2020 Health Insurance Open Enrollment: The Facts

Hello Freelancer Friend, the enrollment period for health insurance is here, now through mid-December (in most states). Because health insurance is a vital topic, I decided to defer to an expert and pass along info compiled by Les Masterson for Insure.com. For more detailed information, please visit the site. https://www.insure.com/health-insurance/open-enrollment-for-individual-health-insurance.html

We have 6 weeks to make a decision on individual/ family health insurance or the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges plan (in most states). We can sign up for health insurance on our state’s health insurance exchange or individual marketplace only during the annual open enrollment period, unless one has a “qualifying life event.” Those events include getting married or having a baby.

If buying health insurance on your own, there are several options for purchasing a policy:

  • Your state’s health insurance marketplace — see healthcare.gov https://www.healthcare.gov
  • Directly from a health insurance company
  • Sites like Insure.com that offers insurance quotes from multiple carriers
  • A health insurance agent
Open enrollment for 2020 individual and family health insurance plans
Begins Ends
November 1, 2019 December 15, 2019

The open enrollment period differs in these states: 

  • CA – Oct. 15, 2019 to Jan. 15, 2020
  • CO – Nov. 1, 2019 to Jan. 15, 2020
  • DC – Nov. 1 , 2019 to Jan. 31, 2020
  • MA – Nov. 1, 2019 to Jan. 23, 2020
  • MN – Nov. 1, 2019 to Dec. 23, 2019
  • NY – Nov. 1, 2019 to Jan. 31, 2020
  • RI – Nov. 1, 2019 to Dec. 23, 2019

If you buy after December 15 in the states that are extending the enrollment period, confirm when the coverage will start. Most states require you to obtain your plan by December 15 for a January 1 start date. If you buy late, your plan might not start until February 1 or March 1.

Those who qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) can enroll at any time, because they are state/ federal programs created for people with limited incomes or disabilities.

Marketplace Open Enrollment is for health insurance only

The Open Enrollment period does not apply to life insurance, long-term care insurance, or Medicare. The fall open enrollment period for Medicare is October 15 to December 7, 2019. If you qualify for employer-sponsored health insurance, you will want to buy health insurance through your employer. Individual insurance usually costs more than employer-sponsored plans.

That said, if you qualify for subsidies based on your income, you may find an inexpensive plan on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Exchange. Many states offer financial help for people with income below 400% of the federal poverty limit. You can find out more about these subsidies at insure.com. 

Remember to enroll!

It is not possible to sign up for coverage if you miss open enrollment, unless one qualifies for one of the special enrollment periods. The following events may grant entrance into a special enrollment period:

  • Divorce
  • Marriage
  • Birth or adoption of a child
  • Death of a spouse or partner that leaves you without coverage
  • Your spouse or partner, who has you covered, loses his/her job and health insurance
  • You lose your job and with it your health insurance
  • Your hours are cut making you ineligible for your employer’s health insurance plan
  • You are in an HMO and move outside its coverage area

Update your plan during Open Enrollment only

What you can do during open enrollment:

  • Renew your current individual or family health insurance plan
  • Choose a new health insurance plan through the marketplace in your state or through private insurance

If currently enrolled in a marketplace health insurance plan, it will automatically renew. However, the plan may make changes to its provider network, co-pays, co-insurance and drug coverage. Your plan must send you a notice of any changes it will make for 2020.

Read the health insurance update notice to learn what it means for youConfirm that your doctors and preferred hospital are still in your network. Be aware that you may be able to use out-of-network doctors and hospitals if you’re willing to pay more. That’s an option in Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plans. In some cases, such as Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) plans, you’re covered if you go out of network. That means you’ll have to pick up the costs. 

Prescription drug coverage also could change. The plan may no longer cover the drugs you take to manage your chronic conditions. Confirm your plan’s drug benefits for 2020 before you allow it to renew. You may need to find a different plan for your needs and now’s the time to do it. Health plans must provide an online link to the list of drugs they will cover, known as formularies.

ACA Premiums set to decrease for some plans

The premium you pay depends on several factors, including income, your state and the plan type. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the average ACA federal exchange plans premium costs dropped for the first time this year. However, because not all plans will be cheaper, it’s still important to shop around to find the right plan for you. 

Choose a level of health plan coverage

Plans in the health insurance marketplace are divided into 4 categories:

  • Bronze – highest out-of-pocket expenses for services (lower premiums)
  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Platinum – least out-of-pocket expenses for services (higher premiums)

Each level indicates how much cost-sharing each requires. Cost-sharing includes deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance that we must pay until the annual out-of-pocket maximum limit is reached.

Bronze plans have the highest deductibles and other cost-sharing expenses. That means more out-of-pocket costs when one uses healthcare services. Silver plans have lower cost-sharing than Bronze and Gold plans even lower than Silver. Platinum plans have the lowest deductibles and co-pays. Once one signs up for a level of coverage, changes are not allowed during that year. If you choose a Bronze plan and discover you need surgery, you cannot change to a plan with a lower deductible.

Generally, the more you pay in premiums the lower your cost-sharing.

In a 2019 report, eHealth estimated that 2-person families paid more than $1,000 in premiums monthly for the first time in the individual market in 2019. Premiums for individual coverage for a single person was $448 in 2019. 

The average premiums for individual coverage according to eHealth:

  • Bronze — $440
  • Silver — $481
  • Gold — $596
  • Platinum — $706

The average premiums for family coverage according to ehealth:

  • Bronze — $1,080
  • Silver — $1,179
  • Gold — $1.426
  • Platinum — $1,460

The health plans, no matter the level, must provide some coverage for at least 10 essential benefits. They are:

  • Outpatient care including chronic disease management
  • Emergency care
  • Hospitalization
  • Pregnancy and newborn care
  • Mental health and substance abuse services
  • Prescription drugs
  • Rehabilitation services and devices
  • Lab tests
  • Preventive and wellness services
  • Dental and vision care for children

The level of coverage for these services can vary. All the plans in the marketplace must provide consumers with a brief, understandable description of what they cover and how their plan works. The Summary of Benefits and Coverage (SBC) must be posted on the plan’s website. Check out the SBCs for the different plans you are considering. This is a good way to compare plans and benefits.

Not all states require health insurance

The ACA once required nearly all Americans to have health insurance. However, Congress decided in 2017 to eliminate the individual mandate penalty. Although the individual mandate is technically still on the books, the tax penalty is not. Still, a growing number of states have implemented their own individual mandate. Here are states that have an individual mandate in 2020:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey 
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

I hope you found this information helpful.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Thomas Eakins (Philadelphia 1844-1916) The Agnew Clinic, 1899 courtesy of The Philadelphia Museum of Art. The painting was commissioned to honor the anatomist and surgeon David Hayes Agnew, on his retirement from teaching at the University of Pennsylvania.

Harnessing the Cloud: You’ve Got an App for That

Freelancers and other business owners are nearly always pressed for time and we need to get things done, quickly, efficiently and accurately. Advances in technology have yielded many apps that can make our lives easier and make us look good as we take advantage of their features. Below is sampling of free to low cost apps that will help your business.

 SIMPLIFIED GRAPHIC DESIGN

Canva. If you’re in need of professionally-designed marketing materials for your business but don’t have the budget to hire a graphic designer, you can successfully DIY with Canva https://www.canva.com. This useful app features attractive design templates that allow you to create beautiful visual content for the images that are the core of social media marketing. You can also design logos, brochures, infographics, business cards and templates for Instagram, Twitter and Facebook posts. Canva will also allow users to crop images and enhance photos. The website provides good support, including tutorials on how to use Twitter for marketing. The free version of Canva offers most of the features a Freelancer or business owner will need and an upgrade to the Pro version costs $9.95/ user/ month.

MANAGE RECEIPTS AND EXPENSES

Expensify. All those who travel for business must collect and organize a stack of receipts very soon after returning, whether you’re a Freelancer who must save them for quarterly taxes or an employee who must submit receipts to your boss.  Expensify makes an onerous task much more bearable by automatically scanning the printed paper receipts and adding them to pre-designed templates that facilitate a seamless transition into your electronic records. Other features include reimbursement calculation based on the number of miles travelled, hourly billable amount or wage, a choice of four currencies for calculation and synchronizing directly with your bank account. Free  – $4.99/ month for most users.

ACCOUNTING AND INVOICING

FreshBooks. If you operate a B2B knowledge economy service business that doesn’t need a high-powered accounting solution, then FreshBooks  will give your organization a user-friendly option that offers a lot of functionality. You can track billable hours here as well and also log receipts and send invoices from your smartphone or tablet. The service integrates with several others, including Basecamp, PayPal, Google Apps and ZenPayroll.  The basic plan starts at $15 a month and allows management of up to 5 clients. More fully featured versions allow unlimited clients for up to $50 a month.

NEWSLETTERS AND EMAIL MARKETING

Mailchimp. This easy-to-use email marketing tool is a go-to for Freelancers and small businesses. It offers easy-to-use templates and intuitive drag-and-drop email building that anyone can use to create a professional-looking email that will enhance your company’s reputation. It also allows you to automate your email campaigns and track subscribers, so you can make the most of your communications campaign. Plus, Mailchimp https://mailchimp.com offers easy integration with many popular e-commerce tools. The basic service is free, but many will want to upgrade to either the $9.99/ month plan, which provides custom branding email design or the $14.99/ month option, which gives users custom newsletter and email templates and marketing automation.

SCAN BUSINESS CARDS

ScanBizCards.  Rather than taking a card from someone with whom you’d like to follow-up, it’s much more efficient—and cooler—to scan the business card or even a conference name tag and know you have that important person’s information will be saved automatically in your phonebook. ScanBizCards

VIDEO CONFERENCES

Skype for Business. The classic video conferencing app is owned by Microsoft and the functionality of its infrastructure is versatile, powerful and seamless. The service offers free online meetings for up to 10 participants, set-up from any device, PC or MAC, Android, iPad, or iPhone and PowerPoint upload capability, Instant Messaging and a white board feature. Unlimited free video conferencing, instant messaging, conferencing and audio calling are also offered and  Skype for Business runs ad free and without interruptions— excellent for a business interview or discussion.  Explore the premium features through Microsoft Office 365—$6.00 / user/ month – $15.00 / user/ month.

TEAM COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION

Slack. There are several real-time messaging and file-sharing apps available, but Slack prevails as a result of its simplicity. It has DropBox, Asana, Google+ Hangouts, Twitter and Zendesk compatibility built into the app and the platform is very responsive and user-friendly. Every message is archived, so searching is quick and easy.  Free – $15.00/ month / user for premium services.

BILLABLE HOURS MANAGEMENT AND INVOICING

Toggl.  This timer tracks how you spend your time, making it an ideal support system for those who must record billable hours in order to accurately and quickly prepare invoices so that they will get paid, Freelancer friend. You can track as many projects or clients as you want and assign your hourly rate to each project, so that you can quickly calculate what you’re earning, export timesheets and sync your numbers with several project management apps. Toggl is priced from $9.00 / month /user for the basic service to $18.00/ month/ user for team time tracking and other premium services.  

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Kim Clark September 7, 2018. Fog x FLO, a “fog sculpture” installation by Fujiko Nakaya (Japan) that appeared in five Boston locations from August – October 2018. Every hour from dawn to dusk, a blast of steam would be emitted by a special mechanism and the fog would appear—and disappear in a minute or two, depending on how the wind blew. The fog sculpture pictured here was across the street from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Email Sign-offs

As often noted by myself and countless other bloggers and journalists, the care and feeding of one’s brand is forever at top of mind.  Every touch point with a client, prospect, potential referral source, the public, or the media and every form of communication, whether verbal, visual, or print, must present a flattering portrayal of the brand. Even our ubiquitous, plebeian emails are now brand ambassadors.

Remember that admonition when you next compose an important email to a current or prospective client.  As you carefully evaluate the potential impact of every word, ensure that your valuable brand carries through to the sign-off. The brand is always on the line and it must be curated, even in emails, from the salutation to the sign-off.

For guidance in the matter of etiquette and branding I’ve consulted the writings of Suzanne Bates, executive coach, President and CEO of Bates Communication in Wellesley, MA (just west of Boston) and author of Speak Like a CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Results (2005).

Regarding written communications remember that as always, context is everything.  What is the purpose of your email and with whom are you corresponding? Are you and a client with whom you work regularly discussing a project or are you writing to a business colleague whom you’ve recently met? Then again, are replying with a proposal that a prospective client has invited you to submit? Each of these circumstances will impact the style of your email sign-off.  Let’s look at a few common closing words and phrases and examine their potential impact on the recipient.

Thanks

Use this term when you are actually thanking the person you’ve written, or asked for something to be done or said on your behalf. Thanks as a sign-off is business-like, but casual. Thank you is a better choice if you don’t have a familiar relationship with the other party.

Best

A borderline casual sign-off, but acceptable to use for a business associate whom you know.  BTW, I use this closing most of the time (I may need to re-think this choice).

Regards

Somewhat perfunctory and a little distant, but this closing generally works well.

Cordially

An old-fashioned sign-off that portrays the writer as well-mannered and formal, perhaps too formal. Nevertheless, this choice is safe and pleasant.

Sincerely

Here’s a tried and true business attire sign-off that will offend no one. However, this closing is more appropriate for a letter, rather than an email.

Cheers

You can use this to close an email with someone you know well, but if you’re trying to make a good impression in a business setting, it’s not a wise choice. Save this breezy term for after a bond has been established, for friends and colleagues you sometimes meet for coffee.

Talk soon

This term is usually used among friends and familiar business associates. The intention of quick follow-up is communicated clearly and that may be desirable. I like to use “To be continued.”

Yours truly

We’re a little too formal for an email here, as this term is closely associated with closing a letter. If your email is written for a very important person, you may use this sign-off with confidence.

Kind regards

Here is my favorite business sign-off and when I need to present my self and my brand in the best light, this is my go-to salutation. This term is warm, friendly and professional.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Artist unknown. Courtesy of the British Library, London.                                      Born in Venice and educated at the University of Bologna (Italy), Christine de Pizan (1364 – 1430) was among the best known writers in medieval Europe, in spite of her gender.  A prominent political thinker, novelist and poet, she authored the feminist treatise The Book of the City of Ladies, among other works. Pizan was the wife of Etienne du Castel and a mother of three.

Email Writing Perfected

Now that you’ve completed your business plan, you’re ready to put it in motion. Here’s the guide that will make sure you know how to get your entrepreneurial groove on! In Be Your Own Boss, Part 2: The Implementation and Beyond, you’ll learn to recognize the strengths or weaknesses in your proposed business model and develop an effective customer acquisition plan. You’ll get insight into what you should consider when choosing the right legal entity for your venture. Learn to implement savvy marketing, branding and social media strategies, get real about business financing options and build a solid financial strategy that will sustain your dream. Thursdays April 18 & 25 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM. Register here.

Every day, the typical professionally employed adult sends and receives an avalanche of emails. In response, dozens of articles that address the challenge of email management have appeared in business targeted media outlets. Those articles are all somewhat helpful but my feeling is, when emails are effectively written fewer of them are written, because writers express themselves clearly and recipients understand how to respond.

As luck would have it, an amazing and highly organized polymath named Kabir Seghal, who is a U.S. Navy veteran, former Vice President at J.P. Morgan, Grammy Award-winning producer (Afro-Latin Jazz) and author of seven books in both the children and adult genres including Coined: The Rich Life of Money and How its History Has Shaped Us (2015) has stepped up to guide mere mortals in the fine art of email writing. Seghal applies lessons he learned while in the military when advising us on how to write the ideal email communication.

Subject line

Subject lines are crucial. They can determine when or even if your email is opened. The wrong subject line can result in your email being ignored or deleted. A powerful subject line communicates the purpose of the email and the action the writer would like the recipient to take. A sampling of subject line verbs include:

Action                                 Meet

Decision                             Request

FYI                                      Sign

ACTION:  The recipient must do something, usually within a certain time frame.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         frame.

DECISION: A decision must be made by the recipient, or a decision that impacts the recipient has been made.

FYI: For Your Information messages keep the recipient in the loop. Action is not required (choice of the recipient).

MEET: Consult your calendar and reserve time.

REQUEST: The writer seeks approval or permission from the recipient.

SIGN: The recipient must read and sign a document and return it with a certain time frame.

Bottom line up front (BLUF)

Begin the body of the email with a short statement that concisely answers Who, What, When, Where and Why to explain the purpose of your email and what you’d like the recipient to do. The BLUF distills the message and allows the recipient to easily digest the information you share and how s/he will be impacted. Seghal suggests that the writer lead with the heading Bottom Line to call attention to your email’s core messages.

Active voice

Seghal recommends that we use the active, rather than passive, voice when composing emails. It’s important to be clear about who has or is taking action, or who will be required to take action (and when) and the impact of that action.

Cut to the chase

Short emails are preferred by military personnel, but sometimes longer communications are unavoidable. Should your email exceed three paragraphs, follow-up your Bottom Line (BLUF) statement with bullet points, so the recipient can quickly focus on critical information.  Rather than adding files as attachments to the email, embed hyperlinks to the files and enable faster access.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Typist, circa 1930s.

 

Dates to Keep You Straight

Every year, Freelancers have an important list of dates to remember and act on, primarily those related to tax filings, retirement account management and health insurance plan enrollment. To help you stay organized, I’ve compiled this date planner that brings together all deadlines into one document that you can bookmark, copy into your calendar or even print out and post on your refrigerator.

TAXES

January 31, 2019: 1099-MISC due to contractors
Those who hired Freelancers (independent contractors) to whom they paid $600 or more in the previous year must send 1099-MISC forms by January 31, 2019.  If a client paid you less than $600, then you probably will not be mailed a 1099-MISC, although the IRS nevertheless requires you to report all income.

Do keep scrupulous records of who owes you a 1099-MISC so that you can accurately report your income on your tax return.  Your clients will also send 1099-MISC data re: you to the IRS and any differences between your numbers and the clients’ could trigger an audit.  If you haven’t received a 1099-MISC from a client by January 31, contact your client ASAP and request a re-send.

If you used any subcontractors to whom you paid at least $600 last year, you must likewise send them a 1099-MISC by January 31.

April 15, 2019: Individual income tax filing deadline
You have until April 15, 2019 to file your Form 1040 individual income tax return for 2018. Be aware that April 15 isn’t the deadline to pay your taxes — tax payments for Freelancers are due on a quarterly schedule (see 2019 quarterly estimated tax deadlines, below). If you wait until the tax filing deadline to pay your taxes, the IRS may charge you penalties and interest on top of the tax you owe.

If you’re still waiting for information, or you’re too busy to file a return by April 15, you may apply for a six-month extension that gives you until October 15, 2019 to file. The extension application needs to be filed by April 15, 2019. Remember again that the extension is for filing, not paying your taxes.  Payments are still due on the quarterly schedule no matter when you file and penalties and interest can accumulate if you wait to pay.

QUARTERLY TAX FILING DATES

The IRS requires business owners to pay income taxes on a quarterly schedule. This may seem like a hassle, but it’s easier to pay in four installments than to try and come up with a whole year’s worth of income taxes all at once.

Here are the 2019 deadlines for quarterly estimated tax payments. Note that the four quarters are not of equal lengths: the 2nd Quarter covers only April and May, while the 4th Quarter covers the last four months of the year.

DEADLINE                                                         PERIOD COVERED

April 15, 2019                                                     January 1 – March 31, 2019

June 17, 2019                                                      April 1 – May 31, 2019

September 16, 2019                                           June 1 – August 31, 2019

January 15, 2020                                                September 1 – December 31, 2019

 

RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS

April 15, 2019: Deadline to set up and contribute to an IRA for 2018
Even if you made no contributions to your retirement savings account in 2018, you can still make a 2018 contribution to an IRA up until April 15, 2019. This includes traditional, Roth and SEP IRAs. You can also make 2019 contributions to these plans from now up until next year’s tax filing deadline of April 15, 2020.

December 31, 2019: Deadline to set up an individual 401(K) 
An individual 401(K) is another type of plan that Freelancers can use to save for retirement. One important detail is that an individual 401(K) must be established by December 31st of the first plan year (as opposed to an IRA, which can be opened up until April 15 of the following year). That means it’s too late to set up an individual 401(K) for 2018, but you may set one up for 2019.

Contribution limits 2019 update:

Solo 401(K)                                                                                                                            Employer: 20% of net self-employment income                                                            Employee: 100 % of earned income up to $19,000 (for age 50 years +, up to $25,000)   Total combined contribution: $56,000

Traditional or Roth 401(K)                                                                                                     $6000 annually $7000 if age 50 years +

SEP IRA                                                                                                                                               The lesser of 20% of net self-employment income, or $56,000 annually

 

HEALTH INSURANCE

The open enrollment dates to purchase health insurance for 2020 on the Affordable Care Act exchange will be November 1 – December 15, 2019.  Open enrollment for 2020 through the national health insurance exchange will also be run from November 1 – December 15, 2019.

 

Thanks for reading,

Kim

 

 

Time-Tracking Options for Freelancers

We’re back with a review of more time-tracking services that are especially useful for Freelance consultants. Accurately documenting the time spent on project assignments is important in many ways, primarily to ensure that billable hours charged to clients are correct.  Plus, most time-tracking services will generate an invoice that you can click and send and some will also allow you to accept online payments with bank-level security.

In addition, time-tracking services generate useful reports that show the number of hours you spend on certain types of assignments, information that is useful when creating proposals for projects that you’d like to take on, since it will be necessary to predict the time you expect to spend on the proposed project, which will impact your pricing and determine whether it will be most advantageous for you and the client to choose an hourly rate or project fee payment arrangement.

Harvest

Track time spent on projects easily and efficiently with Harvest, even when you need to follow several projects that contain different tasks that are priced differently. Furthermore, when coordinating a team project, you’re able to assign and time-track various tasks within a project for specific team members.

Reporting is a strength: raw time sheet data will be presented in a visual summary that depicts how your time or the team’s time has been utilized, with key project metrics collated into intuitive reports. The service also generates professional-looking invoices based on your project fee or hourly rate, as determined by the time you’ve logged.  Click and send invoices to clients and receive online payment, confident that site security is bank-level.

Harvest is free for one person to track maximum two projects/month and $12 for one person to track an unlimited number of projects/month.  Harvest

RescueTime

Freelancers who’d like to document how they’re spending time when working on a project and who are not kept on a short leash by a manager will appreciate RescueTime.  It’s not possible to send reports to your client, but you can nevertheless track your time and obtain an accurate picture of your productivity.  You will also receive detailed reports that show you the apps and websites you visited.

As well, RescueTime will record time spent on email and the amount of time you linger on any website. If you’d like to limit the time spent on non-work related websites, then ask the system to block your browsing on any chosen site after a certain amount of time.  Further, you can set goals to inspire yourself to stay on schedule with your project. The premium service plan also allows tracking of off-line time for activities such as telephone calls and meetings. RescueTime Lite is free and RescueTime Premium costs $9.00/month, or $72.00/year.   RescueTime

Tick

Each time you submit a time entry, Tick updates your project and task budgets in real time and reports back to you.  If you regularly track time against an hourly rate determined budget, or a project fee that involves an important deadline or penalties for late completion, then Tick may be your ideal time-tracking solution. It’s also possible to track time on multiple projects simultaneously.  While the service can be used by a solo Freelancer, it is especially suited for a team.

Tick is free if a single user employs the service for one project per month, $19.00/month for an unlimited number of users who’ll track a maximum of 10 projects/month and up to $149.00 /month for an unlimited number of workers to time track an unlimited number of projects.   Tick

Toggl

If you neglect to click the session start button, the service will allow you to enter your working time after the fact, which is helpful for those who are very busy and prone to forget. The service is structured with a team in mind, but it works well for solo professionals.

The service works on all devices, desktop and mobile. Helpful analytic reports will be generated, so you’ll get the big picture of where your time is spent, depending on your assigned tasks.  There is a free version, plus Starter and Premium.  The $9.00 /month Starter package appears to give the best value to Freelancers.   Toggl

Klok

Most helpfully, the service lets users recall and analyze data from previous projects, information that enables you to develop proposals for future projects that will more accurately reflect the time needed to reach key milestones and achieve deadlines. The historical time-tracking data will also help you to price at a level that is fair to both you and the client.

The basic package includes a visual display of your time as you work, plus screenshots, exporting of time sheets, dashboard reporting and invoicing all for a one-time purchase price of $20.00 for up to three users.  Klok Cloud Sync, Klonk Pro and Klokwork Team Console are also available.   Klok

Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Orloj, the famous 15th century astrological clock in Prague, Czech Republic

Time-Tracking Freelance Work

How many of you use time-tracking so that you can accurately count your billable hours when on assignment? I still count hours the old-fashioned way and I know that I cheat myself out of no less than an hour or so every week. My bad! I’ve occasionally thought about time-tracking assistance, but I never knew where to begin. A new year will soon welcome us and that’s a traditional motivator to set goals and improve work habits.

As I suspected, time-tracking systems have their differences. Some are designed with remote teams in mind; others make a department manager’s life easier. Certain time-tracking systems have been created to address the needs of Freelancers and we’ll sort through a sampling here:

Due Time Tracking

Due Time is free and easy to use—just create a task, start the timer and launch your session. You can click and add notes to detail the project you’re working on. Due Time also includes an automatic idle time detection feature, so you’re able to make allowances for stepping away from your project now and again and still remain accurate in tracking your work hours.

You’ll be pleased to find that Due Time will generate hourly rate or project fee invoices when you enter the rate. Due Time makes it easy to organize client information by name, address, or even payment currency.  Due Time

TopTracker

Along with tracking the number of hours you spend on project tasks, Top Tracker offers screen shots and webcam shots that document your work. Screen shot pages can be deleted or configured to automatically blur before uploading, so that the image is recognizable to you but all text is obscured. The service works with nearly every freelancing platform and will produce a detailed project activity report to document your performance. The service is free.  TopTracker

Sighted Time Tracking and Invoicing

Sighted Time Tracking seamlessly integrates the functions of time-tracking and invoicing, packaged in either the free Basic Service plan or the Premium Plan at $4.00 /month. You can make detailed project notes for every session and also automatically send invoices for hours worked that are customized for billable hours or project fee.

Furthermore, users can send out quotes to prospects when invited to bid on a project and accept credit or debit card payments online and issue a receipt to the client. Plus, you can do it all on your desktop or mobile device.  Sighted

Tick

Each time you submit a time entry, Tick updates your project and task budgets in real time and reports it back to you.  If you regularly track your time against an hourly rate budget of project fee that involves an important deadline or penalties for late completion, then Tick may be your ideal time-tracking solution. It’s even possible to track time on multiple projects simultaneously.  While the service can be used by a solo Freelancer, it is especially suited for a team.

Tick is free if a single user employs the service for one project per month, $19.00/month for an unlimited number of users who’ll track a maximum of 10 projects/month and up to $149.00 /month for an unlimited number of workers to time track an unlimited number of projects.  Tick

Four more time-tracking options will be examined in the next post. Have a good week!

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Sundial at the Gate of Honour at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridgeshire, England

Who Gets the 1099?

The year is drawing to a close and we’re crossing into the 11th month. Before you become enmeshed in the celebrations and obligations that the holidays demand of us, do yourself a favor and commence your tax planning. Create an accounts receivable and  invoicing strategy once you’ve decided when it would be most advantageous to receive payment for services rendered in this calendar/ tax year or the next. IRS Form 1099-MISC will be at the center of the action; understanding when you’ll need it and when you might avoid it is your goal.

The payment in question is $600, whether it was paid or received by your organization. Review the accounts receivable history of clients for whom you performed small jobs earlier in the year.  If a client paid you less than $600 in this calendar year, you will not receive or need to file a Form 1099-MISC for the money earned on that assignment.

Start with the easy stuff.  If you find yourself in mid-contract with a client as December approaches and the project isn’t urgent, might it be possible to work until just before Christmas and then resume work in the first week of January, if it appears that will allow you to cap your billable amount at less than $600 for the client in this calendar/ tax year?  That can be one less 1099-MISC to file and a little more money added to your P & L.

If the client has a deadline don’t even think of such a thing but if there is no urgency, why not ask the client if s/he might find it more convenient to take a “holiday break” starting in mid or late December? Many employees take vacation days at the end of the year in a “use it or lose it” strategy and offices can be short-handed just before Christmas and through the end of the year.  I suggest that you refrain from mentioning the tax implications.  Frame your suggestion as a way of being sensitive to what may be going on in the client’s office, i.e., customer service.

Similarly, might you be able to defer until the New Year certain invoices, as a way to keep a lid on this year’s income and taxes and wait until the first week of January to send accounts receivable for work that was performed in December? Let a couple of hours work spill over into January and make your New Year invoice legal.

Now let’s consider the 1099-MISC forms that you will generate and send.  Did you hire any sub-contractors to help you fulfill the terms of a project? Have you hired a part-time bookkeeper or social media expert or editor for your newsletter? If you paid $600 or more to anyone for business services or rents in this calendar/ tax year, then you must send that individual/ company a Form 1099-MISC no later than January 31 of the upcoming year.

So that you will have the information to complete the Form 1099-MISC, it will be necessary to request that all of your vendors and other business services providers complete a Form W-9, ideally before the work they perform commences.  Download Form W-9

Among the important pieces of information that the W-9 will surface is if your service provider’s business is incorporated as a chapter C or S entity, or an LLC or partnership that is taxed as a C or S corporation.  Along with commercial rent paid to or through a property management company (instead of the property owner), a 1099-MISC will not be required for those types of entities when payments for services rendered meet or surpass $600.

Payments for services rendered made by gift card, debit, or credit card are not to be included in the 1099-MISC tally.  Instead, the card issuers will send a Form 1099-K to your subcontractors, vendors, or you when the amount paid for business services rendered meets or surpasses $600.

Obtaining the 1099-MISC is an adventure. You must order forms from the IRS, or visit an IRS service center and pick up a few. The form is not available for downloading.  Click here to order Form 1099-MISC.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: The Tax Collector, 1542   Marinus van Reymerswaele (1490 – 1546)                  Courtesy of Alte Pinakothek Museum in Munich, Germany

Freelance Projects: Cover Legal Bases and Manage Expectations

The number of Freelance professionals working in the U.S. continues to increase. According to a 2017 survey jointly conducted by Upwork, the online marketplace that connects prospective employers with Freelance professionals in search of project work and The Freelancers Union, a not-for-profit organization that provides advocacy and health insurance to Freelance workers, 36% of the U.S. labor force derives at least some portion of annual income from Freelance work assignments.  The survey authors predict that by 2024, the percentage of Freelance workers in the U.S. will grow to include 50% of adults employed full-time.

1099 or W2?

If your organization plans to increase staffing, make it a priority to understand worker classification rules.  The Internal Revenue Service and state Departments of Revenue are watching and you don’t want to run afoul of the law.  There are three factors that help employers determine whether their staffing plan points to hiring a Freelance contract worker who will receive a 1099 form in January, or a part-time or full-time employee who will receive a W2 form in January.  If the answer to one or more of the questions below is yes, your new hire would be classified as a Freelance contractor.

1. Is there an expectation that the worker has the right to simultaneously provide  similar services for other organizations?

  • Does the worker have a business website and/or social media accounts
  • Does the worker have a business bank account
  • Does the worker have his/her own business cards and other marketing materials
  • Did the worker form a legal entity for his/her business (LLC or corporation)
  • Can the worker choose when and where the work is performed

2. Does the worker use his/her own equipment and office supplies when at work?

3. Must the worker invoice your organization to receive payment for services rendered?

Project specs in writing

Whether expressed in a formal contract or in an email, a smart Freelancer will commit to writing all duties that a client requests.  The project deadline, milestones and total fee should also be included.

Copyright exception

According to the U.S. Copyright Office, the general rule is that the person who creates a work is its legal author and owner.  The exception to that rule is “work made for hire,” i.e., a creative project or work assignment that is specially commissioned by the hiring company and produced by a non-employee.  When project work qualifies as a work made for hire the commissioning party, i.e. the company, is considered to be the work’s author and legal owner.

It’s worthwhile to include in any Freelance work contract a clause that describes the work produced for the company by the Freelancer as work made for hire, to make clear the ownership of any text, body of work, or images produced by the Freelancer.

Project payment schedule

The client and the Freelancer will discuss and agree to the project fee and its format, whether flat fee or hourly rate.  Especially in a flat fee agreement, clients are often asked to pay the Freelancer some portion of the fee in advance of beginning the project work.  When that advance is paid, it is expected that the Freelancer will immediately begin the project work.

Interim payments may be tied to the achievement of agreed-upon project milestones, or to an agreed-upon timetable.  Final payment is made at the conclusion of the project, typically within 30 days of completion.

The Freelancer should specify if credit card payments are accepted, or if checks are preferred.  How the check should be made out must be specified and tax ID information must be provided when the amount of the project will reach or exceed $600, per IRS rules.

To sum up, the Freelancer will draw up a contract that will include all important points of the work agreement. Ideally, the contract that will be signed by employer and Freelancer and each will retain a copy (but an email will suffice in most cases). 

  • Duties for which the Freelancer will be responsible
  • Project milestones
  • Project deadline
  • Work made for hire agreement
  • Project fee total amount and the payment schedule

The employer will send to the Freelancer a W9 form, which will provide the information necessary to create the 1099–MISC form that is required when payments to the Freelancer will reach or exceed $600 in a given year.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Perry Mason (CBS-TV Season 1, Episode 9, November 16, 1957) l-r Raymond Burr (Attorney Perry Mason), Pierre Watkin (Judge Keetley), Carol Leigh (Veronica Dale)

Figuring Out How to Take a Vacation

Summer is here at last and for many, thoughts turn to taking time off to relax and have fun.  Vacations make us feel good but they’re slipping from the grasp of an increasing number of workers, most notably the country’s 57.3 million Freelancers (2017 data), who receive no paid vacation benefit.  In fact, we pay twice for our vacations.  The first hit happens because we stand to lose money when we don’t work. The second hit occurs when paying for the vacation itself, if we choose to travel. Vacations are an expensive proposition for us.  Yet, they are an investment in our well-being and they are worthwhile.

Numerous studies show that we become psychologically healthier, we have a more positive outlook on life and we’re more resilient when we regularly take vacations. We’re also more productive, better problem solvers and more inclined to create and achieve business and personal goals.  It’s been amply documented that uber analyst Sigmund Freud was especially fond of vacations and he took great pleasure in personally planning his family’s annual summer get aways.

I’ll take my usual mini-vacation this summer and with some advance planning, I’ll bet you can, too.  No matter when you’re able to get away for a few days, or even if you opt for a “stay-cation” and take local day trips or just unplug from the daily grind, planning will be the key.

Step One of your vacation planning is to consider your business cycle so you can arrange to slip in a vacation during the usual slow periods.  In most industries, the Christmas to New Year’s Day period is very slow and the final week or two in August is almost as dormant.  However, for wedding planners and those who participate in that industry, summer vacations are out of the question because it’s your busiest season.  If you’re an accountant, celebrating Valentine’s Day at Punta Cana is something you’ll never do, because it’s tax season from January – April.  If you are in certain retail businesses, then traveling is out of the question between October 1 and Christmas Eve.

When you see a gap in your schedule of projects, pounce. “Stay-cations” are of course a lot easier to fit in.  You just have to do it.  Maybe you can schedule a spa “stay-cation” that’s spread out over three or four days, when you’ll schedule a massage one day, a mani /pedi the next, a facial the day after and so on?  You might also visit a museum or find a free outdoor music performance nearby.

Step Two entails your vacation budget.  Wherever you’d like to go, you probably already have an idea of the cost.  Research the price of air fare if you must fly and compare traditional B & B, airbnb and small hotel room rates.  Start setting aside funds that will get you to your preferred destination several months in advance.

Step Three will find you plotting out your work load, to ensure that all projects are completed by their deadlines and all milestones reached as promised.  In some instances it will be necessary to inform certain clients (a month in advance) that you’ll be away for a few days but ideally, you’ll schedule the vacation when you know you’ll be between projects.

Create a spreadsheet with all project tasks listed, with milestone and deadline dates noted, so you can plan and pace your work load 4 – 6 weeks in advance of your vacation date.  Do you publish a blog or newsletter that would appear while you’re on vacation? Add your content marketing to the spreadsheet as well, so you’ll have time to write posts and schedule them for automatic publishing on the desired dates.  You may need to work a few nights and weekends to ensure that all work is completed, but you’ll have something to look forward to, right?  While you’re at it, make a post vacation to-do list that will be ready for you when you return, to give yourself a stress-free re-entry.

Finally, take care of your accounts receivable so that cash-flow will not be interrupted, a very important matter when paying for a vacation.  Ready all invoices, attach to the appropriate emails and save as drafts.  On invoicing days, go into your phone and send from anywhere in the world.

So get away from it all and enjoy yourself! Even if your schedule and budget won’t allow you to spend two weeks in Buenos Aires or Marrakesh, taking one or more short vacations throughout the year is also beneficial, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Applied Research in Quality of Life.  The study researchers queried 974 Dutch vacationers and found that the excitement and anticipation associated with vacation planning delivers more of the psychological and physical benefits than the vacation itself and those benefits are multiplied when vacations of any length are taken throughout the year.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: ©  Rachel Landau

Go with the Flow, a sand sculpture designed and built by Melineige Beauregard of Quebec, Canada for the 14th Annual Revere Beach International Sand Sculpting Festival (2017) in Revere, MA