A study by Betterment.com revealed that over 30 percent of gig economy workers are not saving money for retirement. This is because the nature of these jobs leaves most workers unprepared when it comes to planning for their eventual retirement.
Without employer benefits such as matching contributions, gig economy workers must rely on alternatives to save for retirement. However, most gig economy workers are not aware of how to best carry this out by themselves. In this article, we explain five strategies gig economy workers will find useful to boost retirement savings.
Get your finances in order, including money available and outstanding debt accounts
A significant number of families do not keep track of their finances. This means they are usually not aware of how much money they have at hand. The first thing gig economy workers should do when they start saving for retirement is putting the books in order and creating an overview of their current financial position.
To do this, workers must first take a look at how much cash they have. This should include, for example, money received from tips if they work as drivers for a ride-sharing company. Then, they can add that money up to what they have stored in checking and savings accounts. Those who have been employed before can also include money available in previous retirement accounts, such as a 401(k).
Another important thing to keep in mind is debt accounts. A significant number of gig economy workers have mortgages, car loans or credit card debt. Having a clear picture of outstanding debt is needed to determine debt-to-income ratio. This number represents how much income goes into debt and is critical to determine how much money can be set aside for retirement.
Open a individual retirement account, or IRA
Opening a retirement savings account is the next logical step after getting finances in order, unless people already have one they can contribute to. Not all previous retirement savings accounts from past jobs can be used. In general, those accounts are 401(k)s that were tied to a specific employer who was matching contributions. However, most 401(k) accounts can be rolled into an individual retirement account, or IRA.
IRAs are retirement savings accounts anyone can open regardless of employment status. They are not tied to an employer and gig economy workers can contribute at their own capacity. Opening an IRA often requires an initial investment, which can be around $1,000. Workers who have old 401(k) accounts can use those funds as investment to open their IRAs. If someone has no previous retirement savings accounts or personal savings to use as funds, opening a Roth IRA may be a better solution.
Traditional IRAs are funded using pre-tax dollars, which means workers will have to pay taxes once they reach retirement. This approach can be problematic for workers who expect to end up in a higher tax bracket, as they will have to set aside a larger portion of their retirements to pay taxes. In contrast, Roth IRAs are funded with post-tax money, which will be tax-free when workers reach retirement.
Roth IRAs are the preferred individual retirement account for gig economy workers. This is because most are currently in a lower tax bracket, and anticipate earning more in the following years. A Roth IRA also protects them against future tax increases.
Traditional and Roth IRAs have annual contribution limits. For 2019, the limit is $6,000. Workers over 50 can contribute more to make up for previous years when contributions were not made. Gig economy workers who also have a full-time job can contribute to a 401(k) and IRA at the same time, with the potential to set aside up to $25,000 each year.
Invest wisely, avoiding options with expensive investment fees
Gig economy workers who don’t have access to employer-sponsored retirement savings plans cannot rely only on IRAs. The $6,000 annual limit may be too low to save enough money, especially for workers approaching retirement. Therefore, investing money in the stock market or a private enterprise might be needed to offset the difference.
When investing, gig economy workers must keep two things in mind. First, they should always try to maintain a diversified portfolio of investments. This will minimize exposure to risk if something goes wrong. Second, they should focus on options with the least amount of investment fees.
One potential way of avoiding hefty investment fees is through index funds. They are mutual funds designed to match or track the behavior of a stock market index. In general, most index funds use the S&P 500 as their benchmark for profits, although some use other indexes such as the Russell 2000 for small companies, or MSCI EAFE for foreign stocks.
The main benefit of index funds is their low investment cost compared to other types of funds such as those being actively managed. On average, the expense ratio of an index fund, or percentage of invested money that goes to the fund company, is around 0.03 percent. This means that someone investing $10,000 only pays $3 in fees. By comparison, actively managed funds have an average expense ratio of 0.69 percent. Investing the same amount of money in such a fund will incur fees of at least $69.
Some gig economy workers might ask what is the benefit of investing in an index fund instead of purchasing stocks directly from the market. It may be tempting to purchase stocks from companies like Apple, Netflix or Facebook, which have grown significantly in value in recent years. However, investing in a single company increases risk. An index fund is made up of stocks from all the companies in the matching index, reducing risk and exposure to heavy losses.
Take advantage of modern tools to streamline contributions towards retirement
Most gig economy workers do not have fixed salaries. Uber drivers, for example, will earn according to how many passengers they take, the length of rides and local fare prices. Freelancers working as graphic designers or web developers will earn according to the nature of the project, and under specific budgets. It is not unusual for a gig economy worker to make $5,000 one month, then $2,500 the following month.
Making fixed contributions to a retirement savings account is more difficult for gig economy workers. However, there are several tools they can use to make sure contributions are still being made each month. For example, workers can use their bank accounts to set up automatic monthly transfers to IRAs. Money transferred should be an amount of money they know will be available each month. For some workers, this can be $200, for others $50. What matters is to make sure money is being set aside for retirement without affecting debt payments, rent and other critical expenses.
Nowadays, many savings apps have been developed to help people achieve this purpose. For example, one popular mobile app called Digit analyzes account information, including deposits and withdrawals, to determine how much money can be transferred each month to IRAs. The program also helps schedule automatic transfers after workers have approved an amount they feel comfortable with.
One side benefit of using savings apps is that they help avoid overdrafts, which can be expensive. Also, they can set up alerts to inform workers when there are not enough funds to carry out an incoming transfer. However, most savings apps are not free. Digit, for example, charges $3/month, though it has a free 30-day trial. A similar app called Mint is available at no cost and includes a wide variety of additional services.
Count extra money as income and set aside a portion towards retirement
Gig economy workers should look beyond their job’s income to fund retirement. The lack of employer matching contributions and other full-time job benefits has to be offset through non-traditional methods. This includes funneling extra money, such as bonus payments, birthday gifts or tax credits and refunds towards their retirement savings account.
A significant number of gig economy workers only count earnings from their main jobs as real income. However, this calculation often fails to show the full picture. For example, Uber drivers receive around 6 percent additional income through tips. The best drivers receive as much as 20 percent. It may not seem like much, but a driver who completes 300 fares each month can make an extra $350 from tips.
How much extra money can be put aside depends on several factors. For some gig economy workers, their income only allows them to set aside $50 each month for retirement. However, workers who have some free time could take advantage of resources such as TaskRabbit, an online labor marketplace, to increase their income.