Employee Benefits for Freelancers

The one thing I miss the most about the corporate life is a great employee benefit package provided by a generous employer:  health insurance, life insurance, sick days, vacation time, a retirement plan and more. As a freelancer, however, traditional employee benefits aren’t handed to us on a silver platter. Sure, we get to choose our own work wardrobe, have an incredibly short “commute” downstairs or down the hall and enjoy setting our own schedules, but that doesn’t pay the bills when we need to go to the doctor. Fortunately, freelancers have options for all of these benefits and more.

Health insurance:  When I started freelancing, I couldn’t afford health insurance, but I qualified – for a time – under my state’s health plan so I could get coverage for myself and my daughter until I was no longer eligible. When I earned enough to write full-time, I went online to get quotes for individual medical coverage. I went to esurance.com, put in some basic info. and, in minutes, received about a dozen health care plan options. I opted for a plan with some first dollar basic benefits (the first six medical visits per year were covered, for example) as well as catastrophic coverage. In addition to this option, some professional associations like SPJ and the Freelancers Union offer group discounts to their members.

Life insurance: Life insurance can also be purchased fairly easily online at sites like esurance.com. Another option is to find a local agent who represents a single company (e.g., New York Life, MetLife) or multiple companies. Originally, I purchased life insurance on esurance.com. As my family’s needs changed, however, I chose to work with my Edward Jones investment rep who was able to offer quotes from several companies.

Retirement plan:  There are a variety of retirement planning options available to freelancers including individual retirement accounts (IRAs) – traditional & Roth; solo 401(k) plans; SEP plans; and more. Because retirement planning can be complex, it is best to work with a qualified advisor. I chose to work with a local Edward Jones rep who reviewed my financial situation, time line and goals and was able to create a SEP plan tailored to my needs and to fund that SEP with investments that were appropriate for my risk tolerance and financial goals.

Sick days:  I don’t know about you, but when I’m not working, I’m not getting paid…but that doesn’t mean I have to work 24/7. I plan my schedule around my assignments, sometimes working longer days than others and taking time off when my work load is lighter. There are other options, however. In terms of sick days, I try to stay ahead of the schedule in terms of assignments. That way I am planning for the inevitable – getting sick, caring for a sick child or parent, or dealing with unavoidable work delays. With a little cushion built in, I can take the occasional sick day when I need to.

Vacation time:   Freelance expert Michelle Goodman (“My So Called Freelance Life”) builds time off when calculating her current minimum hourly rate. She accounts for benefits and time off, so she is only working as much as she wants to reach her financial and lifestyle goals.

For more employee benefits advice, stay tuned for freelancer Paula Pant’s upcoming blog post on The Independent Journalist.

Dana Neuts is a full-time freelance writer, editor and marketing professional in the Seattle area. She is the owner/publisher of two hyperlocal community blogs, iLoveKent.net and iLoveCovington.com, and she serves as the chair of SPJ’s freelance committee. For more information about Neuts, visit her website Virtually Yourz.

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