospect â or perhaps it fills you with dread. Whether you want to keep working forever or retirement canât come soon enough, now is the perfect time to start setting goals for when you want to retire and what you want your retirement to look like.
Review Your Asset Allocation
In your 50s, you may want to start shifting more into safe assets, like bonds or CDs. Your money has less time to recover from a stock market crash. Be careful, though. You still want to be invested in stocks so you can earn returns that will keep your money growing. With interest rates likely to stay low through 2023, bonds and CDs probably wonât earn enough to keep pace with inflation.
Take Advantage of Catch-up Contributions
If youâre behind on retirement savings, give your funds a boost using catch-up contributions. In 2020 and 2021, you can contribute:
$1,000 extra to a Roth or traditional IRA (or split the money between the two) once youâre 50
$6,500 extra to your 401(k) once youâre 50
$1,000 extra to a health savings account (HSA) once youâre 55.
Work More if Youâre Behind
Your window for catching up on retirement savings is getting smaller now. So if youâre behind, consider your options for earning extra money to put into your nest egg. You could take on a side hustle, take on freelance work or work overtime if thatâs a possibility to bring in extra cash. Even if you intend to work for another decade or two, many people are forced to retire earlier than they planned. Itâs essential that you earn as much as possible while you can.
Pay off Your Remaining Debt
Since your 50s is often when you start shifting away from high-growth mode and into safer investments, now is a good time to use extra money to pay off lower-interest debt, including your mortgage. Retirement will be much more relaxing if you can enjoy it debt-free.
FROM THE RETIREMENT FORUM
Re-locating 1/5/21 @ 2:53 PM
Military pension & SS 1/5/21 @ 2:55 PM
TSP and mortgage 12/23/20 @ 2:41 PM
See more in Retirement or ask a money question
Saving for Retirement in Your 60s
Hooray, youâve made it! Hopefully your retirement goals are looking attainable by now after working for decades to get here. But you still have some big decisions to make. Someone in their 60s in 2021 could easily spend another two to three decades in retirement. Your challenge now is to make that hard-earned money last as long as possible.
Make a Retirement Budget
Start planning your retirement budget at least a couple years before you actually retire. Financial planners generally recommend replacing about 70% to 80% of your pre-retirement income. Common income sources for seniors include:
Social Security benefits. Monthly benefits replace about 40% of pre-retirement income for the average senior.
Retirement account withdrawals. Money you take out from your retirement accounts, like your 401(k) and IRA.
Defined-benefit pensions. These are increasingly rare in the private sector, but still somewhat common for those retiring from a career in public service.
Annuities. Though controversial in the personal finance world, an annuity could make sense if youâre worried about outliving your savings.
Other investment income. Some seniors supplement their retirement and Social Security income with earnings from real estate investments or dividend stocks, for example.
Part-time work. A part-time job can help you delay dipping into your retirement savings account, giving your money more time to grow.
You can plan on some expenses going away. You wonât be paying payroll taxes or making retirement contributions, for example, and maybe your mortgage will be paid off. But you generally donât want to plan for any budget cuts that are too drastic.
Even though some of your expenses will decrease, health care costs eat up a large chunk of senior income, even once youâre eligible for Medicare coverage â and they usually increase much faster than inflation.
Develop Your Social Security Strategy
You can take your Social Security benefits as early as 62 or as late as age 70. But the earlier you take benefits, the lower your monthly benefits will be. If your retirement funds are lacking, delaying as long as you can is usually the best solution. Taking your benefit at 70 vs. 62 will result in monthly checks that are about 76% higher. However, if you have significant health problems, taking benefits earlier may pay off.
Use Social Securityâs Retirement Estimator to estimate what your monthly benefit will be.
Figure Out How Much You Can Afford to Withdraw
Once youâve made your retirement budget and estimated how much Social Security youâll receive, you can estimate how much youâll be able to safely withdraw from your retirement accounts. A common retirement planning guideline is the 4% rule: You withdraw no more than 4% of your retirement savings in the first year, then adjust the amount for inflation.
If you have a Roth IRA, you can let that money grow as long as you want and then enjoy it tax-free. But youâll have to take required minimum distributions, or RMDs, beginning at age 72 if you have a 401(k) or a traditional IRA. These are mandatory distributions based on your life expectancy. The penalties for not taking them are stiff: Youâll owe the IRS 50% of the amount you were supposed to withdraw.
Keep Investing While Youâre Working
Avoid taking money out of your retirement accounts while youâre still working. Once youâre over age 59 Â½, you wonât pay an early withdrawal penalty, but you want to avoid touching your retirement funds for as long as possible.
Instead, continue to invest in your retirement plans as long as youâre still earning money. But do so cautiously. Keep money out of the stock market if youâll need it in the next five years or so, since your money doesnât have much time to recover from a stock market crash in your 60s.
A Final Thought: Make Your Retirement About You
Whether youâre still working or youâre already enjoying your golden years, this part is essential: You need to prioritize you. That means your retirement savings goals need to come before bailing out family members, or paying for college for your children and grandchildren. After all, no one else is going to come to the rescue if you get to retirement with no savings.
If youâre like most people, youâll work for decades to get to retirement. The earlier you start planning for it, the more stress-free it will be.
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.
Before the coronavirus reached the U.S., unemployment was low and few could have anticipated a global pandemic. However, as the pandemic and ensuing recession took hold, a record-breaking number of people filed for unemployment benefits to stay financially afloat.
âCOVID-19 led to an incredible number of American workers being without work,â says Julia Simon-Mishel, an unemployment compensation attorney. âAnd itâs caused a huge need for individuals to file for unemployment insurance.â
Unemployment insurance, or unemployment benefits, can offer an essential lifeline. But if youâve never accessed these benefits before, you may have questions about how they work. You might also be asking: What do I do when my unemployment benefits run out and Iâm still unemployed?
This article1 offers tips about what you need to know about filing an unemployment claim. It also addresses the following questions:
How do you prepare for the end of unemployment benefits?
Can your unemployment benefits be extended?
What can you do when unemployment runs out?
Can you refile for unemployment after it runs out?
If youâre just getting ready to file or need a refresher on the basics of unemployment benefits, read on to have your questions answered.
If youâre already collecting benefits and want to know what happens once you reach the end of the benefit period, skip ahead to âSteps to take before your unemployment benefits run out.â
Common questions about unemployment benefits
Experiencing a job loss is challenging no matter what. Keep in mind that youâre not alone, and remember that unemployment benefits were created to help you.
While theyâre designed to provide financial relief, unemployment benefits are not always easy to navigate. Hereâs what you need to know to understand how unemployment benefits work:
What are unemployment benefits?
Unemployment insurance provides people who have lost their job with temporary income while they search for and land another job. The amount provided and time period the benefits last may vary by state. Generally, most states offer up to half of a personâs previous wages in unemployment benefits for 26 weeks or until you land another full-time job, whichever comes first. Requirements and eligibility may vary, so be sure to check your stateâs unemployment agency for guidance.
How do you apply for unemployment benefits?
Depending on where you live, claims may be filed in person, by phone or online. Check your state governmentâs website for details.
Who can file an unemployment claim?
This also may vary from state to state, but eligibility typically requires that you lost your job or were furloughed through no fault of your own, in addition to meeting work and wage requirements. During the coronavirus pandemic, the government loosened restrictions, extending unemployment benefits to gig workers and the self-employed.
When should you apply for unemployment benefits?
Short answer: As soon as possible after you lose your job. âIf you are someone who has had steady W2 work, itâs important that you file for unemployment the moment you lose work,â Simon-Mishel says. The longer you wait to file, the longer youâre likely to wait to get paid.
When do you receive unemployment benefits?
Generally, if you are eligible, you can expect to receive your first benefit check two to three weeks after you file your claim. Of course, this may differ based on your state or if thereâs a surge of people filing claims.
2020 enhancements to unemployment benefits for freelance and contract workers
In early 2020, the U.S. government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act. In addition to other benefits, the CARES Act created a new program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. This program provides unemployment benefits to independent contractors and other workers who were typically ineligible. That means that if you donât have steady W2 incomeâfor instance, freelance and contract workers, those who file 1099s, farmers and the self-employedâyou still may qualify for unemployment benefits.
âThat program is a retroactive payout,â Simon-Mishel says. âIf youâre just finding out about that program several months after losing your job, you should be able to file and get benefits going back to when you lost work.â
Because legislation affecting unemployment benefits continues to evolve, itâs important that you keep an eye out for any additional stimulus programs that can extend unemployment benefits. Be sure to regularly check your stateâs unemployment insurance program page for updates.
“Itâs really important to keep on top of all the information out there right now and be aware of what benefits are available to you.”
Steps to take before your unemployment benefits run out
In a perfect world, your job leads would become offers long before you reached the end of your unemployment benefits. But in reality, thatâs not always the case.
If youâre still unemployed but havenât yet exhausted your benefits and extensions, you may want to prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits as early as possible so you donât become financially overwhelmed. Here are four tips to help you get through this time:
Talk to service providers
Reaching out to your utility service providers like your gas, electric or water company is one of the first steps John Schmoll, creator of personal finance blog Frugal Rules, suggests taking if youâre preparing for the end of unemployment benefits.
âA lot of times, either out of shame or just not knowing, people donât contact service providers and let them know what their situation is,â Schmoll says. â[Contact them to] see what programs they have in place to help you reduce your spending, and basically save as much of that as possible to help stretch your budget even further.â
To help prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits, a few months before your benefits end, Schmoll suggests cutting back spending as much as possible, focusing only on necessities.
âIf you can try and save something out of the benefits that youâre receiving while youâre receiving themâit doesnât matter if itâs $10 or $20âthatâs going to help provide some cushion,â Schmoll says. Keep those funds in a separate account if you can, so youâre not tempted to spend them. That way youâre more prepared in case of an emergency.
If you hunkered down during your period of unemployment and were able to save, try to resist the urge to splurge on things that arenât necessary.
âThere might be temptation to overspend, but curtail that and focus on true necessities,â Schmoll says. âThat way when [or if] you receive an extension on your benefits, you now have that extra money saved.â
If you find that your savings and benefits arenât covering your expenses, and youâre reaching a point where you no longer qualify for benefits, look into other new benefit programs or features designed to help during times of crisis.
For example, there are programs across the country to assist people with rent or mortgages, Simon-Mishel says. Those programs are generally designed to keep those facing financial hardship from losing their home or apartment. You may need to show that you are within the programsâ income limits to qualify, or demonstrate that your rent is more than 30 percent of your income. These programs vary widely at the state and even city level, so check your local government website to see what might be available to you.
As you prepare for the end of your unemployment benefits, explore which government benefits or government agency may be best suited for your needs.
Keep up with the news
During economic downturns, government programs and funds often change to keep up with evolving demand.
âItâs really important to keep on top of all the information out there right now and be aware of what benefits are available to you,â says Simon-Mishel. âYou should closely pay attention to the social media of your state unemployment agency and local news about other extension programs that might be added and that you might be eligible for.â
Options for extending your unemployment benefits
If youâre currently receiving benefits, but theyâll be ending soon, youâre likely wondering what to do when your unemployment runs out and asking if your unemployment benefits can be extended. Start by confirming when you first filed your claim because that will determine your benefit end date.
If youâre wondering, âCan you refile for unemployment after it runs out?â the answer is yes, but youâll have to wait until your current âbenefit yearâ expires. Note that a benefit year is 12 months from when you file a claim. If you filed at the beginning of June, for example, you generally can’t file again until the beginning of the following June.
You may get 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, depending on your stateâs rules at the time. Most states extended the payout period to 39 weeks in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Check your stateâs website for the particulars on what to do when your unemployment runs out.
If your claim is still active but youâll be in need of additional financial relief after your unemployment benefits run out, here are your options:
File for an unemployment extension
During extraordinary economic times, such as the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government may use legislation like the CARES Act to offer people more benefits for a longer period of time, helping many people concerned about whether unemployment benefits can be extended.
For example, in 2020, for most workers who exhaust, or receive all of, their unemployment benefits, a 13-week extension should automatically kick in, Simon-Mishel says. This would bring you up to 39 weeks total. However, if more than a year has passed since you originally filed and you need the extension, you will likely need to file a short application provided by the government. Details vary by state.
As youâre determining what to do when your unemployment runs out, reach out to your unemployment office. Itâs important to do this before your benefits expire so you can avoid a missed payment. You can also confirm youâre eligible and that you can refile for unemployment after it runs out.
Ask about the Extended Benefits program in your state
Can unemployment benefits be extended beyond that? In periods of high unemployment, you may qualify for a second extension, depending on your state.
âAfter those [first] 13 weeks, many states have added a new program called Extended Benefits that can provide another 13 to 20 weeks of unemployment when a state is experiencing high unemployment,â Simon-Mishel adds. This means you may be able to receive a total of up to 59 weeks of unemployment benefits, including extensions. The total number of weeks of unemployment you may receive varies based on your state and the economic climate.
Itâs hard enough keeping up with everything as you prepare for the end of unemployment benefits, so donât worry if you donât have your stateâs benefits program memorized. Visit your stateâs unemployment insurance program page to learn more about what benefits are available to you.
Beyond unemployment benefits
While life and your finances may seem rocky now, know that youâre not alone. Remember that there are resources available to help support you, and try to take things one day at a time, Schmoll says.
âRealize that at some point your current situation will improve.â
If you find that your benefits arenât covering all of your expenses, now may be the time to dip into your cash reserve. Explore these tips to determine when itâs time to use your emergency fund.
1 This article is not legal advice and should not be construed as such. Eligibility for unemployment benefits may be impacted by variations in state programs, changes in programs, and your circumstances. If you have questions, you should consider consulting with your legal counsel, at your expense, or seek free assistance from your local legal aid organization.
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 Prepare for the End of Your Unemployment Benefits 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.