Surviving The Gig Economy

Bank Cash and Avoid Debt As A Freelancer

The gig economy. Depending on your perspective, it’s either here to stay forever or it never even happened at all.

However you view the label itself, the reality is this: A whole bunch of us are freelancing—and not everyone is doing it by choice.

According to the recent Freelancing in America study from Upwork and Freelancers Union, freelancers will make up more than half of the American workforce by 2027. The good news: Of the 57.3 million Americans currently working in the gig economy, 63 percent are doing it because they want to—up 10 points since 2014.

Buoyed by benefits like schedule flexibility and work skills constantly honed by the latest demands of the marketplace, freelancing has become a genuine lifestyle enabled by countless services that allow us to work, eat, dress, live, drive and even date on our own terms.

But being a gig economy worker can also come with a healthy dose of anxiety.

For every person willingly embracing life as a professional 1099er, there’s likely someone who graduated with a four-year degree, found nothing particularly good in the job market, and decided to cobble together a living out of rideshare driving and doing chores for strangers on the latest task app.

Fortunately, working gig to gig doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. There’s actually a pretty robust network of support—and no shortage of apps—to help address worries over everything from a lack of retirement savings to unexpected or habitual levels of debt.

We’ve done our reading, and here are some of the ones that struck us as particularly helpful.

Freelancer Hubs

Being a freelancer, by nature, requires you to adopt the “go it alone” mindset of a career mercenary. But, in reality, more than one in three American workers has a gig-based job—with that number expected to rise to 43 percent by 2020, according to a 2017 Intuit study. Given their sheer numbers, gig economy workers are an established demographic with access to countless services designed to help them stay happy and debt-free, many of which can be found by actively networking online with other pros rowing the same boat.

To make it easier to connect with others, cities like New York City are funding freelancer hubs that give independent workers access to a variety of professional services and connections through monthly events. Participants can get help finding insurance, figuring out their taxes and navigating a healthcare system that’s not exactly built for their professional lifestyle.

Other coworking spaces in major cities across the nation offer a similar sense of community.

The Freelancers Union, which has been in existence since 1995, was created in the absence of safety net for freelancers, providing them with access to benefits familiar to the traditional W-2 workforce. In addition to offering healthcare options for workers in New York, New Jersey, California and Texas, the Freelancers Union provides networking opportunities and monthly newsletters with tips on how to better your business.

Emerging Side Hustles

If you’re a freelancer, you’re probably already exhausted from the demands from your litany of clients, but hear us out: Some moneymaking side hustles can fill in the gaps with minimal effort and mere access to a smartphone.

The app Mercari allows you to sell household items through an easy-to-use interface, with the additional bonus of paying you to declutter. One 28-year-old woman told CNBC that she was able to make $2,800 in just a few months selling things for as little as $10.

The TaskRabbit app, meanwhile, pays you for handling various chores for its users—with fees set according to the difficulty of the job.

And if you’re in one of the 125+ markets where Bird operates its dockless e-scooters, you can make between $5 and $20 apiece by collecting and charging them overnight, then releasing them at a “Bird Nest” the next day.

Tax & Savings Tools

Literally anyone these days is susceptible to bad loans, unfair financial terms and even outright scams that have the actual potential to literally ruin your life. The key to avoiding them? Source help from trusted tools, create a savings plan, and learn the ins and outs of navigating your tax deductions.

There are several apps available to help you manage money and create a budget by helping you identify and manage precisely what you have to spend on eating out, groceries and other activities.

PocketGuard, for example, tracks your monthly budget, studies cash flow patterns and allows users to set goals for savings. Its online dashboard also connects you to other savings tools like Paribus and helps identify all your monthly payments while categorizing your spending. It tells you exactly how much pocket money you actually have.

And if you’re interested in monitoring or juicing your credit score, PocketGuard will connect you with sources such as Self Lender. For qualifying applicants, Self Lender funds a secured installment loan to a certificate of deposit (“CD”) account and locks the funds until the loan is paid in full. Self Lender’s bank partners report payment history to all three major bureaus, and the idea is that customers who make on-time payments to the bank lender (and on-time payments to any other creditors) may experience a credit score increase.

There are, of course, a wide array of other apps and options to suit the freelancer lifestyle beyond the ones mentioned here. And all of them will only become more critical as the economy continues to increasingly rely on freelancers, says Sen. Mark Warner.

"If we don't have a social contract for this workforce, if we don't have social insurance that moves with workers, then I feel like the economic discontent and economic insecurity that comes from working with no safety net under you would rise dramatically," Warner told NPR.

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