We are in the midst of a major economic shift. While workers in the past could expect to keep a stable job with a traditional employer for decades, workers of today have found they must either cobble together a career from a variety of gigs, or supplement a lackluster salary from a traditional job by doing freelance work in their spare time.
Though you can make a living (and possibly even a good one) in the gig economy, this kind of work does leave gig workers vulnerable in one very important way: retirement planning.
Without the backing of an employer-sponsored retirement account, many gig workers are not saving enough for their golden years. According to a recent report by Betterment, seven out of 10 full-time gig workers say they are unprepared to maintain their current lifestyle during retirement, while three out of 10 say they don’t regularly set aside any money for retirement.
So what’s a gig worker to do if they don’t want to be driving for Uber and taking TaskRabbit jobs into their 70s and 80s? Here are five things you can do to save for retirement as a member of the gig economy.
1. Take stock of what you have
Many people don’t have a clear idea of how much money they have. And it’s impossible to plan your retirement if you don’t know where you are today. So any retirement savings should start with a look at what you already have in the accounts in your name.
Add up how much is in your checking and savings accounts, any neglected retirement accounts you may have picked up from previous traditional jobs, cash on hand if your gig work relies on cash tips, or any other financial accounts. The sum total could add up to more than you realize if you haven’t recently taken stock of where you are.
Even if you truly have nothing more than pocket lint and a couple quarters to your name, it’s better to know where you are than proceed without a clear picture of your financial reality.
2. Open an IRA
If you don’t already have a retirement account that you can contribute to, then you need to set one up ASAP. You can’t save for retirement if you don’t have an account to put money in.
IRAs are specifically created for individual investors and you can easily get started with one online. If you have money from a 401(k) to roll over, you have more options available to you, as some IRAs have a minimum investment amount (typically $1,000). If you have less than that to open your account, you may want to choose a Roth IRA, since those often have no minimums.
The difference between the traditional IRA and the Roth IRA is how taxes are levied. With a traditional IRA, you can fund the account with pre-tax income. In other words, every dollar you put in an IRA is a dollar you do not have to claim as income. However, you will have to pay ordinary income tax on your IRA distributions once you reach retirement. Roth IRAs are funded with money that has already been taxed, so you can take distributions tax-free in retirement.
Many gig workers choose a Roth IRA because their current tax burden is low. If you anticipate earning more over the course of your career, using a Roth IRA for retirement investments can protect you from the taxman in retirement.
Whether you choose a Roth or a traditional IRA, the contribution limit per year, as of 2018, is $5,500 for workers under 50, and $6,500 for anyone who is 50+.
3. Avoid the bite of investment fees
While no investor wants to lose portfolio growth to fees, it’s especially important for gig workers to choose asset allocations that will minimize investment fees. That’s because gig workers are likely to have less money to invest, so every dollar needs to be working hard for them.