Heading off to college is exciting. Really exciting. You finally have freedom! You’re out on your own for the very first time, managing your studies, managing your social life and… managing your finances.
Despite being a big part of your newfound independence, personal finance is a subject you probably won’t find on your course schedule. If you didn’t take a personal finance class in high school and never had money lessons from your parents, you may not know how to manage a checking account as a college student.
“College students have very different needs for their checking account than their parents or other adults,” says Tommy Martin, CEO of Clear Path Financial Planning and a finance blogger at TommyMartin.com. If you live in a different city during the school year than you do during winter and summer breaks, for example, you may be after a bank for which location doesn’t matter.
Ok, so how do I manage my checking account in college, you ask? First, don’t get overwhelmed. Learning how to manage money while in college and getting a handle on checking account basics is simpler than you might think (oh, and the skills will serve you for years to come). Second, you can kick off your checking account education with these tips for managing a checking account in college:
1. Compare checking accounts before signing up
While your college life may center around your school campus, you should consider venturing off-campus to pick the right checking account for your lifestyle.
“Students typically sign up with a bank that’s on campus or close to campus,” says Sahil Vakil, a financial planner and president of MYRA Wealth in New Jersey. However, the nearest bank might not be the one that best fits your needs, he adds.
Instead of picking a bank based solely on proximity, consider all of your options, including banks with off-campus locations and online-only banks.
Martin agrees, saying that learning how to manage money while in college means considering all of your banking options rather than “automatically enrolling or choosing the official school bank just because it has the school logo on it.” There are other ways to show your school pride, after all.
2. Learn about checking account fees and rewards
Vakil and Martin both say a tip for managing a checking account in college is to consider an account’s fees before signing up. Costly fees can eat into your savings and spending money, which can be a blow for students who are not working full-time. When you are choosing a checking account in college, consider fees for:
Monthly maintenance (essentially keeping your account open)
Minimum balance (not maintaining one)
Online bill pay
Replacement debit cards
Martin says a checking account with no minimum balance requirement or minimum number of transactions could be a good fit for students. “It allows them to focus on their education” instead of worrying about incurring penalties, he says. “Even a $5 fee on a checking account with $60 in it can be devastating.”
Costly fees can eat into your savings and spending money, which can be a blow for students who are not working full-time.
Martin also suggests finding an account that has a large network of no-fee ATMs located across the country to better manage your checking account as a college student. “Especially if you’re going to a school in a different state, the local bank from home might wind up costing you a lot in terms of ATM fees,” he says. If your parents plan to wire you money, find an account that doesn’t charge incoming wire fees, Martin adds.
While fees should be a focus when you are learning how to manage money while in college, don’t forget about incentives. You may be able to find a checking account that actually helps you grow your balance by paying interest or offering a cash back rewards program.
“If you have to pay for books or supplies, at least you can get some cash back and use it for a free dinner,” Martin says. Discover Cashback Debit, for example, offers 1% cash back on up to $3,000 in debit card purchases each month.1
Luckily, you don’t need to take Banking 101 to figure out your funds, and tech makes tracking your balance and account activity easier than ever. Most banks let you log in to your account online (don’t get distracted in class!), and with a bank’s mobile app you can transfer money to friends, pay bills, deposit checks and check your balanceâall while you’re on the go.
Knowing your balance at all times is a tip for managing a checking account in college because it can help you avoid overdrafts and insufficient funds fees. It can also help you forecast your income and expenses to ensure you’ll have enough money to cover future costs. Surpriseâthat’s budgeting!
There’s no one-size-fits-all budgeting program or system, though. You can go old-school and track your budget on a printed-out budget sheet, or you can go tech-savvy with a budgeting and spending app. “What’s best for you is the one you’re actually going to use,” Martin says.
If you learn how to manage money while in college and make a practice of maintaining your budget, the habit will follow you after graduation.
âCollege students have very different needs for their checking account than their parents or other adults.â
4. Secure your account
One of Vakil’s tips for managing a checking account in college is to make sure your account stays secure. Create a unique account name and password that you use only for your checking account, and never share your credentials.
Vakil says you can also enable two-factor authentication if your bank offers it and you’re looking for another way to improve the management of your checking account as a college student. “This additional layer of protection safeguards your sensitive financial data and strengthens the security of your account by requiring two methods of verifying your identity.”
For example, if you log in to your account from a new device, you may be sent a text message with a code that you’ll need to enter to access your account.
5. Keep an eye out for debit card holds
No matter where you bank, a merchant may place a hold on funds in your checking account when you use your debit card. Generally, a hold is placed for travel-related purchasesâsuch as at rental car companies, hotels and gas stationsâand used by merchants to protect against fraud and errors.
“Holds on a debit card can make it tricky for you to manage your finances,” Vakil says. For example, “when you rent a car, the car rental company might put a $500 hold on your account. If the balance in your account was $550, now you can only use another $50.”
Being aware of holds can be particularly important if you are managing a checking account as a college student and tend to have a low account balance.
If a merchant will be placing a hold, it will generally post a sign to notify customers. The hold will typically be removed after the funds are transferred to the merchant from your financial institution, typically within three to four days.
Knowing when a hold will be placed, the amount of the hold and how much money you have in your checking account can help you manage your checking account as a college student by avoiding overdrafts and missed bill payments due to insufficient funds.
6. Don’t let one mistake throw you off track
If you can learn how to manage a checking account as a college student, and more generally, how to manage money while in college, you can lay the groundwork for a solid financial future. Checking account mistakes may occasionally happen (oops, I didn’t budget enough for that spring break trip), but don’t let them discourage you to the point of apathy. Instead, try to continually expand your knowledge and practice healthy financial habits.
1Â ATM transactions, the purchase of money orders or other cash equivalents, cash over portions of point-of-sale transactions, Peer-to-Peer (P2P) payments (such as Apple Pay Cash), and loan payments or account funding made with your debit card are not eligible for cash back rewards. In addition, purchases made using third-party payment accounts (services such as VenmoÂ® and PayPal, who also provide P2P payments) may not be eligible for cash back rewards. Apple, the Apple logo and Apple Pay are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries. Venmo and PayPal are registered trademarks of PayPal, Inc.
The post 6 Tips for Successfully Managing a Checking Account in College appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
Could logging in to your computer from a deluxe treehouse off the coast of Belize be the future of work? Maybe. For many, the word freelance means flexibility, meaningful tasks and better work-life balance. Who doesn’t want to create their own hours, love what they do and work from wherever they want? Freelancing can provide all of thatâbut that freedom can vanish quickly if you don’t handle your expenses correctly.
“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches,” says freelance copywriter Alyssa Goulet, “and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”
Nearly 57 million people in the U.S. freelanced, or were self-employed, in 2019, according to Upwork, a global freelancing platform. Freelancing is also increasingly becoming a long-term career choice, with the percentage of freelancers who freelance full-time increasing from 17 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2019, according to Upwork. But for all its virtues, the cost of being freelance can carry some serious sticker shock.
“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on, but for that you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”
Most people who freelance for the first time don’t realize that everythingâfrom taxes to office supplies to setting up retirement plansâis on them. So, before you can sustain yourself through self-employment, you need to answer a very important question: “Are you financially ready to freelance?”
What you’ll find is that budgeting as a freelancer can be entirely manageable if you plan for the following key costs. Let’s start with one of the most perplexingâtaxes:
1. Taxes: New rules when working on your own
First things first: Don’t try to be a hero. When determining how to budget as a freelancer and how to manage your taxes as a freelancer, you’ll want to consult with a financial adviser or tax professional for guidance. A tax expert can help you figure out what makes sense for your personal and business situation.
For instance, just like a regular employee, you will owe federal income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. When you’re employed at a regular job, you and your employer each pay half of these taxes from your income, according to the IRS. But when you’re self-employed (earning more than $400 a year in net income), you’re expected to file and pay these expenses yourself, the IRS says. And if you think you will owe more than $1,000 in taxes for a given year, you may need to file estimated quarterly taxes, the IRS also says.
That can feel like a heavy hit when you’re not used to planning for these costs. “If you’ve been on a salary, you don’t think about taxes really. You think about the take-home pay. With freelance, everything is take-home pay,” says Susan Lee, CFPÂ®, tax preparer and founder of FreelanceTaxation.com.
When you’re starting to budget as a freelancer and determining how often you will need to file, Lee recommends doing a “dummy return,” which is an estimation of your self-employment income and expenses for the year. You can come up with this number by looking at past assignments, industry standards and future projections for your work, which freelancer Goulet finds valuable.
“Since I don’t have a salary or a fixed number of hours worked per month, I determine the tax bracket I’m most likely to fall into by taking my projected monthly income and multiplying it by 12,” Goulet says. “If I experience a big income jump because of a new contract, I redo that calculation.”
After you estimate your income, learning how to budget as a freelancer means working to determine how much to set aside for your tax payments. Lee, for example, recommends saving about 25 percent of your income for paying your income tax and self-employment tax (which funds your Medicare and Social Security). But once you subtract your business expenses from your freelance income, you may not have to pay that entire amount, according to Lee. Deductible expenses can include the mileage you use to get from one appointment to another, office supplies and maintenance and fees for a coworking space, according to Lee. The income left over will be your taxable income.
To set aside the taxes you will need to pay, adjust your estimates often and always round up. “Let’s say in one month a freelancer determines she would owe $1,400 in tax. I’d put away $1,500,” Goulet says.
2. Business expenses: Get a handle on two big areas
The truth is, the cost of being freelance varies from person to person. Some freelancers are happy to work from their kitchen tables, while others need a dedicated workspace. Your freelance costs also change as you add new tools to your business arsenal. Here are two categories you’ll always need to account for when budgeting as a freelancer:
Joining a coworking space gets you out of the house and allows you to establish the camaraderie you may miss when you work alone. When you’re calculating the cost of being freelance, note that coworking spaces may charge membership dues ranging from $20 for a day pass to hundreds of dollars a month for a dedicated desk or private office. While coworking spaces are all the rage, you can still rent a traditional office for several hundred dollars a month or more, but this fee usually doesn’t include community aspects or other membership perks.
If you want to avoid office rent or dues as costs of being freelance but don’t want the kitchen table to pull double-duty as your workspace, you might convert another room in your home into an office. But you’ll still need to outfit the space with all of your work essentials. Freelance copywriter and content strategist Amy Hardison retrofitted part of her house into a simple office. “I got a standing desk, a keyboard, one of those adjustable stands for my computer and a squishy mat to stand on so my feet don’t hurt,” Hardison says.
Start with the absolute necessities. When Hardison first launched her freelance career, she purchased a laptop for $299. She worked out of a coworking space and used its office supplies before creating her own workspace at home.
There are a range of digital tools, including business and accounting software, that can help with the majority of your business functions. A big benefit is the time they can save you that is better spent marketing to clients or producing great work.
The software can also help you avoid financial lapses as you’re managing the costs of being freelance. Hardison’s freelance business had ramped up to a point where a manual process was costing her money, so using an invoicing software became a no-brainer. “I was sending people attached document invoices for a while and keeping track of them in a spreadsheet,” Hardison says. “And then I lost a few of them and I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t be losing things. This is my income!’”
Digital business and software tools can help manage scheduling, web hosting, accounting, audio/video conference and other functions. When you’re determining how to budget as a freelancer, note that the costs for these services depend largely on your needs. For instance, several invoicing platforms offer options for as low as $9 per month, though the cost increases the more clients you add to your account. Accounting services also scale up based on the features you want and how many clients you’re tracking, but you can find reputable platforms for as little as $5 a month.
When you sign up for a service, start with the “freemium” version, in which the first tier of service is always free, Hardison says. Once you have enough clients to warrant the expense, upgrade to the paid level with the lowest cost. Gradually adding services will keep your expenses proportionate to your income.
3. Health insurance: Harnessing an inevitable cost
Budgeting for healthcare costs can be one of the biggest hurdles to self-employment and successfully learning how to budget as a freelancer. In the first half of the 2020 open enrollment period, the average monthly premium under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for those who do not receive federal subsidiesâor a reduced premium based on incomeâwas $456 for individuals and $1,134 for families, according to eHealth, a private online marketplace for health insurance.
“Buying insurance is really protecting against that catastrophic event that is not likely to happen. But if it does, it could throw everything else in your plan into a complete tailspin,” says Stephen Gunter, CFPÂ®, at Bridgeworth Financial.
A good place to start when budgeting as a freelancer is knowing what healthcare costs you should budget for. Your premiumâwhich is how much you pay each month to have your insuranceâis a key cost. Note that the plans with the lowest premiums aren’t always the most affordable. For instance, if you choose a high-deductible policy you may pay less in premiums, but if you have a claim, you may pay more at the time you or your covered family member’s health situation arises.
When you are budgeting as a freelancer, the ACA healthcare marketplace is one place to look for a plan. Here are a few other options:
Spouse or domestic partner’s plan: If your spouse or domestic partner has health insurance through his/her employer, you may be able to get coverage under their plan.
COBRA: If you recently left your full-time job for self-employment, you may be able to convert your employer’s group plan into an individual COBRA plan. Note that this type of plan comes with a high expense and coverage limit of 18 months.
Organizations for freelancers: Search online for organizations that promote the interests of independent workers. Depending on your specific situation, you may find options for health insurance plans that fit your needs.
Speak with an insurance adviser who can help you figure out which plans are best for your health needs and your budget. An adviser may be willing to do a free consultation, allowing you to gather important information before making a financial commitment.
4. Retirement savings: Learn to “set it and forget it”
Part of learning how to budget as a freelancer is thinking long term, which includes saving for retirement. That may seem daunting when you’re wrangling new business expenses, but Gunter says saving for the future is a big part of budgeting as a freelancer.
“It’s kind of the miracle of compound interest. The sooner we can get it invested, the sooner we can get it saving,” Gunter says.
He suggests going into autopilot and setting aside whatever you would have contributed to an employer’s 401(k) plan. One way to do this might be setting up an automatic transfer to your savings or retirement account. “So, if you would have put in 3 percent [of your income] each month, commit to saving that 3 percent on your own,” Gunter says. The Discover IRA Certificate of Deposit (IRA CD) could be a good fit for helping you enjoy guaranteed returns in retirement by contributing after-tax (Roth IRA CD) or pre-tax (traditional IRA CD) dollars from your income now.
Prioritize retirement savings every month, not just when you feel flush. “Saying, ‘I’ll save whatever is left over’ isn’t a savings plan, because whatever is left over at the end of the month is usually zero,” Gunter says.
5. Continually update your rates
One of the best things you can do for yourself in learning how to budget as a freelancer is build your costs into what you charge. “As I’ve discovered more business expenses, I definitely take those into account as I’m determining what my rates are,” Goulet says. She notes that freelancers sometimes feel guilty for building business costs into their rates, especially when they’re worried about the fees they charge to begin with. But working the costs of being freelance into your rates is essential to building a thriving freelance career. You should annually evaluate the rates you charge.
Because your expenses will change over time, it’s wise to do quarterly and yearly check-ins to assess your income and costs and see if there are processes you can automate to save time and money.
“A lot of the time, you don’t know about these expenses until you are in the trenches, and that can wreak havoc on your financial situation.”
Have confidence in your freelance career
Accounting for the various costs of being freelance makes for a more successful and sustainable freelance career. It also helps ensure that those who are self-employed achieve financial stability in their personal lives and their businesses.
“There are many hats you have to wear and expenses you have to take on,” Goulet says. “But for that, you’re gaining a lot of opportunity and flexibility in your life.”
The post Everything You Need to Know About Budgeting As a Freelancer appeared first on Discover Bank – Banking Topics Blog.
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.