Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer

Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of that—but that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.

“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.

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“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everything—from taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plans—is on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”

What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexing—taxes:

1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own

First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.

For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.

That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFP®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.

When learning how to budget as a freelancer it’s necessary to estimate your income and expenses before setting aside savings for tax payments.

When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.

“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”

After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.

Pro Tip:

To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.

2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas

The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:

Your workspace

Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.

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If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.

Pro Tip:

Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.

Digital tools

There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.

The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”

As you manage the cost of being freelance, consider digital tools and accounting services to keep track of invoices, payments and income.

Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.

Pro Tip:

When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.

3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost

Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidies—or a reduced premium based on income—was $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.

“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFP®, at Bridgeworth Financial.

Budgeting as a freelancer allows you to select a healthcare plan that best suits your employment status, income and relationship status.

A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premium—which is how much you pay each month to have your insurance—is a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.

When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:

  • Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
  • COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
  • Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.

Pro Tip:

Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.

4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”

Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.

“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.

He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.

Pro Tip:

Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.

5. Continually update your rates

One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.

Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.

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“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”

– Alyssa Goulet, freelance copywriter

Have confidence in your freelance career

Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.

“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”

The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

The Magical Third Paycheck: 5 Budgeting Hacks If You’re Paid Biweekly

If you get paid every two weeks, you’ve probably noticed extra money coming your way certain months. Maybe you even thought your company’s payroll made a mistake! But it’s no mistake. You get two magical months like this a year: when you suddenly have a third paycheck and—the best part is—your monthly bills stay the same. Yes, it’s appropriate to jump for joy—provided you have a plan for that extra income.

Why does this happen in the first place? If you’re paid biweekly, you get 26 paychecks throughout the 52-week year. That means two months out of the year, you end up getting three paychecks instead of your regular two.

Those two extra paychecks can go a long way. But without a plan in mind, they can also disappear. Fast. The first budgeting trick to saving two paychecks is to find out when they will hit your account. Grab a calendar and write down your paydays for every month in a given year and highlight the two extras. Maybe even put calendar reminders in your phone so you can track when the additional funds will hit your account. The extra paychecks will fall on different days every year, so tracking them in advance is key.

Samuel Deane, a founding partner of New York City-based wealth management firm Deane Financial, says there isn’t one correct way to budget with an extra paycheck, but that it should depend on your personal situation and financial goals. You could decide to give yourself some extra room in your budget throughout the year, for example, or use the extra money for something specific.

There are a few different ways to budget with an extra paycheck.

How can I budget for an extra paycheck? Consider these 5 budgeting hacks if you’re paid biweekly:

1. Pay down (mainly) high-interest debt

Once you’re done jumping for joy at the realization of the third paycheck, consider how your budget with an extra paycheck could help you pay down debt. “The first thing I usually tell my clients is to get rid of high-rate debt, which is usually credit card debt,” Deane says.

Before paying off debt with your new budget with an extra paycheck, make a list of all of your debts organized by balance and annual percentage rate (APR). Paying off the debt with the highest APR could save you the most money because you’re paying the most to carry a balance. Paying down a few low-APR, low-balance debts can also help you gain momentum and bring other financial benefits. For instance, if you owe close to your credit limit on a credit card, the high credit utilization—or card balance to credit limit ratio—could negatively impact your credit score.

If your budget with an extra paycheck includes debt repayment, you’ll start to owe less and have less interest accruing each month, freeing up even more cash from subsequent paychecks.

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“The first thing I usually tell my clients is to get rid of high-rate debt, which is usually credit card debt.”

– Samuel Deane, a founding partner of wealth management firm Deane Financial

2. Build an emergency fund

Paying down debt isn’t the only way to budget with an extra paycheck. “Taking a look at whether you have a sufficient emergency fund is pretty important,” says Dan Stous, director of financial planning at Flagstone Financial Management.

An emergency fund of three to six months of your regular expenses can help you weather financial setbacks, such as a lost job or medical emergency, without having to take on new debt. Keeping these funds separate from your regular checking and savings accounts can help you keep them earmarked for the unexpected (and reduce the temptation to dip into them for non-emergency expenses). Places to keep your emergency fund include a high-yield savings account, certificate of deposit or money market account.

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If creating an emergency fund or adding to an existing one is on your to-do list, a budgeting trick to save two paychecks is to automatically transfer your extra paychecks into your emergency fund account.

3. Save for a big goal

If you want to save for a goal like a new car or home, or contribute to tax-advantaged retirement accounts, contributing two full paychecks out of 26 can be a good start. “If a client is debt-free and doing well, they might be able to focus on other goals,” Deane says. If you’ve got a financial goal in mind, a budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly is to transfer your two extra paychecks from your checking account to a savings or retirement account right away.

Using your extra paycheck to save for a goal, like a new home or new car, is a smart budgeting hack if you're paid biweekly.

If you have a 401(k) through an employer and already contribute enough to get your maximum annual match, Deane says you may want to consider a Roth IRA. A Roth IRA is for retirement, but it also allows first-time homebuyers who have held their account for at least five years to withdraw up to $10,000 to buy a home, Deane says. Your budget with an extra paycheck could then go to either major goal.

Even loftier, “you could put aside money to start a business,” Deane says. If you plan on starting a business someday you could put away the paychecks annually and let those savings build as start-up capital.

4. Get ahead on bills

If you already have an emergency fund, are currently debt-free and are making good progress on your savings goals, try this budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly and get a third paycheck: Pay certain monthly bills ahead of time.

“If you have the ability to prepay some of your bills, it can ease anxiety in the coming months,” Deane says.

Before using this budgeting hack if you’re paid biweekly, check with your providers to confirm that you will not be met with a prepayment penalty, and get up to speed on any prepayment limitations. Some providers may even offer a discount or incentive if you pay something like a car insurance bill all at once. You could also explore whether or not prepaying your bills makes sense for utilities, your cellphone or rent.

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5. Fund much-needed rewards

If you’re looking for budgeting hacks if you’re paid biweekly, consider that managing money isn’t only about dollars and cents. Emotions often play an important part in personal finance, and they’re often the root cause of people’s decisions. Accepting this fact could be an important part of successfully managing your money.

“From an emotional and behavioral standpoint, people should reward themselves for being responsible,” Stous says. “Basically, treat yourself.”

Perhaps you need a vacation from the daily grind, want to enrich or educate yourself or your family or simply want to get a date night at your favorite restaurant on the calendar. A budgeting trick to save two paychecks could be supplemented with some spending on yourself.

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“If you have an extra paycheck and a debt reduction goal, then maybe you apply the whole thing toward that goal. On the other hand, maybe you have a goal to retire in 10 years and you’re off track. Then, it’d be wise to put that money, or at least a portion of it, toward that goal.”

– Dan Stous, director of financial planning at Flagstone Financial Management

There’s no one-size-fits-all budgeting trick to save two paychecks

When you’re deciding how to budget with an extra paycheck, you might find yourself going back and forth between options.

“If you have an extra paycheck and a debt-reduction goal, then maybe you apply the whole thing toward that goal,” Stous says. “On the other hand, maybe you have a goal to retire in 10 years and you’re off track. Then, it’d be wise to put that money, or at least a portion of it, toward that goal.”

Even though budgeting solutions are not the same for everyone, being disciplined and proactive about the savings opportunity of a third paycheck can help you form a strong foundation for your financial future.

The post The Magical Third Paycheck: 5 Budgeting Hacks If You’re Paid Biweekly appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.

Source: discover.com

10 Financial Steps to Take Before Having Kids

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), raising a child to the age of 18 sets families back an average of $233,610, and that’s for each child. This figure doesn’t even include the cost of college, which is growing faster than inflation. 

CollegeBoard data found that for the 2019-2020 school year, the average in-state, four-year school costs $21,950 per year including tuition, fees, and room and board. 

Kids can add meaning to your life, and most parents would say they’re well worth the cost. But having your financial ducks in a row — before having kids — can help you spend more time with your new family instead of worrying about paying the bills.

10 Financial Moves to Make Before Having Kids

If you want to have kids and reach your long-term financial goals, you’ll need to make some strategic moves early on. There are plenty of ways to set yourself up for success, but here are the most important ones. 

1. Start Using a Monthly Budget

When you’re young and child-free, it’s easy to spend more than you planned on fun activities and nonessentials. But having kids has a way of ruining your carefree spending habits, and that’s especially true if you’ve spent most of your adult life buying whatever catches your eye.

That’s why it’s smart to start using a monthly budget before having kids. It helps you prioritize each dollar you earn every month so you’re tracking your family’s short- and long-term goals.

You can create a simple budget with a pen and paper. Each month, list your income and recurring monthly expenses in separate columns, and then log your purchases throughout the month. This gives you a high-level perspective about money going in and out of your budget. You can also use a digital budgeting tool, like Mint, Qube Money, or You Need a Budget (YNAB) to get a handle on your finances. 

Regardless of which budgeting tool you choose, create categories for savings (e.g. an emergency fund, vacation fund, etc.) and investments. Treat these expense categories just like regular bills as a way to commit to your family’s money goals. Your budget should provide a rough guide that helps you cover household expenses and save for the future while leaving some money for fun.

2. Build an Emergency Fund

Most experts suggest keeping three- to six-months of expenses in an emergency fund. Having an emergency fund is even more crucial when you have kids. You never know when you’ll face a broken arm, requiring you to cover your entire health care deductible in one fell swoop. 

It’s also possible your child could be born with a critical medical condition that requires you to take time away from work. And don’t forget about the other emergencies you can face, from a roof that needs replacing to a job loss or income reduction. 

Your best bet is opening a high-yield savings account and saving up at least three months of expenses before becoming a parent. You’ll never regret having this money set aside, but you’ll easily regret not having savings in an emergency.

3. Boost Your Retirement Savings Percentage

Your retirement might be decades away, but making retirement savings a priority is a lot easier when you don’t have kids. And with the magic of compound interest that lets your money grow exponentially over time, you’ll want to get started ASAP. 

By boosting your retirement savings percentage before having kids, you’ll also learn how to live on a lower amount of take-home pay. Try boosting your retirement savings percentage a little each year until you have kids. 

Go from 6% to 7%, then from 8% to 9%, for example. Ideally, you’ll get to the point where you’re saving 15% of your income or more before becoming a parent. If you’re already enrolled in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, this change can be done with a simple form. Ask your employer or your HR department for more information.

If you’re self-employed, you can still open a retirement account like a SEP IRA or Solo 401(k) and begin saving on your own. You can also consider a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, both of which let you contribute up to $6,000 per year, or $7,000 if you’re ages 50 or older. 

4. Start a Parental Leave Fund

Since the U.S. doesn’t mandate paid leave for new parents, check with your employer to find out how much paid time off you might receive. The average amount of paid leave in the U.S. is 4.1 weeks, according to a study by WorldatWork, which means you might face partial pay or no pay for some weeks of your parental leave period. It all depends on your employer’s policy and how flexible it is.

Your best bet is figuring out how much time you can take off with pay, and then creating a plan to save up the income you’ll need to cover the rest of your leave. Let’s say you have four weeks of paid time off, but plan on taking 10 weeks of parental leave, for example. Open a new savings account and save weekly or monthly until you have six weeks of pay saved up. 

If you have six months to wait for the baby to arrive and you need $6,000 saved for parental leave, you could strive to set aside $1,000 per month for those ten weeks off. If you’re able to plan earlier, up to 12 months before the baby arrives, then you can cut your monthly savings amount and set aside just $500 per month.

5. Open a Health Savings Account (HSA)

A health savings account (HSA) is a tax-advantaged way to save up for health care expenses, including the cost of a hospital stay. This type of account is available to Americans who have a designated high-deductible health insurance plan (HDHP), meaning a deductible of at least $1,400 for individuals and at least $2,800 for families. HDHPs must also have maximum out-of-pocket limits below $6,900 for individuals and $13,800 for families. 

In 2020, individuals can contribute up to $3,550 to an HSA while families can save up to $7,100. This money is tax-advantaged in that it grows tax-free until you’re ready to use it. Moreover, you’ll never pay taxes or a penalty on your HSA funds if you use your distributions for qualified health care expenses. At the age of 65, you can even deduct money from your HSA and use it however you want without a penalty. 

6. Start Saving for College

The price of college will only get worse over time. To get a handle on it early and plan for your future child’s college tuition, start saving for their education in a separate account.  Once your child is born, you can open a 529 college savings account and list your child as its beneficiary. 

Some states offer tax benefits for those who contribute to a 529 account. For example, Indiana offers a 20% tax credit on up to $5,000 in 529 contributions each year, which gets you up to $1,000 back from the state at tax time. Many plans also let you invest in underlying investments to help your money grow faster than a traditional savings account. 

7. Pay Off Unsecured Debt

If you have credit card debt, pay it off before having kids. You’re not helping yourself by spending years lugging high-interest debt around. Paying off debt can free-up cash and save you thousands of dollars in interest every year. 

If you’re struggling to pay off your unsecured debt, there are several strategies to consider. Here are a few approaches:

Debt Snowball

This debt repayment approach requires you to make a large payment on your smallest account balance and only the minimum amount that’s due on other debt. As the months tick by, you’ll focus on paying off your smallest debt first, only to “snowball” the payments from fully paid accounts toward the next smallest debt. Eventually, the debt snowball should leave you with only your largest debts, then one debt, and then none.

Debt Avalanche

The debt avalanche is the opposite of the debt snowball, asking you to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first, while paying the minimum payment on other debt. Once that account is fully paid, you’ll “avalanche” those payments to the next highest-rate debt. Eventually, you’ll only be left with your lowest-interest account until you’ve paid off all of your debt. 

Balance Transfer Credit Card

Another popular strategy involves transferring high-interest balances to a balance transfer credit card that offers 0% APR for a limited time. You might have to pay a balance transfer fee (often 3% to 5%), but the interest savings can make this strategy worth it.

If you try this strategy, make sure you have a plan to pay off your debt before your introductory offer ends. If you have 15 months at 0% APR, for example, calculate how much you need to pay each month for 15 months to repay your entire balance during that time. Any debt remaining after your introductory APR period ends will start accruing interest at the regular, variable interest rate. 

8. Consider Refinancing Other Debt

Ditching credit card debt is a no-brainer, but debt like student loans or your home mortgage can also weigh on your future family’s budget.

If you have student loan debt, look into refinancing your student loans with a private lender. A student loan refinance can help you lower the interest rate on your loans, find a manageable monthly payment, and simplify your repayment into one loan.

Private student loan rates are often considerably lower than rates you can get with federal loans — sometimes by half. The caveat with refinancing federal loans is that you’ll lose out on government protections, like deferment and forbearance, and loan forgiveness programs. Before refinancing your student loans, make sure you won’t need these benefits in the future. 

Also look into the prospect of refinancing your mortgage to secure a shorter repayment timeline, a lower monthly payment, or both. Today’s low interest rates have made mortgage refinancing a good deal for anyone who took out a mortgage several years ago. Compare today’s mortgage refinancing rates to see how much you can save. 

9. Buy Life Insurance

You should also buy life insurance before having kids. Don’t worry about picking up an expensive whole life policy. All you need is a term life insurance policy that covers at least 10 years of your salary, and hopefully more.

Term life insurance is extremely affordable and easy to buy. Many providers don’t even require a medical exam if you’re young and healthy. 

Once you start comparing life insurance quotes, you’ll be shocked at how affordable term coverage can be. With Bestow, for example, a thirty-year-old woman in good health can buy a 20-year term policy for $500,000 for as little as $20.41 per month. 

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With a Life Insurance policy you can take care of your family the right way.
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10. Create a Will

A last will and testament lets you write down what should happen to your major assets upon your death. You can also state personal requests in writing, like whether you want to be kept on life support, and how you want your final arrangements handled.

A will can also formally define who you’d like to take over custody of your kids, if both parents die. If you don’t formally make this decision ahead of time, these deeply personal decisions might be left to the courts.

Fortunately, it’s not overly expensive to create a last will and testament. You can meet with a lawyer who can draw one up, or you can create your own using a platform like LegalZoom.

The Bottom Line

Having kids can be the most rewarding part of your life, but parenthood is far from cheap. You’ll need money for expenses you might’ve never considered before — and the cost of raising a family only goes up over time.

That’s why getting your money straightened out is essential before kids enter the picture. With a financial plan and savings built up, you can experience the joys of parenthood without financial stress.

The post 10 Financial Steps to Take Before Having Kids appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

How Much Life Insurance Do I Really Need?

Since it doesn’t have an immediate benefit – like health or auto insurance – life insurance may be the most underestimated insurance type there is. But if you die, life insurance will likely be the single most important policy type you’ve ever purchased.

And that’s why you have to get it right. Not only do you need a policy, but you need the right amount of coverage. Buying a flat amount of coverage and hoping for the best isn’t a strategy. There are specific numbers that go into determining how much life insurance you need. There are even numbers that can reduce the amount you need.

Calculate what that number is, compare it with any life insurance you currently have, and get busy buying a policy to cover the amount you don’t have. I’ll not only show you how much that is, but also where you can get the lowest cost life insurance possible.

How to Calculate How Much Life Insurance You Need

To make it easier for you to find out how much life insurance you need we’re providing the life insurance calculator below. Just input the information requested, and the calculator will do all the number crunching for you. You’ll know exactly how much coverage you’ll need, which will prepare you for the next step in the process – getting quotes from top life insurance companies.

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Now that you have an idea how much life insurance you need, the next step is to get quotes from top life insurance companies for their best life insurance products. And the best way to get the most coverage for the lowest premium is by getting quotes from several companies. Use the quote tool below from our life insurance partner to get those offers:

What to Consider when Purchasing Life Insurance

To answer the question of how much life insurance do I need, you’ll first need to break down the factors that will give you the magic number. You can use a rule of thumb, like the popularly quoted buy 10 times your annual income, but that’s little more than a rough estimate. If you use that as your guide, you may even end up paying for more coverage than you need, or worse – not have enough insurance.

Let’s take a look at the various components that will give you the right number for your policy.

Your Basic Living Expenses

If you’re not using budget software to track this number, a good strategy is to review and summarize your expenses for the past 12 months.

When you come up with that number, the next step is to multiply it by the number of years you want your life insurance policy to cover.

For example, let’s say your youngest child is five years old and you want to be able to provide for your family for at least 20 years. If the cost of your basic living expenses is $40,000 per year, you’ll need $800,000 over 20 years.

Now if your spouse is also employed, and likely to remain so after your death, you can subtract his or her contribution to your annual expenses.

If your spouse contributes $20,000 per year to your basic living expenses, you can cut the life insurance requirement in half, allowing $400,000 to cover basic living expenses.

But in considering whether or not your spouse will continue to work after your death, you’ll need to evaluate if that’s even possible. For example, if you have young, dependent children, your spouse may need to quit work and take care of them.

Alternatively, if you have a non-working spouse, there’ll be no contribution from his or her income toward basic living expenses.

In either case, your need to cover basic living expenses will go back up to $800,000.

Providing for Your Dependents

It may be tempting to assume your dependents will be provided for out of the insurance amount you determine for basic living expenses. But because children go through different life stages, there may be additional expenses.

The most obvious is providing for college education. With the average cost of in-state college tuition currently running at $9,410 per year, you may want to gross that up to $20,000 to allow for books, fees, room and board and other costs. You can estimate a four-year cost of $80,000 per child. If you have two children, you’ll need to provide $160,000 out of life insurance.

Now it may be possible that one or more of your children may qualify for a scholarship or grant, but that should never be assumed. If anything, college costs will be higher by the time your children are enrolled, and any additional funds you budget for will be quickly used up.

Life insurance is an opportunity to make sure that even if you aren’t around to provide for your children’s education, they won’t need to take on crippling student loan debts to make it happen.

But apart from college, you may also need to provide extra life insurance coverage for childcare. If your spouse does work, and is expected to continue even after your death, care for your children will be necessary.

If childcare in your area costs $12,000 per year per child, and you currently have a nine-year-old and a 10-year-old, you’ll need to cover that cost for a total of five years, assuming childcare is no longer necessary by age 12. That will include three years for your nine-year-old and two years for your 10-year-old. It will require increasing your life insurance policy by $60,000 ($12,000 X five years).

Paying Off Debt

This is the easiest number to calculate since you can just pull the balances from your credit report.

The most obvious debt you’ll want paid off is your mortgage. Since it’s probably the biggest single debt you have, getting it paid off upon your death will go a long way toward making your family’s financial life easier after you’re gone.

You may also consider paying off any car loans you or your spouse have. But you’ll only be paying off those loans that exist at the time of your death. It’s likely your spouse will need a new car loan in a few years. Use your best judgment on this one.

But an even more important loan to pay off is any student loan debt. Though federal student loans will be canceled upon your death, that’s not always true with private student loans. Unless you know for certain that your loan(s) will be canceled, it’s best to make an additional allowance to pay them off.

Credit cards are a difficult loan type to include in a life insurance policy. The reason is because of the revolving nature of credit card debt. If your death is preceded by an extended period of incapacitation your family may turn to credit cards to deal with uncovered medical expenses, income shortfalls, and even stress-related issues. An estimate may be the best you can do here.

Still another important category is business debts, if you have any. Most business debts require a personal guarantee on your part, and would be an obligation of your estate upon your death. If you have this kind of debt, you’ll want to provide for it to be paid off in your policy.

Covering Final Expenses

These are the most basic reasons to have life insurance, but in today’s high cost world, it’s probably one of the smallest components of your policy.

When we think of final expenses, funeral costs quickly come to mind. An average funeral can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, depending on individual preferences.

But funeral costs are hardly the only costs associated with total final expenses.

We’ve already mentioned uncovered medical costs. If you’re not going to include a provision for these elsewhere in your policy considerations, you’ll need to make a general estimate here. At a minimum, you should assume the full amount of the out-of-pocket costs on your health insurance plan.

But that’s just the starting point. There may be thousands of dollars in uncovered costs, due to special care that may be required if your death is preceded by an extended illness.

A ballpark estimate may be the best you can do.

Possible Reductions in the Amount of Life Insurance You Need

What’s that? Reductions in the amount of life insurance I need? It’s not as out-in-orbit as you may think – even though any life insurance agent worth his or her salt will do their best to ignore this entirely. But if you’re purchasing your own life insurance, you can and should take these into consideration. It’s one of the ways you can avoid buying more life insurance than you actually need.

What are some examples of possible reductions?

Current financial assets.

Let’s say you calculate you’ll need a life insurance policy for $1 million. But you currently have $300,000 in financial assets. Since those assets will be available to help provide for your family, you can deduct them from the amount of life insurance you’ll need.

Your spouse’s income.

We’ve already covered this in calculating your basic living expenses. But if you haven’t, you should still factor it into the equation, at least if your spouse is likely to continue working.

If you need a $1 million life insurance policy, but your spouse will contribute $25,000 per year (for 20 years) toward your basic living expenses, you’ll be able to cut your life insurance need in half.

But be careful here! Your spouse may need to either reduce his or her work schedule, or even quit entirely. Either outcome is a possibility for reasons you might not be able to imagine right now.

What About a Work Related Life Insurance Policy?

While it may be tempting to deduct the anticipated proceeds from a job-related life insurance policy from your personal policy, I urge extreme caution here.

The basic problem is employment related life insurance is not permanent life insurance. Between now and the time of your death, you could change jobs to one that offers a much smaller policy. You might even move into a new occupation that doesn’t provide life insurance at all.

There’s also the possibility your coverage may be terminated because of factors leading up to your death. For example, if you contract a terminal illness you may be forced to leave your job months or even years before your death. If so, you may lose your employer policy with your departure.

My advice is to consider a work policy as a bonus. If it’s there at the time of your death, great – your loved ones will have additional financial resources. But if it isn’t, you’ll be fully prepared with a right-sized private policy.

Example: Your Life Insurance Requirements

Let’s bring all these variables together and work an example that incorporates each factor.

Life insurance needs:

  • Basic living expenses – $40,000 per year for 20 years – $800,000
  • College education – $80,000 X 2 children – $160,000
  • Childcare – for two children for 5 years at $12,000 per year – $60,000
  • Payoff debt – mortgage ($250,000), student loans ($40,000), credit cards ($10,000) – $300,000
  • Final expenses – using a ballpark estimate – $30,000
  • Total gross insurance need – $1,350,000

Reductions in anticipated life insurance needs:

  • Current financial assets – $300,000
  • Spouse’s contribution toward living expenses – $20,000 per year for 20 years – $400,000
  • Total life insurance reductions – $700,000

Based on the above totals, by subtracting $700,000 in life insurance reductions from the gross insurance need of $1,350,000, leaves you with $650,000. At that amount, your family should be adequately provided for upon your death, and the amount you should consider for your life insurance policy.

Once again, if you have life insurance at work, think of it as a bonus only.

The Bottom Line

Once you know how much life insurance you need, it’s time to purchase a policy. Now is the best time to do that. Life insurance becomes more expensive as you get older, and if you develop a serious health condition, it may even be impossible to get. That’s why I have to emphasize that you act now.

Crunch the numbers to find out how much life insurance you need, then get quotes using the quote tool above. The sooner you do, the less expensive your policy will be.

The post How Much Life Insurance Do I Really Need? appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.

Source: goodfinancialcents.com

The 5 Best Financial New Year’s Resolutions

Change has to start somewhere, and for many people that change is easier to make if the starting point has some meaning. It can be a birthday, an anniversary, or any other date with some symbolic weight. Most commonly, people choose the beginning of the new year.

If you’re looking for some New Year’s resolutions that will truly change your life, consider adjusting your financial strategy. Here are five things you can do in 2021 to take your money game to the next level.

Refinance Loans

Interest rates are at near-historic lows, which makes this the perfect time to refinance your debt. Refinancing means switching your loans from your current lender to a new lender in order to take advantage of a lower interest rate. Refinancing can save you thousands of dollars, depending on the original interest rate and total balance.

 For example, let’s say you have a $200,000 30-year mortgage with a 5% interest rate, and you refinance to a 3% interest rate. Your monthly payment will be $244 lower, and you’ll save $31,173 in total interest over the life of the loan. 

You can refinance auto loans, personal loans, and even student loans. However, if you have federal student loans, you may want to hold off on refinancing. Refinancing a federal student loan converts it into a private student loan. This means you’ll give up extra perks and benefits like income-driven repayment plans and deferment and forbearance options.

Transfer Credit Card Debt

If you have credit card debt, you can pay less interest by transferring the balance to a new card with 0% APR on balance transfers. These special discounts usually last between 12 to 18 months, during which time you won’t be charged interest on the credit card balance.

For instance, let’s say you have a $5,000 balance on a card with a 17% APR. If you only make the minimum payments, you’ll pay $1,223.61 in total interest. If you transfer that balance to a card with 0% APR for 12 months and repay the balance in that time, you won’t pay any interest.

There is often a small fee associated with balance transfers, around 3% of balance transfers. For example, if you transfer $5,000, you’ll pay a $150 fee. That still leaves a net savings of $1,073.61 in the scenario outlined above.

Decrease Your Fixed Expenses

One of the best things to do for your budget in 2021 is to decrease fixed expenses like your car insurance, internet, cable, and cell phone. Call those providers and try to negotiate a lower rate.

 Go through your transactions for the past few months and write down all the recurring subscriptions like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and DoorDash. Then, group them into categories like “frequently use,” “sporadically use” and “rarely use”. Consider canceling anything you rarely use.

 See if you can get a better deal on your most popular subscriptions. For example, if you and your significant other both pay for Spotify Premium, get a Spotify Duo account instead, and save yourself $83.88 a year.

Open a Better Bank Account

Most people are missing out on an easy way to earn money through your bank account. You could be leaving hundreds of dollars on the table if you still have a traditional savings account.

According to the FDIC, the current average interest rate on a savings account is 0.05%. Many high-yield savings accounts offer rates between .40% and .60%. 

Let’s say you have $10,000 in a savings account with .05% interest. After one year, you’ll have earned $5.04 in interest. If you moved that amount to a high-yield savings account with .5% interest, you would earn $49.92 in interest over that same time period.

Start Investing

If you’re not investing for retirement yet, this might be the most important financial resolution you can make. Thanks to the power of compound interest, you can start investing now and see huge growth by the time you’re ready to retire.

IRAs and 401(k)s are the two main retirement accounts. Anyone can open an IRA, while only those who have access to an employer-sponsored 401(k) can open one.

 If you’re not sure how to invest in your retirement account, consider hiring a qualified financial planner through the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).

If you’re not ready to work with a financial planner, you can use a robo advisor like Betterment or Wealthfront, which will create a portfolio based on your age, income, and expected retirement age. Robo advisors have low fees and are designed to help beginner investors.

How to Keep Financial Resolutions

First, start small. Pick one habit to change at a time. If you try to accomplish five goals at once, you’ll burn out quickly and give up. 

When you decide on a resolution, break it up into smaller, more manageable tasks. For example, if your goal is to talk to a financial planner about investing, break it down into the following steps:

1) Research financial planners through NAPFA

2) Send introductory emails to three financial planners

3) Choose the one that seems like the best fit

4) Schedule a consultation

Give yourself a deadline to accomplish each of these tasks, and ask a friend to hold you accountable.

Another tip is to tie your resolutions to a bigger goal. Like dieting or starting a new exercise plan, changing your financial habits is hard. If you’re used to grabbing lunch with your co-workers every day, bringing leftovers from home instead will seem like a huge change.

The key is to imagine the future version of yourself who will benefit from the changes you make today. If your goal is to open and contribute to a retirement account, imagine yourself as a senior citizen living comfortably.

When you’re tempted to skip this month’s retirement contribution to buy concert tickets, think about your future self, what you’d want for them and how they would appreciate your sacrifice. It can also help to remember some of the financial mistakes you’ve made in the past, and how much easier your life would be right now if you had made a different choice.

The post The 5 Best Financial New Year’s Resolutions appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How To Retire At 50: 10 Easy Steps To Consider

Can you retire at 50? On average, people usually retire at 65. But what if you want to retire 15 years earlier than that like  at 50? Is it doable? Below are 10 easy steps to take to retire at 50.  Retiring early can be challenging. Therefore, SmartAsset’s free tool can match you with  a financial advisor who can help to work out and implement a retirement income strategy for you to maximize your money.

10 Easy & Simple Steps to Retire at 50:

1. How much you will need in retirement.

The first thing to consider is to determine how much you will need to retire at 50. This will vary depending on the lifestyle you want to have during retirement. If you desire a lavish one, you will certainly need a lot.

But according to a study by SmartAsset, 500k was found to be enough money to retire comfortably. But again that will depends on several factor.

For example, you will need to take into account where you want to live, the cost of living, how long you expect to live, etc.

Read: Can I Retire at 60 With 500k? Is It Enough?

A good way to know if 500k is possible to retire on is to consider the 4% rule. This rule is used to figure out how much a retiree should withdraw from his or her retirement account.

The 4% rule states that the money in your retirement savings account should last you through 30 years of retirement if you take out 4% of your retirement portfolio annually and then adjust each year thereafter for inflation.

So, if you plan on retiring at 50 with 500k for 30 years, using the 4% rule you will need to live on $20,000 a year. 

Again, this is just an estimation out there. You may need less or more depending on the factors mentioned above. For example, if you’re in good health and expect to live 40+ years after retiring at 50, $500,000 may not be enough to retire on. That’s why it’s crucial to work with a financial advisor.

Get Matched With 3 Fiduciary Financial Advisors
Managing your finances can be overwhelming. We recommend speaking with a financial advisor. The SmartAsset’s free matching tool will pair you with up to 3 financial advisors in your area.

Here’s how it works:

1. Answer these few easy questions about your current financial situation

2. In just under one minute, the tool will match you with up to three financial advisors based on your need.

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2. Maximize your tax-advantaged retirement accounts.

Once you have an idea of how much you need in order to retire at 50, your next step is to save as much as possible at a faster rate. If you are employed and you have a 401k plan available to you, you should definitely participate in it. Nothing can grow your retirement savings account faster than a 401k account.

See: How to Become a 401k Millionaire.

That means, you will need to maximize your 401k contributions, for example. In 2020, and for people under 50, the 401k contribution limit is $19,500.  Also, take advantage of your company match if your employee offers a match.

In addition to the maximum contribution of $19,500, your employer also contributes. Sometimes, they match dollar for dollar or 50 cents for each dollar the worker pays in.

In addition to a 401k plan, open or maximize your Roth or traditional IRA. For an IRA, it is $6,000. So, by maximizing your retirement accounts every year, your money will grow faster.

3. Invest in mutual or index funds. Apart from your retirement accounts (401k, Roth or Traditional IRA, SEP IRA, etc), you should invest in individual stocks or preferably in mutual funds. 

4. Cut out unnecessary expenses.

Someone with the goal of retiring at 50 needs to keep an eye on their spending and keep them as low as possible. We all know the phrase, “the best way to save money is to spend less.”

Well, this is true when it comes to retiring 15 years early than the average.  So, if you don’t watch TV, cancel Netflix or cable TV. If your cell phone bill is high, change plans or switch to another carrier. Don’t go to lavish vacations.

5. Keep an eye on taxes.

Taxes can eat away your profit. The more you can save from taxes, the more money you will have. Retirement accounts are a good way to save on taxes. Besides your company 401k plan, open a Roth or Traditional IRA.

6. Make more money.

Spending less is a great way to save money. But increasing your income is even better. If you need to retire at 50, you’ll need to be more aggressive. And the more money you earn, the more you will be able to save. And the faster you can reach your early retirement goal.

7. Speak with a financial advisor

Consulting with a financial advisor can help you create a plan to. More specifically, a financial advisor specializing in retirement planning can help you achieve your goals of retiring at 50. They can help put in a place an investment strategy to put you in the right track to retire at 50. You can easily find one in your local area by using SmartAsset’s free tool. It matches users with financial advisors in just under 5 minutes.  

8. Decide how you will spend your time in retirement.

If you will spend a lot of time travelling during retirement, then make sure you do research. Some countries like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Panama, the Philippines, and so many others are good places to travel to in retirement because the cost of living is relatively cheap.

While other countries in Europe can be very expensive to travel to, which can eat away your retirement money.  If you decide to downsize or sell your home, you can free up more money to spend.

9. Financing the first 10 years.

There is a penalty of 10% if you cash out your retirement accounts before you reach the age of 59 1/2. Therefore, if you retire at 50, you’ll need to use money in other accounts like traditional savings or brokerage accounts. 

10. Put your Bonus, Raise, & Tax Refunds towards your retirement savings. 

If retiring at 50 years old is really your goal, then you should put all extra money towards your retirement savings. That means, if you receive a raise at work, put some of it towards your savings account.

If you get a tax refund or a bonus, use some of that money towards your retirement savings account. They can add up quickly and make retiring at 50 more of a reality than a dream.

Retiring at 50: The Bottom Line: 

So can I retire at 50? Retiring at 50 is possible. However, it’s not easy. After all, you’re trying to grow more money in less time. So, it will be challenging and will involve years of sacrifices, years living below your means and making tough financial decisions. However, it will be worth it in the long run. 

Read More:

  • How Much Is Enough For Retirement
  • How to Grow Your 401k Account
  • People Who Retire Comfortably Avoid These Financial Advisor Mistakes
  • 5 Simple Warning Signs You’re Definitely Not Ready for Retirement

Speak with the Right Financial Advisor

You can talk to a financial advisor who can review your finances and help you reach your goals (whether it is making more money, paying off debt, investing, buying a house, planning to retire at 50, saving, etc). Find one who meets your needs with SmartAsset’s free financial advisor matching service. You answer a few questions and they match you with up to three financial advisors in your area. So, if you want help developing a plan to reach your financial goals, get started now.

The post How To Retire At 50: 10 Easy Steps To Consider appeared first on GrowthRapidly.

Source: growthrapidly.com