Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, life and business certainly have changed. If you’re self-employed full-time or earn business income on the side of a day job, you may be wondering what economic relief applies to you.
Let's review what relief Congress passed to help self-employed Americans cope with financial challenges. I’ll review ten key stimulus benefits that apply to solopreneurs and small businesses.
If you're experiencing economic hardship due to the coronavirus, using some of these new regulations may be the ticket to managing your personal and business finances better.
10 ways the self-employed can get financial relief
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act became law on March 27 as the largest stimulus legislation in American history since the New Deal in the 1930s. Here are ten ways it provides relief for individual solopreneurs and small business owners.
1. Getting lower interest rates
On March 3, the central U.S. bank, also known as the Federal Reserve or Fed, made a surprising emergency interest rate cut of half a percentage point. That’s the largest single rate cut since the financial crisis of 2008. While this move wasn’t part of a coronavirus stimulus package, it was an aggressive cut meant to prepare the economy for problems the pandemic was expected to cause.
An economic recovery could take a few years, which likely means the Fed rate will stay near zero through 2023.
In mid-September, the Fed reiterated its promise to keep interest rates near zero until the economy improves and the unemployment rate declines. They indicated that a recovery could take a few years, which likely means the Fed rate stays near zero through 2023.
While savers never celebrate low interest rates, they're beneficial to borrowers. In general, the financing charge on variable-rate credit cards and lines of credit goes down in lockstep with interest rates. Carrying a balance on your personal and business credit cards may be slightly less expensive, depending on your card issuer and type. For instance, if your card’s annual percentage rate or APR is 20%, your adjusted rate could go down to 19.5%.
If you have a fixed-rate credit card, the APR doesn’t change no matter what happens in the economy or with federal interest rates. Also, note that if you pay off your balance in full each month, a credit card’s APR is irrelevant because you don’t pay interest on purchases.
2. Having more time to file taxes
Earlier this year, the due date for filing and paying 2019 federal taxes was postponed from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. You didn't have to be sick or negatively impacted by COVID-19 to qualify for this federal tax delay. It applied to any person or business entity with taxes due on April 15, 2020.
If you missed the tax filing deadline, be sure to request an extension.
Most businesses make estimated tax payments each quarter. Those payment dates have shifted, too. The 2020 schedule gives you more time as follows:
The first quarter was due on July 15, 2020, which changed from April 15, 2020
The second quarter was due on July 15, 2020, which changed from April 15, 2020
The third quarter was due on September 15, 2020
The fourth quarter is due on January 15, 2021
Individuals and businesses can request an automatic extension to delay filing federal taxes. But it doesn’t give you more time to pay what you owe for 2019, only more time to submit your tax form—until October 15, 2020.
If you missed the tax filing deadline, be sure to request an extension. Individuals must file IRS Form 4868, and most incorporated businesses use IRS Form 7004.
However, depending on where you live, you may have to pay state income taxes, which have not been postponed. If you need a state tax filing extension, check with your state’s tax agency to determine what’s possible.
Taxes due on any date other than April 15, 2020—such as sales tax, payroll tax, or estate tax—don’t qualify for relief.
3. Getting more time to contribute to retirement accounts
You typically have until April 15 or the date of a tax extension to make traditional IRA or Roth IRA contributions for the prior year. But since the CARES Act postponed the federal tax filing deadline, you also have until July 15 or October 15, 2020 (if you requested an extension) to make IRA contributions for 2019.
However, this deadline doesn't apply to retirement accounts you may have with an employer, such as a 401(k). Nor does it apply to self-employed accounts, such as a solo 401(k) or SEP-IRA, which correspond to the calendar year.
4. Getting more time to contribute to an HSA
Like with an IRA, you typically have until April 15 or the date of a tax extension to make HSA contributions for the prior year. Under the CARES Act, you now have until July 15 or October 15, 2020, to make HSA contributions for 2019.
To qualify for an HSA, you must be covered by a qualifying high-deductible health plan. In early March, the IRS issued a notice that a high-deductible health plan may cover COVID-19 testing and treatment and telehealth services before meeting your deductible. And just as before the coronavirus, you can pay for medical testing and treatment using funds in your HSA.
5. Delaying tax on retirement withdrawals
While you typically must pay income tax on retirement account withdrawals that weren’t previously taxed, the good news is that for a period, you can delay or avoid tax altogether. The CARES Act gives you two options for withdrawals made in 2020:
Repay a hardship distribution within three years to your retirement account. You can replace the funds slowly or all at once, with no change to your annual contribution limit. If you take money out but return it within three years, it’s like you never took a distribution.
Pay taxes on a hardship distribution from your retirement account evenly over three years. If you can’t pay back your distribution, you can ease your tax burden by paying one-third of your liability for three years.
Since withdrawing contributions from a Roth retirement account doesn’t trigger income taxes, it’s a good idea to tap a Roth before a traditional retirement account when you have the option.
6. Skipping early withdrawal penalties
Most retirement accounts impose a 10% early withdrawal penalty if you take make withdrawals before age 59.5. Under the CARES Act, if you have a coronavirus-related hardship, the penalty is waived.
Under the CARES Act, if you have a coronavirus-related hardship, the penalty is waived.
For instance, if you, your spouse, or a child gets diagnosed with COVID-19 or have financial challenges due to being laid off, quarantined, or closing a business, you qualify for this penalty exemption. You can withdraw up to $100,000 of your retirement account balance during 2020 without penalty. However, income taxes would still be due in most cases.
The no-penalty rule applies to workplace retirement plans, such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s. It also applies to IRAs, such as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP-IRAs.
Since you make after-tax contributions to Roth accounts, you can withdraw them at any time (which was also the case before the CARES Act). However, the earnings portion of a Roth is subject to income tax if you withdraw it before age 59.5.
7. Getting larger retirement plan loans
Some workplace retirement plans, such as 401(k)s and 403(b)s, permit loans. Typically, you can borrow 50% of your vested account balance up to $50,000 and repay it with interest over five years.
You can delay the repayment period for a retirement plan loan for up to one year.
For retirement plans that allow loans, the CARES Act doubles the limit to 100% of your vested balance in the plan up to $100,000. It applies to loans you take from your account until late September 2020, for coronavirus-related financial needs.
You can delay the repayment period for a retirement plan loan for up to one year. For example, if you have $20,000 vested in your 401(k), you could take a $20,000 loan on September 30, 2020, and delay the repayment term until September 30, 2021. You’d have payments stretched over five years, ending on September 30, 2026. Any amount not repaid by the deadline would be subject to tax and a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty.
Note that individual retirement accounts—such as traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, and SEP-IRAs—don’t allow participants to take loans, only hardship distributions.
8. Suspending student loan payments.
Starting on March 13, 2020, most federal student loans went into automatic forbearance until September 30, 2020, due to the CARES Act. On August 8, the suspension of student loan payments was extended through December 31, 2020.
On August 8, the suspension of student loan payments was extended through December 31, 2020.
The suspension covers the following types of loans:
Direct Loans that are unsubsidized or subsidized
Direct PLUS Loans
Direct Consolidation Loans
Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL)
Federal Perkins Loans
Note that FFEL loans owned by a private lender or Perkins loans held by your education institution don’t qualify for automatic forbearance. However, you may have the option to consolidate them into a Direct Loan, which would be eligible for forbearance. Just make sure that once the suspension ends, your new consolidated interest rate wouldn’t rise significantly.
During forbearance, qualifying loans don’t accrue additional interest. Even if you have federal student loans in default because you haven’t made payments, zero percent interest applies during the suspension period.
Additionally, missed payments during the suspension don’t get reported to the credit bureaus and can’t hurt your credit. Qualifying payments you skip also count toward any federal loan repayment or forgiveness plan you’re enrolled in.
However, if you want to continue making student loan payments during the suspension period, you can. With zero percent interest, the amount you pay gets applied to your principal student loan balance, enabling you to get out of debt faster.
With zero percent interest, the amount you pay gets applied to your principal student loan balance, enabling you to get out of debt faster.
If you’re not sure what type of student loan you have or the pros and cons of consolidation, contact your loan servicer. Even if your student loans are with private lenders or schools, they may offer relief if you request it.
9. Having Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans forgiven
The PPP is part of the CARES Act, and it supports small businesses, organizations, and solopreneurs facing economic hardship created by the pandemic. The program began providing relief in early April 2020, and the application window ended in early August 2020.
Participating PPP lenders coordinated with the Small Business Administration (SBA) to offer loans to businesses in operation by February 15, 2020, with fewer than 500 employees. Loan amounts could be up to 2.5 times the average monthly payroll up to $10 million; however, annual salaries were capped at $100,000.
For a solopreneur, the maximum PPP loan was $20,833 if your 2019 net profit was at least $100,000. The calculation is: $100,000 / 12 months x 2.5 = $20,833.
When you spend at least 60% on payroll and 40% on rent, mortgage interest, and utilities, you can have those amounts forgiven from repayment. Payroll includes payments to yourself, but you can’t cover benefit costs, such as retirement contributions, or payments to independent contractors.
In other words, a solopreneur could have received a PPP loan for up to $20,833, paid the entire amount to themselves, and not repaid it by having the load forgiven. Using a PPP loan for qualifying expenses turns it into a grant.
The best part about PPP loan forgiveness is that it won’t qualify as federal taxable income. Some states that charge income tax have indicated that they won’t tax forgiven amounts.
However, if you have employees, the PPP forgiveness calculations and requirements are more complex. For example, you must maintain reasonable salaries and wages. If you decrease them by more than 25% for any employee (including yourself) who made less than $100,000 in 2019, your forgiveness amount will be reduced.
PPP loan forgiveness also depends on keeping any full-time employees on your payroll. But if you had employees who left your company voluntarily, requested a cut in hours, or got fired for cause during the pandemic, your loan forgiveness amount won’t be reduced for those situations.
The best part about PPP loan forgiveness is that it won’t qualify as federal taxable income. Some states that charge income tax have indicated that they won’t tax forgiven amounts.
However, not all states have issued their rules on taxing PPP forgiveness. So be sure to get guidance if you live in a state with income tax.
You must complete a PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and get approved by your lender to qualify for forgiveness. The paperwork should come from your lender, or you can download it from the SBA website at SBA.gov. Most PPP borrowers have from six months after loan disbursement or until the end of 2020 to spend the funds.
The forgiveness application explains what documents you must include, and they vary depending on whether you have employees. Once you submit your paperwork, your lender has 60 days to decide how much of your PPP loan can be forgiven.
If some or all of a PPP loan isn't forgiven, you typically must repay it within five years at a 1 percent fixed interest rate. You don't have to start making payments for ten months after loan disbursement, but interest will accrue during a deferral period.
10. Getting SBA loans
In addition to PPP loans, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers several loans for businesses and solopreneurs facing economic hardship caused by a disaster, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) can be up to $2 million and repaid over 30 years at an interest rate of 3.75 percent. You can use these funds for payroll and other operating expenses.
SBA Express Bridge Loans gives borrowers up to $25,000 for help overcoming a temporary loss of revenue. However, you must have an existing relationship with an SBA Express lender.
SBA Debt Relief is a program that helps you make payments on existing SBA loans for up to six months.
Depending on your state, you may qualify for unemployment assistance, which allows self-employed people, who typically are ineligible for unemployment benefits to get them for a period.
This isn’t a complete list of all the economic relief available for small businesses and solopreneurs. There are federal tax initiatives, funds from local and state governments, and help from private organizations that you may find by doing a search online.
How to manage money in uncertain times
When it comes to surviving uncertainty, such as how COVID-19 will affect the economy, those who have emergency savings will feel much less financial stress than those who don’t. That’s why it’s essential to maintain a cash reserve of at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses in an FDIC-insured bank savings account.
If you don’t need to dip into your emergency fund, continue shoring it up when possible. If you don’t have a cash reserve, accumulate savings by cutting non-essential expenses, and even temporarily pausing contributions to retirement accounts. That’s a better option than succumbing to panic and tapping your retirement funds early.
If you don’t need to dip into your emergency fund, continue shoring it up when possible.
If you find yourself in a cash crunch, contact your creditors before dipping into any retirement accounts you have. Many lenders will be willing to work with you to suspend payments or modify existing loan terms temporarily.
RELATED: How to Reduce Money Anxiety—Compassionate Advice from a Finance Pro
My new book, Money-Smart Solopreneur: A Personal Finance System for Freelancers, Entrepreneurs, and Side-Hustlers, covers many strategies to earn more, manage variable income, and create an automatic money system so you can strengthen your financial future. It’s a great resource if you’re thinking about earning side income or have already started a business.
Many economic factors that affect your personal and business finances aren’t under your control. Instead of worrying, look around, and figure out how you can create more income or cut unnecessary expenses. Working on tasks that you can control gives you more clarity and helps manage stress in uncertain times.
Although enduring the pandemic has been stressful to say the least, I have learned a multitude of lessons Iâll never forget. One of the biggest is that, like it or not, Iâm not cut out to homeschool four kids while trying to work at home. Most of all, though, the pandemic has reinforced my feeling of gratitude for the life I live â and the life my family lives.
For example, when schools began shutting down and the whole country went into lockdown, neither my wife, Mandy, or I had to miss work or struggle to find childcare. When I work on my blog, my podcast, and other ventures in my home office, my wife already stays home with the kids and has done so for several years.
And when the economy stalled and the stock market dropped like a rock, we never had to wonder how weâd pay our bills or what the future might hold. After all, we have a fully stocked emergency fund, and have plenty of passive income streams that aren’t tied to an employer or the stock market on any given day.
The bottom line: The pandemic has reminded me all I have to be grateful for, including the peace of mind that comes with financial independence.
Teaching My Kids About Financial Independence
Anyway, part of me has always worried that my kids wouldn’t get to learn the same financial lessons I did â at least, not in the same way. Because of the situation we’re in, my kids have never really lived in a modest home, and they have never had to go without. They have never been in a situation where we are trying to stretch the groceries for another week until payday, and in fact, the pandemic has made us rely a lot more on takeout and food delivery than we normally do.
Regardless, I recently took some time on one of our homeschool days to map out what it takes to run and pay for a household for my kids.
Writing It All Out
On a giant whiteboard in my office, I created a list of most of our household bills â our mortgage payment, transportation expenses, phones, gas, insurance, utilities, and all of the taxes we pay. In another column, I wrote out a rough example of the amount of income it would actually take to cover those bills.
From there, I talked with the kids about our household wants, or stuff they prefer to have. My kids went ahead and added shoes to the list, an Xbox and some dolls.
At one point, the kids started asking questions about where the money for our bills actually comes from. I explained that, while I continue working on my podcast and blog and other business ventures, the majority of our income is mostly passive â as in, I am not actually working for it and I am no longer getting paid by an employer.
And in that moment, I began explaining to them my thoughts on financial independence â what it means to me, and how we actually got to that point.
While my kids were sick of dad teaching and barely listening by then, they did have some thoughts on financial independence. I explained to them that, if they could save a ton of their income in their early working years, they could invest in passive income streams they could rely on for decades after that.
We also talked about how secure it can feel to have enough money stashed away to get by, and to not have to rely on the whims of an employer or a J-O-B to stay alive.
How I Realized We Were Financially Independent
All of this got me thinking about when I knew we were financially independent, and the “aha moments” I had along the way. After all, our journey to financial security didnât happen overnight, even though sometimes it does feel that way.
But before I share how I knew we didn’t need to worry about money, I want to explain what I think financial freedom really is, based on a note I wrote on my whiteboard for our kids.
What Financial Independence Is (and What It Isnât)
For me, financial independence is not about making the most money you absolutely can, and it’s not about how much is in your bank account, the car you drive, or the size of your home.
Instead, financial independence is about choice.
Based on the way I interpret the FIRE movement, financial independence is about being able to choose where you work and what you work on, having the ability to spend your free time how you want, and living life on your own terms. It’s about not having to go to a job you hate, and to still have the money you need to pay bills and live comfortably, regardless.
Further, financial independence means being able to have the freedom of choice without any worry, without any stress, and without any anxiety â at least when it comes to paying bills.
My Aha Moments
So, what are the “aha moments” that helped me realize we had been blessed with all we need â that we are financially independent?
In reality, it has been a lot of small things over the last decade or so â things like being able to rent two hotel rooms or a large Airbnb each time we travel, and not having to worry whether we can afford it. After all, I have four kids, and my wife and I donât want to sleep in a hotel room stuffed six-people deep.
Another big moment we had was the first time my wife and I maxed out our old Roth IRA accounts while also fully funding our 401(k)s, which happened early in our marriage.
Then there was the year we started building our first “dream house,” which we lived in before the one we live in now. Our “starter home” was around 1,900 square feet and we lived there for quite a while. But we started building our 5,000 square foot dream house right before the birth of our second son â we even put in a pool shortly after that.
This was when we were in our early 30’s, and building at that time just seemed like a dream come true. We even started building our new home before we sold our old one, which was only possible because we had our financial ducks in a row.
Other key “aha” moments along our journey to financial independence included:
The many times I turned down lucrative job offers and opportunities so I could continue pursuing my own dreams
When I realized I could take two weeks off to drive my family to the Grand Canyon in an RV â and I did it!
When Iâve made more money in a month than my parents used to earn in a whole year (since my parents topped out at around $40,000 to $50,000 per year during their working years)
Realizing I had the cash savings to purchase my childhood dream car (a yellow Lamborghini!), if I really wanted to
The time I sold a minority stake in one of my businesses and was handed the largest check I have ever received to date
The first time I paid $400 for a pair of Jordan shoes with no regrets or stress, which actually happened just a few years ago!
Funny enough, I sent my wife Mandy a text, for research purposes, asking when she first felt financially independent. Her answer was totally different than mine.
Mandy says that she felt like she no longer needed to worry about money when we reached one year of expenses in our emergency savings account.
I have to agree with her, because that milestone did give me a lot of peace of mind. After all, having 12 months of expenses in an emergency fund means a lot could go wrong with our finances and we would still have the time and space to figure it all out.
3 Key FIRE Principles and How You Know You’re On Track
If you’re pursuing financial independence but progress feels slow, know that your path to financial freedom will have a lot of bumps along the way. If you’re like me, you might also find that you’re inching toward financial freedom in spurts, and that it doesn’t all hit you at once.
The key for those seeking FIRE is being on the lookout for those “aha moments” that tell you you’re on the right path. No matter what anyone says, you won’t become financially independent overnight. Instead, you’ll probably hit several different stages over the months and years it takes to get there.
Not only that, but you should strive to adopt the right mindset for FIRE. For the most part, this means being willing to think differently about how the world works and how it should work, and being open to going your own way.
What are the key principles of FIRE â or the key mindset changes that can get you there? Based on my personal experience, here’s what I think they are.
Key Principle #1: Gratitude for What You Have
In my opinion, being grateful for what you have (and what God has provided) is one of the most important steps anyone can take. Even if things aren’t really going your way, and if life seems bleak and miserable at times, there is always something we can be grateful for.
With that said, I recommend being grateful and hungry â as in, don’t be so grateful that you become complacent and stop pushing for more in your life.
Continue to entertain the idea that there is always something else you can learn, more experiences you can have, and more wisdom to obtain by trying new things. And if you try something and fail, look for the lessons you can find in that failure and be grateful you had the chance to learn them.
Key Principle #2: Flexing Your Bold Intentions
Another key principle of achieving financial independence is being willing to share your goals with the world â loudly and without hesitation.
In your own life, you mightâve noticed that people who are pursuing FIRE can’t stop talking about it. This is because FIRE enthusiasts usually have one important thing in common: theyâre brave enough to put their bold intentions on display no matter what anyone thinks.
Let’s say you have the bold intention of achieving financial independence and retiring at 35. Why not take that goal and post it to your Facebook page? Start sharing it with your family, and don’t forget to tell your friends.
Chances are good that you’re probably going to get a lot more criticism than support from your peers, but who really cares?
Most people who pursue FIRE actually don’t care at all what other people think. That’s part of the reason theyâre able to live differently, save a large percentage of their income, and stop trying to keep up with the Joneses in the first place.
Key Principle #3: Full Release of the Past
Finally, you have to make sure your future is bigger than your past â as in, don’t let your past mistakes define who you are today and who you can become.
I know from experience that it’s far too easy to focus on all of the mistakes you’ve made and opportunities you’ve missed out on. Trust me, Iâve made more than my share of bone-headed mistakes that couldâve easily derailed me, yet here I am.
The key for anyone pursuing FIRE is having some humility for the situation while never letting your past mistakes hold you back. You have to be willing to put yourself out there again and again, knowing you might fail. The thing is, every failure has a lesson, and sometimes those lessons lead you to something great right around the corner.
Maybe you skipped saving for retirement early in your career, and you feel behind from where you should be. Although you definitely missed out by not getting started early, you can only control the steps you take to reach your goal right now.
Perhaps you made a poor investment and lost money at one point, which is something most investors have done at least a few times. Instead of dwelling on that mistake, you have to learn to cut your losses, find the lesson in the mess, and move on.
Why? Because the alternative isnât moving forward, and that won’t get where you want to be.
The bottom line: Let go of the past and take stock of where you’re at now. From there, figure out a plan to reach your goals, and don’t stop until you get there.
The post FIRE: How to Find Your Aha Moments and the Key to Achieving FIRE appeared first on Good Financial CentsÂ®.
I love making things automatic. Whether it is bill-paying, direct deposit, prescription renewals, or investing, making things automatic makes life easier, and that is where our Betterment investing review comes in.
When it comes to retirement planning, an overwhelming number of online tools and websites promise to help you create a dynamic and profitable portfolio while minimizing fees.
This growing list of services includes robo-advisors, a class of financial websites that offer to manage your portfolio with minimal in-person interaction and a heavy reliance on the latest investing tools and software.
One of the most popular robo-advisors by far is Betterment. Conceptualized by its founders in 2008, Betterment has since grown to help its customers invest billions of dollars of their hard-earned dollars. This is an investment platform that puts your investing on cruise control, and even allows you to make money watching TV! You can open an account with no money at all, and get the benefit of professional, low-cost investment management that enables you to invest in thousands of securities with as little as a few hundred dollars.
It hasnât been easy. With other competitors like Wealthfront and Personal Capital always a few steps behind them, Betterment has struggled to find a way to stand out. Even with the competition, Betterment has emerged as one of the top online brokerage accounts and continues to grow its market share.
Open an account
0.25% to 0.40% annual management fee, depending on the plan
No trade, transfer or rebalancing fees
No minimum balance
Hands-off investing tailored to your goals and risk preference
Betterment is an online, automated investment manager that uses advanced algorithms and software to find the perfect investment strategy for your portfolio and individual needs.
The main difference between investing your money with a traditional financial advisor and Betterment is that there is minimal human interaction. Unless you email or call in, your communication with an individual advisor will be very minimal.
But, there is some good news to counteract the lack of individual service. Because of lower operating costs, Betterment is able to charge lower fees than traditional financial advisors. This can be huge for individuals who want to take a hands-off approach to their retirement accounts, yet donât want to pay top dollar for access to a top-tier financial advisor in their area.
Using complex investment software, Betterment allocates your investment portfolio based on your individual circumstances, investment time horizon, and thirst for risk.
In the meantime, they keep fees at a minimum by using ETFs (exchange-traded fund) that let you have a diversified portfolio, like mutual funds, but are tradeable much like stocks.
Since ETFs come with very low expense ratios, Betterment is able to pass those savings along to the consumer. Although the program already manages over $16 billion for their clients, they are still growing at a rapid pace.
Because the service is able and willing to deal with investors at all stages of wealth accumulation, it has become a go-to for both experienced and novice investors with various investing goals.
Further, Bettermentâs portfolio strategy isnât geared just for retirement savings; the service can also improve your returns on dollars you invest for short-term and medium-term goals like saving for college, taking an annual vacation, or building up a cash reserve.
How Betterment Works
Like post other robo-advisors, Betterment provides complete, automated investment management of your portfolio. When you sign up for the service, youâll complete a questionnaire that will determine your risk tolerance, investment goals, and time horizon. From that information, Betterment determines your portfolio will be designed as conservatives, aggressive, or some level in between.
Over time however, Betterment may adjust your portfolio to become gradually more conservative. For example, as you move closer to retirement, your asset allocation will be gradually shifted more heavily in favor of safe investments, like bonds.
Your portfolio will be constructed of exchange traded funds (ETFs), which are low-cost investment funds designed to track the performance of an underlying index. In this way, Betterment attempts to match the performance of the underlying indexes, rather than to outperform them. For this reason, investing with Betterment â and most other robo-advisors â is considered to be passive investing. (Active investing involves frequent trading of stocks and other securities in an attempt to outperform the market.)
Betterment also uses allocations based on broad investment categories. There are three in total:
Safety Net â These are funds allocated for near-term needs, such as an emergency fund.
Retirement â This will naturally be your long-term investment account and held in tax-sheltered IRAs.
General Investing â This allocation is dedicated to intermediate goals, maybe saving for the down payment on a house or even for your childrenâs education.
Given that each of the three broad goals has a different time horizon, the specific portfolio allocation in each will be a little bit different. For example, the Safety Net will be invested in cash type accounts for safety and liquidity.
Betterment Advantages And Disadvantages
Thereâs no minimum investment required.
The low annual fee of 0.25% on the Digital plan can allow you to have a $20,000 account managed for just $50 per year, or a $100,000 account for just $250.
Tax-loss harvesting is available at all taxable accounts.
Betterment Premium provides unlimited access to certified financial planners, providing a service similar to traditional investment advisors, but at a fraction of the cost.
The No-fee Checking and Cash Reserve give you cash management options to go with your investing activities.
Betterment offers several portfolio options, including Smart Beta, Socially Responsible Investing, and the BlackRock Targeted Income Portfolio.
The use of value funds also adds the potential for your investment accounts to outperform the general market, since value stocks tend to be underpriced relative to their competitors.
Flexible Portfolio will give you some control over your investment allocations, which is a feature absent from most robo-advisors.
Bettermentâs annual advisory fee is on the low end of the robo-advisor range. But there are some robo-advisors charging no fees at all.
Betterment doesnât offer alternative investments. These include natural resources and real estate, which are offered by some of their competitors.
External account syncing is available only with Betterment Premium.
The Betterment Investment Methodology
Like most other robo-advisors, Betterment manages your investment account using Modern Portfolio Theory, or MPT. The theory emphasizes proper allocations into various asset classes over individual security selection.
Your portfolio is divided between six stock asset allocations and eight bond asset allocations. Each allocation is represented by a single ETF thatâs tied to an index specific to that asset class. The single ETF will provide exposure to scores or even hundreds of securities in each asset class. That means collectively your investment will be spread across thousands of securities in the US and internationally.
The six stock asset allocations are as follows:
US Total Stock Market
US Value Stocks â Large Cap
US Value Stocks â Mid Cap
US Value Stocks â Small Cap
International Developed Market Stocks
International Emerging Markets Stocks
The eight bond asset allocations are as follows:
US High Quality Bonds
US Municipal Bonds (will be held in taxable investment accounts only)
US Inflation-Protected Bonds
US High-Yield Corporate Bonds
US Short-Term Treasury Bonds
US Short-Term Investment Grade Bonds
International Developed Market Bonds
International Emerging Markets Bonds
Since Betterment offers tax-loss harvesting with taxable investment accounts, most asset classes will have two or three very similar ETFs. This will enable Betterment to sell a losing position in one ETF to reduce capital gains in winning asset classes. Alternative ETFs are then purchased to replace the sold funds to maintain the target asset allocations in your account.
Tax-loss harvesting is becoming an increasingly popular investment strategy because it effectively defers capital gains taxes into future years. Itâs available only for taxable accounts, since tax-sheltered accounts have no immediate tax consequences.
How Betterment Compares
Here’s how Betterment compares to the previously mentioned companies, Wealthfront and Personal Capital.
Minimum Initial Investment
0.25% on Digital; 0.40% on Premium (account balance over $100k)
0.25% on all account balances
0.89% on most account balances; reduced fee on balances > $1 million
On Premium Plan only
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on all taxable accounts
Yes, on Premium Plan only
Betterment Accounts and Options
For the first few years of Bettermentâs existence they offered a single investment account serving as a one-size-fits-all plan. But thatâs all changed. They still offer basic investment accounts, but they now give you a choice of multiple investment options.
This is Bettermentâs basic investment plan. There is no minimum initial investment required, nor is there a minimum ongoing balance requirement. Betterment charges a single fee of 0.25% on all account balances.
You can also add any other portfolio variations, except the Goldman Sachs Smart Beta portfolio, which has a $100,000 minimum account balance requirement.
Betterment Premium works similar to the Digital plan, but it delivers a higher level of service. The plan provides external account synching, giving Betterment a high altitude view of you your entire financial situation. External investment accounts can help in enabling Betterment to better coordinate your portfolio allocations with assets held in outside accounts. They can also make recommendations out to better manage those external accounts.
And perhaps the biggest advantage of the Premium plan is that it comes with unlimited access to Bettermentâs certified financial planners. In this way, Betterment is competing more directly with traditional investment advisors, but doing it with a robo-advisor component.
Youâll need a minimum of $100,000 to invest in the Premium plan, and the annual advisory fee is 0.40%. Thatâs just a fraction of the usual 1% to 2% typically charged by traditional investment advisory services.
Betterment Cash Reserve
The account pays a variable interest rate, currently set at 0.40% APY. Betterment doesnât actually hold these funds directly, but rather invest them through participating program banks.
Thereâs no fee for this account, and you can move money as often as you want. And for those with very high cash balances, the account is FDIC insured for up to $1 million through the program banks.
Betterment Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)
SRI portfolios are becoming increasingly popular in the robo-advisor space. It involves investing in companies that meet certain standards for social, environmental, and governance guidelines. Betterment indicates that the ETFs they use in their SRI portfolio have produced a 42% increase in their social responsibility scores.
SRI portfolios work with both the Digital and Premium plans, using a similar investment methodology. But they make certain modifications, holding ETFs based on SRI in place of the ETFs used in non-SRI portfolios.
SRI portfolios do not require a minimum balance and charge no additional fees. And like their Digital and Premium plans, taxable SRI investment accounts take advantage of tax-loss harvesting.
Betterment Flexible Portfolios
The key word in the name is âflexibleâ because the main feature is adding personal options to your portfolio allocations.
This is done by adjusting the individual asset class weights in your portfolio. For example, if you have a 7% allocation in emerging markets, you may choose to increase it to 10% if you believe that sector is likely to outperform others. But you can also decrease the allocation if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Betterment Tax-Coordinated Portfolio
This is less of a formal portfolio and more of an investment strategy. It must be used in combination with a taxable investment account and a tax-sheltered retirement account. Betterment will then allocate investments based on their tax impact.
For example, income generating assets â that produce high dividend and interest income â are held in a tax-sheltered account. Investments likely to generate long-term capital gains are held in a taxable investment account, since you will be able to take advantage of lower long-term capital gains tax rates.
Goldman Sachs Smart Beta
This option is for more sophisticated investors, and requires a minimum account balance of $100,000. And since it is a high risk/high reward type of investing, it also requires a higher risk tolerance.
Betterment uses the same basic investment strategy as they do in other portfolios. But itâs an actively managed portfolio that will be adjusted in an attempt to outperform the general market. Securities will be bought and sold within the portfolio and can include either individual securities or Smart Beta ETFs.
The portfolio has many variations, including a wide range of allocations. Stocks are chosen based on four qualities: good value, strong momentum, high quality, and low volatility.
And like other portfolio variations Betterment offers, there is no additional fee for this option.
BlackRock Target Income Portfolio
Betterment recognizes that some investors are more interested in income than growth. This will particularly apply to retirees. The BlackRock Target Income Portfolio invests in portfolios based on your risk tolerance. This can mean low, moderate, high, or even aggressive.
Those categories may seem unusual for an income generating portfolio. But while the portfolio attempts to minimize risk of principal, it also recognizes that some investors are willing to add risk to their portfolio in exchange for higher returns.
A low-risk portfolio may have a higher allocation in US Treasury securities. An aggressive portfolio may center primarily on high-yield corporate bonds or even emerging-market bonds that have higher interest rates due to greater risk.
Betterment No-fee Checking
Provided by Betterment Financial LLC in partnership with NBKC Bank, this is a true no-fee checking account. Not only are there no monthly maintenance fees, but there are also no overdraft or other fees. Theyâll even reimburse all ATM fees and foreign transaction fees you incur. And thereâs not even a minimum balance requirement.
Youâll be provided with a Betterment Visa Debit Card with tap-to-pay technology, that you can use anywhere Visa is accepted. All account balances are FDIC insured for up to $250,000. And as you might expect from a company on the technological cutting edge, you can deposit checks into the account using your smartphone.
Check out our full Betterment checking review.
Betterment Key Features
Minimum initial investment: Betterment requires no funds to open an account. But you can begin funding your account with monthly deposits, like $100 per month. This method will make it easier to use dollar-cost averaging to gradually move into your portfolio positions.
Available account types: Joint and individual taxable investment accounts, as well as traditional, Roth, rollover and SEP IRAs. Betterment can also accommodate trusts and nonprofit accounts.
Portfolio rebalancing: Comes with all account types. Your portfolio will be rebalanced when your asset allocations significantly depart from their targets.
Automatic dividend reinvestment: Betterment will reinvest dividends received in your portfolio according to your target asset allocations.
Betterment Mobile App: You can access your Betterment account on your smartphone. The app is available for both iOS and Android devices.
Customer contact: Available by phone and email, Monday through Friday, from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm, Eastern time.
Account protection: All Betterment accounts are protected by SIPC insurance for up to $500,000 in cash and securities, including up to $250,000 in cash. SIPC covers losses due to broker failure, not those caused by market value declines.
Financial Advice packages: Betterment offers one-hour phone conferences with live financial advisors on various personal financial topics. Five topics are covered:
Getting Started package: This package gives new users the professional vote of confidence they need as a professional will assess their account setup. $199
Financial Checkup package: This package takes it a step further, providing the customer with a professional opinion on their portfolio and financial circumstances. $299
College Planning package: As its name implies, this package helps parents who are investing with the goal of paying for their childrenâs college education in the next 5-18 years. $299
Marriage Planning package: Merging finances can be tricky, so Betterment created this plan to help engaged couples and newlyweds to succeed as they unite their lives and assets. $299
Retirement Planning package: Your investment goals and strategies change as you near retirement. This particular package helps keep you on target to meet them. $299
Retirement Savings Calculator: Robo-advisors are popular choices for retirement accounts. For this reason, Betterment offers the Calculator to help you project your retirement needs. By entering basic information in the calculator (it will sync external accounts if you have a Premium account â including employer-sponsored retirement plans) it will let you know if you are on track to meet your goals or if you need to make adjustments.
How To Sign Up For A Betterment Account
The Betterment sign up process is one of the most user-friendly out there for any brokerage. It comes with easy-to-follow instructions and as streamlined registration process which users can navigate through in a matter of minutes.
First get the process started by clicking the button below.
Sign up for a Betterment Account
After the initial sign up process, users can expect a simple transaction as they transfer funds into the account, much like moving money from a checking to savings account.
When you begin the sign-up process, youâll be given a choice of four different investment goals:
I chose âInvest for retirementâ. It will ask your current age, your annual income, then give you a choice of accounts to use. That includes a traditional, Roth, or SEP IRA, or even an individual taxable account. I selected a traditional IRA.
Based on a 30-year-old with a $100,000 income, Betterment return the following recommendation:
You even have the option to have the specific asset allocations listed. After clicking âContinueâ, youâll be asked to provide your email address and create a password. Youâll then be taken to the application, which will ask for general information, including your name, address, phone number, and how you heard about Betterment.
Once your account has been set up, you can fund it immediately, by connecting your bank account, or by setting up recurring deposits.
You can also set up other accounts, such as âManage spending with Checkingâ or âInvest for a long-term goalâ.
Why You Should Open An Account With Betterment
While nearly anyone who invests could benefit from the online portfolio management and advising, this service is definitely geared to certain types of investors. In most cases, Betterment will work best for:
Hands-off investors who have some investing knowledge â Since it takes care of the heavy lifting for you, it works best for investors who want to take a hands-off approach to their investment portfolio. Passive investors can let Betterment handle the logistics while using online account management to keep a close eye on their accounts.
Novice investors who need help â Beginning investors who are just learning the ropes can turn to Betterment for online portfolio management with low fees. The many online tools and user-friendly interface make it easy for beginners to get a grasp on basic financial concepts and investing strategies.
Robo-advisors are growing in popularity and could easily replace in-person advisors in the near future. With lower fees and advanced software that can maximize results, online investing is certainly gaining an edge.
Whether Betterment is right for you depends on your individual needs and investing goals. If youâre a hands-off investor who wants to grow your retirement funds without paying a lot of fees, then Betterment might be ideal. Additionally, beginning investors can benefit handsomely from the online tools and investing education offered through the Betterment website.
If you think Betterment investing might be exactly what your portfolio needs, sign up for a new account today.
However, if you determine that you would be better served by a more hands-on approach, check out the other online brokerage account options. Being a certified financial planner, I have had a chance to work with several of these platforms and have done the following reviews:
Motif Investing Review
Lending Club Review
Ally Invest Review
The post Betterment Investing Review: Make Investing Automatic appeared first on Good Financial CentsÂ®.
When it comes to making a 401k early withdrawal, there are a number of reasons why it might be tempting. With millions still unemployed due to the pandemic, unexpected expenses are taking a particularly hard toll. One reason why early withdrawal isnât uncommon in the U.S. might be because itâs easy to assume youâll have time to rebuild your 401k nest egg.
However, is the benefit of withdrawing your retirement savings early truly worth the cost? For many people, their 401k is their primary method of investing in their financial future. Before making a decision about early withdrawal, itâs important to consider the penalties and fees that could impact you. Read on to learn exactly what happens when you decide to dip into your 401k so you wonât be surprised by the repercussions.
How Much Are You Penalized for a 401k Early Withdrawal?
On the surface, withdrawing funds from your 401k might not seem like a bad option under extenuating circumstances, but you could face penalties. Young adults are especially prone to early withdrawals because they figure they have plenty of time to replace lost funds.
If youâre not experiencing a significant hardship, 401k early withdrawal probably isnât the right choice for you. Ultimately, you could lose a substantial portion of your retirement savings if you choose to withdraw your 401k early to use the money to make other risky financial moves. Below, letâs delve further into the penalties that usually apply when you withdraw early.
1) Your Taxes Are Withheld
When you prematurely withdraw from your retirement account, your first consideration should be that youâll have to pay normal income taxes on that money first. This means youâre losing at least roughly 30 percent of your savings to federal and state taxes before additional penalties.
Even if you only have $10,000 you want to withdraw, consider that youâre automatically giving $3,000 of your cash to the government. In the best case scenario, you might receive some money back in the form of a tax refund if your withholding exceeds your actual tax liability.
2) You Are Penalized by the IRS
If you withdraw money from your 401k before youâre 59 Â½ , the IRS penalizes you with an extra 10 percent on those funds when you file your tax return. If we use the example above, an additional $1,000 would be taken by the government from your $10,000 â leaving you with just $6,000. If youâre 55 or older, you could try to get this penalty lifted by the IRS through the Rule of 55, which is designed for people retiring early.
Also, there are exceptions under the CARES Act, which is designed to help people affected by the pandemic. There are provisions under the act that state individuals under the age of 59 Â½ can take up to $100,000 in Coronavirus-related early distributions from their retirement plans without facing the 10 percent early withdrawal penalty under certain conditions.
3) You Lose Thousands in Potential Growth
Even if youâre not deterred by tax penalties, think twice before you sabotage your long-term retirement savings goals. When you withdraw money early, youâll miss out on potential future savings growth because you wonât gain the perks of compound interest. Compounding is the snowball effect resulting from your savings generating more earnings â not only on your principal investment but also on your accrued interest.
Also, if you make a 401k early withdrawal while the market is down, youâre doing yourself a disservice because youâll be leaving thousands on the table. Itâs unlikely youâll fully recover the lost years of compound interest you would have benefited from. You might need to get creative with a passive income stream to help support you later in life.
When Does a 401k Early Withdrawal Make Sense?
In certain cases, it actually might be strategic to move forward with 401k early withdrawal. For example, it could be smart to cash out some of your 401k to pay off a loan with a high-interest rate, like 18â20 percent. You might be better off using alternative methods to pay off debt such as acquiring a 401k loan rather than actually withdrawing the money.
Always weigh the cost of interest against tax penalties before making your decision. Some 401k plans do allow for penalty-free early withdrawals due to a layoff, major medical expenses, home-related costs, college tuition, and more. Regardless of your strategy to withdraw with the least penalties, your retirement savings are still taking a significant hit.
401k Early Withdrawal, Hardship, or Loan: Whatâs the Difference?
Knowing the differences between a 401k early withdrawal, a hardship withdrawal, and a 401k loan is crucial. Due to the many obstacles to make a 401k early withdrawal, you may find you want to keep it untouched. If youâre convinced you still need to use your 401k for financial assistance, consult with a trusted financial advisor to figure out the best option.
When Does ThisÂ Apply?
Your funds are withdrawn to pay off large debts or finance large projects.
Your 401k fund is typically subject to taxes and penalties.
Youâre only eligible for this type of withdrawal under circumstances such as a pandemic or natural disasters.
Withdrawals canât exceed the amount of the need and the funds are still subject to taxes and penalties.
The loan must be paid back to the borrowerâs retirement account under the plan.
The money isnât taxed if the loan meets the rules and the repayment schedule is followed.
If youâve left a job and donât know what to do with your Roth IRA, a 401k transfer is a good option. Most likely, you will save money and have a wider range of investment options when you transfer your funds. 401k fees can be high, and rolling over your funds to a Roth IRA account could be wise in the long run. Also, be aware that the process is more complicated for indirect rollovers.Â
If youâre one of the millions of Americans who rely on workplace retirement savings, early 401k withdrawal may jeopardize your future financial stability.
There are very few instances when cashing out a portion of your 401k is a smart move.
In most cases, any kind of early 401k withdrawal is detrimental to your retirement plans.
Stick to your budget and bulk up your emergency fund to stay one step ahead.
In short, 401k early withdrawals are usually counterproductive. Prevent compromising your hard-earned savings by using a free budgeting tool that will set you up for success. After all, being prepared and informed are two of the most important parts of maintaining financial health.
The post 401k Early Withdrawal: What to Know Before You Cash Out appeared first on MintLife Blog.
As a finance writer, I am surrounded by people who know a lot about managing money. But even those with the most money know-how can still miss financial must-haves.
For instance, in a recent conversation, a few of my coworkers stated they didnât have renters insurance. This puts them among the 59% of renters who donât have renters insurance, according to a poll from the Insurance Information Institute. On the other hand, 95% of homeowners carry homeowners insurance.
Granted, renting comes with fewer property responsibilities than owning. But donât assume you can skip insurance for your home simply because youâre leasing it. Go without it and youâll expose yourself to some major risks.
See why opting for a policy is protection you canât live without, and learn how renters insurance can help smooth over the following five major renting crises.
1. Damaged Belongings
If youâre asking yourself whether you need insurance as a renter, a better question might be, Can you afford not to have it?
If the relatively small cost of a renters insurance premiumâtypically between $15 and $25 per monthâseems too expensive, consider the alternative, suggests John Espenschied, agency principal of Insurance Brokers Group.
âImagine replacing all your clothes, furniture, electronics, food, personal items, and priceless personal memorabilia,â he says. With renters insurance, the insurer will cover most or part of the value of damaged items. Without this coverage, youâre completely on the hook for all those costs.
Espenschied tells a story of one of his clients, a young woman to whom he recommended rental insurance multiple times. She declined the coverage.
Months later, there was an electrical surge in the building. âIt took out everything she owned that was plugged in, including the TV, computer, and several other items,â Espenschied explains. These items were permanently damaged and unusable.
Had she opted for renters insurance, Espenschied could have helped her submit a claim and get the money to replace those belongings. Unfortunately, without the policy there was nothing he could do.
Donât put yourself in the same positionâget a renters insurance policy. On top of that, take steps to document all belongings and valuables so you can prove ownership in a renters insurance claim.
2. The Temporary Loss of a Habitable Home
Some disastersâsuch as fires, flooding, and electrical issuesâcan require extensive repairs and render your rental uninhabitable. Your landlord will usually handle these repairs, but if you lose the use of your home, your landlord might only be required to refund a prorated rent for the days you canât live in your rental.
But if youâre out of a place to live, your daily rent rate might not cover any decent hotels or other temporary housing options.
But thereâs good news: âMost renters insurance policies can help you in the event something happens to your apartment or house and you have to live elsewhere while itâs repaired,â says Jennifer Fitzgerald, CEO and cofounder of insurance comparison site PolicyGenius.
Typically, you can find a hotel nearby and your renters insurance will cover the costs of your stay until you can resume habitation of your home.
3. Stolen Belongings
Renters insurance typically includes coverage for theft and burglary too. If your home is broken into or burglarized, you can file a claim with your renters insurance provider to replace any stolen or damaged items.
âIt even covers your belongings when theyâre not physically in your home,â Fitzgerald says. âSo if you take your laptop with you to the local coffee shop or on vacation and itâs stolen, your policy could help cover the costs of getting it repaired or replaced.â Renters insurance will usually be the policy that covers theft of personal items from your car too.
If your home is broken into or your purse is stolen from your car, promptly notifying authorities is an important stepâfiling a renters insurance loss claim will usually require a police report of the theft.
4. Personal Liability for Legal Damages
The most important protection your renters insurance provides, however, might be personal liability protection.
âIf your dog bites someone or a food delivery person slips and falls, you’re covered,â says Stacey A. Giulianti, chief legal officer for Florida Peninsula Insurance. Instead of being held personally responsible for those damages, your insurer will step in and help. âThe carrier will even hire and pay for an attorney to defend any resulting lawsuit.â
This can be especially important if you are found responsible for damage to adjacent properties as well, Espenschied says. For example, renters insurance will cover you if your toilet or tub âoverflows and leaks into the neighborâs unit below, causing damage to their personal property and cost to repair the building.â You may also be covered if a kitchen fire in your apartment causes damage to the unit above you.
The damage and loss can easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars. In cases like these, renters insurance can be the difference between smooth recovery and huge financial loss or even bankruptcy.
Make sure you understand your coverage. âEvery policy is different, so talk to an agent and read your policy terms,â Giulianti warns.
5. An Eviction for Violating Your Lease Agreement
Many lease agreements include a clause in which the tenant agrees to purchase a renters insurance policy. These common clauses usually clarify that the landlordâs property insurance coverage does not extend to your personal belongings.
If you sign a lease with such a clause, you are agreeing to maintain this insurance coverage throughout your residency there. If you fail to get a policy or allow it to lapse, your landlord is within their rights to serve you with a âcomply or quitâ notice and possibly begin eviction proceedings.
If you donât currently have a policy, reconsider getting renters insurance. Alongside a healthy emergency fund, having the right insurance can bring vital financial security to your life. For the cost, renters insurance provides protection and peace of mind.
âMost renters can get a policy for around $20 per month,â Fitzgerald says. âThatâs a small price to pay when you think about the fact that if you donât have renters insurance, youâll be forced to cover the cost of replacing any and all items damaged.â
Procuring a renters insurance policy is a smart step toward financial security. With the right policy, you can avoid debt in an emergency and protect your possessions and your home. If youâre ready to buy a home, learn more about the ins and outs of home mortgages in Credit.comâs Mortgage Loan Learning Center. And to be financially prepared for anything, itâs also a good idea to build your credit score so you can qualify for loans and other credit when necessary. See where you stand with a free credit score from Credit.com.
The post Skipping Renters Insurance? Why Thatâs a Bigger Risk Than Youâd Think appeared first on Credit.com.
When you have an insurance policy, you may have to foot the bill for some of your medical expenses before your insurance company starts chipping in. This initial amount is your insurance deductible. The size of deductibles can vary depending on the specifics of your plan, and youâll want to consider the deductible as one of many factors when youâre choosing your health insurance.
The Basics of Insurance Deductibles
Your insurance deductible is the amount of money that youâll have to pay before the insurance company will provide any assistance. So, if you have a $600 deductible for your health insurance, that means youâll need to pay $600 out of your own pocket for any doctorâs visits, prescriptions, tests or any other medical services before insurance contributions will commence.
Deductibles apply for many different types of insurance, the most notable being health insurance, car insurance and homeowners insurance. Weâll go through details specific to each type in turn.
Health Insurance Deductibles
Health insurance deductibles will vary in amount depending on the type of insurance plan you have. Typically, plans with a high deductible have lower monthly premiums, while plans with lower deductibles will tend to have higher premiums. In other words, if you have to spend a lot to reach your deductible, the tradeoff is you pay less in premiums every month. The extreme version of this is the high-deductible health plan (HDHP), which has a deductible of at least $1,350 for an individual and $2,700 for a family. HDHPs also come with access to a health savings account (HSA), which allows you to save up for medical expenses with pre-tax money.
Once you reach your deductible, thatâs when cost-sharing measures like copays and coinsurance come into play. Some plans will have copays for certain services that apply before you hit your deductible, but not all.
Homeowners and Car Insurance Deductibles
With a car insurance deductible, your insurance company will typically pay for any repairs necessary after you hit your deductible, provided you have a plan that covers the costs of repairs. The same is true with homeowners insurance. This differs from a health insurance deductible, where you will almost surely have to keep paying at least part of the bill after you hit it.
The calculus for choosing your deductible is slightly different with these two insurance types than with health insurance. With the latter, itâs highly unlikely that you wonât have any medical expenses during the course of the year. Most people that have health insurance are going to use it. With homeowners and car insurance though, thatâs not the case. Itâs very possible that you go a year without getting in a car accident or your house burning down or getting burglarized.
Choosing Your Deductible
Odds are youâll have options to choose from when selecting your health insurance plan. Those options will likely have varying deductibles. When making the choice between these options, consider the state of your health.
Is there a good chance youâll have an annual check-up but not much else? If thatâs the case, you may be suited for a plan with a higher deductible and lower premiums. If instead you expect to have one or more procedures during the year or you require expensive medication, you may be better off accepting the higher premiums in exchange for a lower deductible.
Of course, many of your medical expenses will be impossible to predict beforehand. Therefore, youâll also want to consider how risky you want to be with your deductible. If you have plenty of savings and could handle a few hefty medical bills, you may be more inclined to take the gamble on a high deductible. If youâre stretched thinner, this may not be the case. You may not want to risk opting for the high deductible and then getting hit with a huge bill thatâs all your responsibility.
Because of deductibles, youâll still have pay a portion of your medical expenses before you can rely on your insurance company. When youâre considering which insurance plan is right for you, make sure to factor the deductible into your decision. If you have plenty of savings and youâre fine with some risk, you may want to opt for a higher deductible and lower premiums. If youâre more risk averse, you may decide to accept the higher premiums in exchange for a lower deductible.
Tips for Protecting Against Risk
Having an emergency fund in place can help provide a cushion that allows you to choose a higher deductible. You can stash your emergency fund in either a CD ladder or a high-yield savings account.
If youâre not sure how an unexpected medical expense would fit into your finances, consider working with a financial advisor. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesnât have to be hard. SmartAssetâs free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If youâre ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
Months (and months) of grading papers, bringing work home on the weekends, staying on-point for all those young minds you’ve been charged with educating and finally… summer is here! It’s time to put your feet up and relax for a well-earned break from your awesome, and often intense, teaching career. But wait. How do teachers budget with no paycheck during the summer?
The summer paycheck gap doesn’t need to be a cause of stress for educators. You just need to put a plan in place to cover your finances for the months that school is out of session. You can follow these guidelines to create a summer budgeting plan that works for you:
Spread your income over 12 months
Bobby Hoyt, a former teacher and personal finance blogger at Millennial Money Man, says the beginning of the school year is always a “crazy time” for teachers. Your best bet to cover the summer paycheck gap is to have a budget in place well in advance of the bell on the first day of school.
To start, check to see if your school offers a year-round payment option. This would allow you to opt-in prior to the beginning of the school year to have your paychecks spread out over 12 months instead of the 10 or so months that you are working. “That way you’ll have a consistent paycheck no matter what time of the year it is,” says Kristin Larsen, personal finance blogger at Believe in a Budget. Even though your monthly pay will be lower with year-round paychecks, it could be easier to create a financial plan and manage the summer paycheck gap with the predictable cash flow.
If your school doesn’t offer this type of program or if you prefer to collect your standard paychecks and spread them out to accommodate summer, you can create your own 12-month paycheck plan to manage the summer paycheck gap. First, divide your annual income by the amount of months you receive paychecks. If you earn $57,000 a year and work for 10 months, for example, you’ll arrive at $5,700. Next, divide your annual income by 12 months, which in this example, would be $4,750. Finally, calculate the difference between those numbers. In this case, it’s $950. This is how much you would need to set aside from your monthly income to provide for two months of the same pay during the summer. You’re essentially putting money aside so you can give yourself a paycheck during your time off.
“Then, you’ll want to sit down and create a budget and find where you need to cut back and where you can still do the things you enjoy,” Hoyt says.
See if your school offers a year-round payment option. This would allow you to opt-in prior to the beginning of the school year to have your paychecks spread out over 12 months instead of the 10 or so months that you are working.
Calculate your standard expenses and summer extras
If you’re a teacher living with no paycheck during the summer, Hoyt suggests figuring out how much money you’ll need in the summer months to cover your standard living expenses. Think housing, utilities, groceries and transportation. The stuff you can’t live without. If you don’t have a baseline for your essential expenses, keep track of what you spend for at least three months, or sort through old credit card transactions and bank account activity by month. This should help you get a clearer idea of the minimum amount needed to cover your bills and and basic living costs. A summer budget tip for teachers is to use your highest expense month to forecast your summer costs so you don’t have to stress about coming up short, Larsen says.
Another summer budget tip for teachers is to anticipate discretionary seasonal expenses. Let’s face itâthere’s a lot of fun to be had over the summer, and the cost of extra activities and travel can really add up. Quickly. Luxury vacation or the summer festival circuit, anyone? Estimate how much you’ll need for your summer extras, and add those to the living expenses mentioned above. If any of your summer expenses recur annuallyâlike a standing trip with family or friendsâuse what you’ve spent in past years to arrive at how much you’ll need this time.
Whether you receive summer income from a year-round payment program or set aside money monthly to combat the summer paycheck gap, there’s a chance that your total summer expenses may exceed your summer paychecks. Read on for more summer budget tips for teachers that can help you plan for this difference.
Stash summer expenses in a separate account
If you’re stashing money away monthly to avoid the summer paycheck gap, creating a separate summer fund to contribute to throughout the year can be an effective summer budget tip for teachers. You could hold the portion of your paycheck you have set aside for summer in this fund, and look for other creative ways to add savings to the account. Bonus: If you put your summer paychecks and additional summer savings in a separate account, it may be easier to avoid the temptation to withdrawal for other expenses during the school year.
You earned it. Now earn more withÂ it.
Online savings with no minimum balance.
Discover Bank, Member FDIC
Consider parking your summer funds in a high-yield online savings account so you can earn interest while you work your way through the school year. If you plan ahead and won’t need to withdraw your funds for a specific amount of time (say 12 months), you could earn even more interest with a certificate of deposit.
Create a financial cushion
In addition to the money accumulating in your fund for the summer paycheck gap, it’s important to also have an emergency fund, Hoyt says. An emergency fund is just thatâa fund that is set aside strictly for emergencies, like car repairs or medical bills you didn’t anticipate. “It’s always wise to have an emergency fund, but especially if you have gaps in income,” adds Larsen, from Believe in a Budget.
While experts typically recommend saving at least three to six months of living expenses in your emergency fund, you can start small and add as your budget allows. Any cash set aside in an emergency fund will be helpful if an unexpected bill or expense comes your way, especially if it’s during the summer paycheck gap.
Consider a side hustle
If you think your summer paychecks and extra savings are going to fall a little short of your summer expenses, “consider a summer side hustle to pay for the extras that can come with warmer weather,” Larsen says. With no paycheck during the summer, a side hustle can be a good way to funnel more cash into your summer fund account.
According to Hoytâwho actually started his website as a side hustle when he was a band directorâmany teachers can use their skill set for side hustles related to their profession. For example, teachers can offer private lessons or tutoring within their areas of expertise. Teachers can also pursue unrelated side hustles, like flipping items in online marketplaces to bring in more money in anticipation of no paycheck during the summer.
A side hustle may also be a perfect opportunity to explore a new venture, especially when there’s no paycheck during the summer. Hoyt says a side hustle can even provide a route to a new career path. “The skills that teachers pick up throughout their careerâdealing with people, managing a high workload, having high standards for excellenceâtend to translate extremely well into entrepreneurialism,” Hoyt says.
Make it a summer to enjoy
Teaching has its challenges, but it also comes with the major perk of having some of the best months of the year off. Planning ahead and implementing these summer budget tips for teachers will help make sure that these hard-earned months of vacation are truly an enriching time.
The post Teachers: How to Survive the Summer Paycheck Gap 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.
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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.