Why small businesses need to think big this summer hiring season

(BPT) – Finding great employees hasn’t been easy for small businesses lately. And this summer, the competition could heat up even more.

Thanks to a healthy economy, unemployment levels are low across the country. Many companies will be adding even more jobs as the weather warms up — especially those in seasonal industries such as tourism and hospitality, and other professions that are weather-dependent. While some of these positions may be filled by new graduates, this year employers can expect a fight for top candidates in any role.

Small businesses in particular will feel the brunt of the hiring squeeze, as they often can’t match the compensation and benefits offered by their larger competitors. This forces them to get creative to attract and retain the best.

One way many businesses get a leg up on their competition is with a small-business loan. Companies like Funding Circle offer working capital loans that allow businesses to get fast, affordable financing to expand their teams and achieve their goals.

Here are three more tips that can help small businesses gain an edge this summer:

Hire strategically

What are the different seasonal roles you need? While many businesses will be hiring for customer-facing positions, don’t stop your planning there. It may be worth taking the time to ensure your systems, website and marketing campaigns are up to snuff too as you head into a summer rush. With today’s gig economy, it’s easier than ever to hire high-quality, professional seasonal employees like web designers, marketing managers and accountants on an independent contractor basis.

You should also be creative about how you find the right candidates. Online, think carefully about the job description you post. It shouldn’t just be a list of responsibilities, but a chance to market your company to your future hire. Offline, get your current employees to help with the search by offering a recruiting bonus. And rethink your preconceptions about what work actually needs to be performed onsite — roles like administrative support, marketing and bookkeeping can now be done remotely with ease, which can widen your talent pool and be more appealing to prospective applicants.

Do everything by the book

Before making any job offers, acquaint yourself with state and federal fair hiring practices and job discrimination laws — and know how to implement them. If you have questions about any employment laws related to seasonal employees, talk to a lawyer.

Second, make sure you’re correctly classifying your seasonal employees according to state and federal laws (think: part-time vs. full-time, or contractor vs. employee). You could end up facing problems down the road, like being held liable for payroll taxes, if you’ve misclassified any workers.

It’s also important to make sure you get all employment agreements in writing. A lack of written contracts, including work for hire or consulting agreements, is a common small-business mistake, and a little effort upfront can save you a lot of headaches later.

Build your employer brand

Right now, the best candidates can afford to be picky about where they work. Every employer, big and small, has a reputation, and yours can either be a secret weapon or an Achilles’ heel in your hunt for new staff.

Your employer brand encompasses all the ways your business is perceived by staff and applicants alike. This can be shaped by everything from the interview process to the perks you offer, your policies, working conditions, company values, culture and more. Ensure that you’re consistently communicating that your business is a great place to work, even if only for the summer. When done right, you’ll get good employees to come to you rather than the other way around.

For more tips and information about small business loans, visit FundingCircle.com.

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The Merchant Bill of Rights seeks to level the playing field for small businesses

(BPT) – Consumers who make just a few purchases each day may not think much about the companies that process their credit card. But for a small or mid-sized business, processors who aren’t transparent about the costs they pass on can add up to an expensive headache. Heartland is celebrating 10 years of the Merchant Bill of Rights as an industry standard to promote fair card processing practices.

Its purpose: to enable merchants who don’t have the resources of large purchasing organizations to effectively manage their costs, determine which processor best meets their needs and realize significant savings.

1. The right to know the fee of every card transaction, who is charging it, and if there are surcharges and bill-backs.

Owners or operators of a small or mid-sized business deserve — and should expect — competitive pricing and the best value for payments processing including credit, debit and prepaid card processing.

Many processors and their middlemen hide arbitrary charges — often classified as “surcharges” — without disclosing them to merchants. These charges are pure profit to processors and their middlemen, making transactions that are already expensive even more costly.

2. The right to know the markup of major credit card fee increases and reductions.

Credit card companies typically adjust interchange rate categories and fees semi-annually in April and October. When rates go up, many processors seize the opportunity to inflate them even more and then deceptively blame the increase on the card brands.

3. The right to know all transaction middlemen, and have reasonable equipment costs.

The chain of events that begins when a merchant swipes a customer’s card is fairly straightforward. At minimum, it requires four essential entities to process the transaction: a bank, a credit card brand, a telephone or internet connection and a processor.

When big companies buy equipment, they often solicit proposals from multiple equipment manufacturers to drive the best deal. Owners of a small or mid-sized business may not have the time or resources to shop around for a payment device, and oftentimes turn to their processor for guidance. However, they may not be getting the deal they’ve bargained for — and most likely don’t know it.

4. The right to real-time, dedicated, live service 24/7/365.

Service and support are critical factors in implementing and maintaining a card acceptance program. Unlike national merchants, small local businesses may lack the resources needed to ensure proper training, ongoing support and the best available rates.

With most Americans relying on credit and debit cards for their purchases, one minor problem that prevents or delays the processing of transactions at the point of sale can have devastating effects. Combine the ripple effect of customer dissatisfaction with lost revenue, and it’s easy to see why live customer support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year is mission critical for all merchants.

5. The right to encrypted card numbers, secure transactions and real-time fraud and transaction monitoring.

Credit and debit card fraud costs American businesses billions of dollars every year. Thieves work overtime to find ways to steal from merchants. Often disgruntled or dishonest employees — even some customers — are masters at making money the illegal way, and not getting caught.

For more information, to share stories about dishonest business practices or scams, or to ask a question, visit MerchantBillofRights.org.

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How retailers can build trust and relevance in their communities

(BPT) – Over the past decade, technology has reshaped the retail industry in profound ways. Ninety-six percent of Americans are now shopping online, according to a recent study from CPC Strategy. Which means today’s business leaders face increasing pressure to keep retail spaces relevant and engaging for customers.

One solution to captivating today’s consumer is a simple one: Build meaningful connections with local communities, says Etienne Veber, president of Field Trip Factory, a firm that helps design, schedule and promote interactive learning experiences within retail environments.

“Technology provides greater convenience and lower prices,” Veber says, “but it is not a replacement for human interactions.”

The increasing lack of human connections in our daily lives represents a unique opportunity for retailers to thrive in today’s environment, he says, by identifying their core values and concerns, and then expressing them through meaningful learning experiences and a deeper sense of community.

“We learn by doing, and retail environments can be incredibly powerful as teaching platforms,” Veber says.

The value of purpose

When companies express a sense of purpose to their customers, it has a profound effect on the confidence in the brand. Eighty-five percent of companies with a strong sense of purpose say they are backed by their communities, because they are seen as “good and helpful corporate citizens,” according to a survey by Deloitte.

Furthermore, 89 percent of firms with a purpose say clients and customers trust the quality of their products and services — versus the 66 percent of firms that do not have this sense of purpose.

As a way to demonstrate its commitment to its local communities, multi-format food retailer Giant Eagle, Inc. developed an interactive program that connects with local school children. “Be A Smart Shopper” helps young students and their families learn about making healthy food choices.

Over the years, it has been a very effective way for Giant Eagle’s retail Team Members to uphold the company’s common purpose to improve people’s everyday lives and well-being in a community-centered way, and so far more than 600,000 families have been reached across Pennsylvania and Ohio. Educators love the program because it supplements the classroom curriculum and gets their students really engaged. Ninety-five percent of them are planning to come back with their students next year!

“Our Be A Smart Shopper program is an important part of how we fulfill our commitments to education and health and wellness,” says Giant Eagle CEO Laura Karet. “Through the program, our retail Team Members are able to meaningfully impact how the children in our communities think about the foods they eat, and encourage involvement from the children in family meal planning.”

Expressing purpose in the retail space

A retailer can build trust and loyalty by expressing their values in innovative ways. Their stores are more than places to shop. They can build opportunities right in the towns and cities in which they serve.

Host in-store classes and events: Business leaders, store managers and longtime employees, with their industry knowledge, are community gurus. With that mindset, what better way to connect with the community than to open the doors for an on-site event? Things like hands-on demonstrations, seminars, consultations and even heading up an ongoing club are all engaging ways to share knowledge and help people solve their most common pain points.

Champion local causes: Transform company values and industry knowledge into a community asset, and direct resources to solve problems in the community. Reaching out to local nonprofits, being a major sponsor to make a local event even bigger and better, or paying employees for their time to volunteer are all ways a brand can build a meaningful community presence.

Find a partner: Most businesses do not have the in-house expertise to organize, plan and publicize in-house events and initiatives, which is why some turn to a trusted partner for expertise in that field. For example, as Giant Eagle planned its Be A Smart Shopper Program, Field Trip Factory took the lead with the curriculum (with input from educators), and created the online tool that makes it easy for teachers to discover the program and sign up their class for an event. Each participating store can easily set its availability on the Field Trip Factory platform and these educational events take place without disrupting their day-to-day business activities.

Today’s retail climate is a uniquely challenging one, due to the rise in technology. To learn more about finding opportunities to engage with customers and communities, visit fieldtripfactory.com.

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Would direct sales work for you?

(BPT) – The Federal Reserve Board discovered in a survey of working Americans that nearly half of U.S. adults don’t have enough cash on hand to pay for a $400 emergency. If that’s a concern for you, you might be thinking about joining the 44 million Americans who have found ways to make money in addition to their main source of income. Common options include waiting tables, working retail, becoming a rideshare driver and direct selling.

Direct selling, also called direct-to-consumer sales, has been around for over 160 years, and companies like Avon, Tupperware, WorldVentures and Amway have been offering new business opportunities to independent sales representatives since they opened. The direct-sales business is still booming, with a record 20.5 million people involved in the U.S. alone in 2016. The estimated direct retail sales of $35.54 billion in 2016 was the second-highest in direct-selling history.

Is working in direct sales right for you? Benefits of working in the industry can include:

* Flexibility — You determine your schedule, and you choose to work as many — or as few — hours as you want. If you have a knack for direct selling, you could ultimately make it your main source of income.

* Personal growth and development — Take advantage of the tools and training offered by your direct selling company to help you build your business.

* Companionship — Connect with fellow sales representatives and prospective customers, which can lead to lasting relationships.

Passion for travel and financial freedom prompted Wayne Nugent, founder of WorldVentures, to launch his direct sales business in 2005. “We’ve been changing the way people take vacations for more than a decade, all while helping our independent representatives discover their potential and experience more in life,” says Nugent.

The direct seller of travel and leisure club memberships, is just one of many opportunities waiting for you. Whether you decide to go into direct sales, housesitting or part-time bartending, the possibilities for supplemental income are limited only by your imagination.

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Growing your business? These 3 financing mistakes can cost you big

(BPT) – Starting a business can be tough. Growing one can be even harder.

Dr. Nacondus Gamble knows this all too well. After her optometry practice, The South Eastern Eye Center, began to establish a reputation for great patient care, Dr. Gamble decided she was ready to expand. So she began looking for business financing to open another location in Georgia. That’s when she discovered that many lenders don’t share her commitment to high-quality service.

“I called a couple of places, but I just felt like they were taking advantage of me,” she said. “It was unnecessarily harsh.”

Dr. Gamble ended up borrowing through Funding Circle, an online platform focused exclusively on small business loans. Known for its speed, transparency and customer service, Funding Circle has helped more than 40,000 businesses around the world get financing, says co-founder and U.S. managing director Sam Hodges.

Today there are more options than ever before for businesses looking to grow. While some of these newer options can offer a significant leg up, others can actually end up doing more harm than good.

So how can you get the best deal on a business loan? It helps to watch out for these three common mistakes:

1. Not understanding the true cost of your loan

When shopping for a business loan, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by fast-talking salespeople, endless strings of acronyms and confusing terms. If it’s unclear how much you’ll really pay for financing, that’s a good sign you should walk away, Hodges cautions.

A good lender will always be willing to help you calculate the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) and explain all the terms of your loan clearly. They’ll also help you understand what fees you can expect over the life of the loan — some lenders sneak in additional hidden fees, concealing them in fine print or confusing legalese, which can significantly inflate the cost.

2. Getting trapped in daily or weekly repayment cycles

Some types of business financing can seem like a godsend for a company in need of fast cash. These providers promise easy approval with quick access to funds. However, that speed can come at a steep price — in many cases, the provider takes a portion of your sales on a daily or weekly basis until the debt is repaid.

Term loans are often the better option, Hodges says. They allow businesses to borrow a set amount of money for a specific purpose, like hiring new staff or stocking up on inventory. The funds are then paid back over a set amount of time, with consistent monthly payments and no surprise fees.

3. Not knowing what you deserve

While many finance providers have your best interests at heart, the truth is that not all do. Some use irresponsible or misleading practices and take advantage of small business owners’ need for cash.

After seeing countless small businesses get stuck with credit products they couldn’t afford or understand, a coalition of small business advocates, lenders and online credit marketplaces came together to launch the Small Business Borrowers’ Bill of Rights. As the first-ever gold standard for responsible business lending, the Bill of Rights outlines the rights and safeguards that small businesses should expect from finance providers.

These include the right to transparent pricing and terms — ensuring business owners can see the cost and terms of any financing being offered in writing and in a form that is clear, complete and easy to compare with other options — and the right to non-abusive products that won’t trap you in an expensive cycle of re-borrowing. Before you take out any financing, check if your lender has signed on at ResponsibleBusinessLending.org.

Considering a loan for your business? You should know the five things business lenders typically care about when evaluating your application. To maximize your success, read more at www.Made2DoMore.com.

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Women in agriculture are challenging stereotypes

(BPT) – About a third of the nation’s farmers are women, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And most of these women are working family farms, since 99 percent of all American farms are family-owned and operated. Just under 1 million women farmers contribute $12.9 billion to the nation’s economy and are responsible for farming more than 301 million acres.

More women are seeking careers in agriculture, and they’re breaking stereotypes about what their roles can be. Many women in the agriculture industry are farmers who grow crops and raise animals, while others are helping advance agriculture by fulfilling non-traditional roles:

Seed sales representative

Megan Moll grew up working on her family’s farm in central Michigan. Today, as a sales representative for Syngenta, she supports a network of independent seed advisers who sell the company’s corn hybrids and soybean varieties. She started with the company as an intern. “If you want to go after it, go after it,” Moll advises women who may be considering a career in agriculture. “Don’t let anything stop you.”

Grape growers and winemakers

In 1999, Brenda Wolgamott and her husband, Duane, entered the wine-growing business; and in 2002, they created their own label — Marin’s Vineyard — named for their daughter, Marin Wolgamott. At age 14, Marin began delving into the science of winemaking, learning how to test grapes for sugar and pH levels in a lab, so she could provide the service to neighbors who would otherwise have to send their grapes to far-off labs for testing. Today, she is the winemaker for the vineyard. Marin’s experience and career path demonstrate “there are different avenues to get in,” she says. “Whether you want to do chemistry or love to get your hands dirty in the cellar, everyone’s job in the winery is always appreciated.”

TV host and photographer

Born and raised in rural Iowa, Marj Guyler-Alaniz graduated from Grand View University with a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, photography and journalism, and immediately went to work in agriculture for a crop insurance company. Inspired to draw attention to the roles of women in agriculture, she founded FarmHer, an online social community for women farmers. She now hosts the award-winning television show “FarmHer on RFD-TV.” “I think showing women who are successfully farming or ranching plants a seed in the younger generation,” Guyler-Alaniz says. “Younger girls who are interested in getting into agriculture or carrying on a family tradition can see for themselves that they can do it.”

Agrobacterium researcher

At a time when few women went to college, let alone pursued a higher degree in a scientific field, Mary-Dell Chilton, Ph.D., had the curiosity and drive to bring about major change. When one of her students turned in a paper suggesting bacteria that caused a common plant disease could actually transfer a portion of its DNA to the afflicted plant, Chilton thought his theory was wrong. In the spirit of the scientific method, she tested it and instead found her student’s theory to be true. Her research laid the groundwork for transforming how scientists conduct plant genetic research. Her work in plant biotechnology has significantly affected the global agriculture industry. “I give young people today the same advice I’ve given throughout my career,” Chilton says. “Pursue what you love and what fascinates you, and the rest will follow.”

To learn more about women in agriculture and farm news, visit SyngentaThrive.com.

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The time is right to seek new income opportunities

(BPT) – Whether you plan to watch the ball drop in Times Square this New Year’s Eve or be in bed by 10 p.m., one thing is certain: a new year is coming, and with it comes a chance for change. It’s a time to reflect on what works best for you and reset your course for the coming year. Research shows that 41 percent of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, and after spending the holidays indulging in food and festivities, it’s not surprising that the most popular resolutions include weight loss, improved fitness and healthier eating.

As the holiday bills start coming in, it’s also common for people to focus on getting their finances into better order. The Federal Reserve Board discovered in a survey of working Americans that nearly half of U.S. adults don’t have enough cash on hand to pay for a $400 emergency. If that’s a concern for you, consider joining the 44 million Americans who have found ways to make money in addition to their main source of income. Common options include waiting tables, working retail, becoming a rideshare driver and direct selling.

Direct selling, also called direct-to-consumer sales, has been around for over 160 years, and companies like WorldVentures, Avon, Tupperware and Amway have been offering new business opportunities to independent sales representatives since they opened. The direct-sales business is still booming, with a record 20.5 million people involved in the U.S. alone in 2016. The estimated direct retail sales of $35.54 billion in 2016 was the second-highest in direct-selling history.

Is working in direct sales right for you? Benefits of working in the industry can include:

* Flexibility — You determine your schedule, and you choose to work as many — or as few — hours as you want. If you have a knack for direct selling, you could ultimately make it your main source of income.

* Personal growth and development — Take advantage of the tools and training offered by your direct selling company to help you build your business.

* Companionship — Connect with fellow sales representatives and prospective customers, any of which can lead to lasting relationships.

Passion for travel and financial freedom prompted Wayne Nugent, founder and “chief visionary officer” of WorldVentures, to launch his direct sales business in 2005. “We’ve been changing the way people take vacations for more than a decade, all while helping our independent representatives discover their potential and experience more in life,” says Nugent. “We have a world-class product and we embrace a culture of success.”

WorldVentures, a direct seller of travel and leisure club memberships, is just one of many opportunities waiting for you. Whether you decide to go into direct sales, housesitting or part-time bartending, the possibilities for supplemental income are limited only by your imagination.

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Growing need for ag expertise: Not all high-paid careers are on the farm

(BPT) – (BPT) – As the farming industry faces growing consolidation in the U.S., one might get the impression fewer jobs are now available in agriculture.

In fact, just the opposite is true. Today, one in three people worldwide — more than a billion employees — work in an ag-related industry.

Industry growth and digital innovation combined with retirements are driving significant demand for college grads and other professionals, including those without experience in typical ag-related subjects, and many feature excellent salaries. The USDA and Purdue University predict 57,900 jobs requiring ag skills will become available each year between now and 2020 while only 35,000 grads in food, ag, renewable resources or environment studies will look to fill those jobs each year. Further, the average starting salary in the U.S. for those graduating with bachelor’s degrees in agriculture or natural resources was a healthy $54,364 as of winter 2017, a 12 percent increase from 2016.

“People are starting to discover (agriculture) is a pretty good industry to be in,” Iowa State College Career Services Director Mike Gaul recently told CNBC. “They realize this sector isn’t our traditional what-we-joke ‘cows, plows and sows’ industry anymore. It’s incredibly diverse.”

The expectation is that grads with expertise in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and/or the environment will fill 61 percent of all ag-related openings, while employers must seek grads in other majors to fill the 39 percent gap. Notably, women already make up more than half of the higher-ed grads in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and environmental studies.

High school grads considering degrees in agriculture might consider one of these highest-paying ag occupations:

1. C-suite executives: The CEOs, COOs and CFOs at ag startups or established corporations routinely earn $200,000-plus for overseeing company growth and profitability. A bachelor’s or master’s degree is generally needed in addition to a background in leadership and at least five years’ industry experience.

2. Ag lawyers: Because ag is so highly regulated, such professionals may handle issues related to water, land use, pesticides, seeds, the environment, labor/HR, immigration, commerce, intellectual property, mergers/acquisitions, etc. Salaries average out at $160,000. Required: a bachelor’s degree followed by a J.D. and completed state bar exam.

3. Ag sales managers: Those skilled in overseeing sales teams are earning an average $125,000-plus annually. Most hold bachelor’s degrees in agronomy, crop science, soil science, biology, agricultural business or a related field.

4. Ag scientists: Salaries average out at $120,000. A bachelor’s degree is usually sufficient, with in-demand specialties including bioinformatics, animal genetics or the regulatory environment (managing and strategizing a product through the regulatory process).

5. Ag engineers: Among specialties in demand are environmental, ethanol and mechanical engineers, with average salaries running upwards of $80,000 for those holding bachelor’s degrees.

Bottom line: The next generation of ag specialists will be crucial to helping solve the world’s most pressing issues.

Agricultural company Syngenta is supporting that cause by bestowing multiple college scholarships to ag students each year, and of course hiring many grads in various majors.

“This is an exciting time in agriculture because we have new tools to develop better seeds and crop protection products, as well as digital solutions to help farmers be more productive,” says Ian Jepson, head of trait research and developmental biology at Syngenta. “We encourage students to think about the wide range of challenging and rewarding careers in companies like ours to help develop and deliver what farmers need to feed the world.”

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Small businesses have struggled to find funding: Not anymore

(BPT) – In business, dreams are easy. Finding the money to make them happen, however, can be difficult.

Even established, successful businesses can get turned away for loans at banks. This was the case for Sole Bicycles, a popular maker of stylish, high-performance bikes based in Venice Beach, California.

With the busy summer season approaching, they sought a bank loan to expand inventory. The last thing they expected was to be rejected more than 20 times over the following two years.

“No bank was willing to work with us, and we missed opportunities as a result,” said Sole president Jimmy Standley.

His experience is all too common. According to the Federal Reserve’s latest Small Business Credit Survey, nearly one in two small businesses say they struggle to get the funding they need.

Fortunately, over the past few years a new option has grown to fill that gap. Online lending platforms connect businesses looking to borrow with investors looking to lend. It’s a fundamentally different business model than banks, said Sam Hodges, co-founder of one such platform, Funding Circle.

He explained that the lending platforms use technology to connect credit supply directly with demand, making it easier and faster for businesses to get affordable loans. Funds come from a community of individual and institutional investors.

“It’s not uncommon for businesses to wait weeks to hear back from banks after applying for a loan — just to be denied,” Hodges said. “Once we have everything we need, we’re able to make a decision in as little as 24 hours.”

When borrowing online, buyer beware

When considering an online lending platform, it’s important to look carefully at what you’re being offered, Hodges said.

He warned that borrowers should beware of lenders who promise approval virtually instantly, without taking the time to learn about how much each applicant can really afford. Loans from these lenders can come with murky terms and upwards of 70 percent annual percentage rates (APRs). Additionally, these lenders may take payments directly out of your sales daily or weekly until the debt is repaid — which could drastically reduce your cash flow.

“Term loans are the better option for established businesses looking to borrow a set amount of money for a specific purpose and pay it back over time,” Hodges said. “These are ordinary Main Street businesses across America simply looking to open a new location, hire more staff, stock up on inventory or refinance debt.”

This includes Standley at Sole Bicycles, who ended up applying for a second Funding Circle loan as his company continued to grow.

Thinking about applying for a loan? There are five things business lenders typically care about. Read more at www.Made2DoMore.com.

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3 steps to help freelancers and gig economy workers avoid a tax blunder

(BPT) – More and more people are earning extra cash by freelancing in the sharing economy. That may mean writing on the side, playing music on the weekends, driving for ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft or selling handmade jewelry on Etsy. No matter how the money flows in, gig economy earners must be aware of the related tax obligations and potential pitfalls.

“While it’s easier now than ever to earn extra cash, it’s important for freelancers and independent contractors to get smart about their tax responsibilities,” said Mark Jaeger, director of Tax Development for TaxAct, a leading provider of affordable do-it-yourself tax software. “Gig economy earners must remember they are responsible for paying federal and state income tax on any income earned. And, they’re also subject to self-employment tax, to cover Social Security and Medicare taxes.”

If you’re one of the 55 million Americans who chooses to freelance, it can be difficult to correctly calculate and report to the IRS how much tax you owe. In fact, a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Enrolled Agents found that, “independent contractors participating in the gig economy were cited as among those most at risk of failing to accurately report all of their income.”

Taxpayers who miscalculate taxes owed are likely to get a form called a CP2000 from the IRS. According to the agency, that form means, “the income and/or payment information the IRS has on file doesn’t match the information on your tax return.” That could result in issues with your tax bill.

Jaeger said the best way for gig economy workers to avoid a tax misstep is to be diligent and plan ahead now. He provided the following tips to help freelancers get on track so they’re ready to tackle taxes head-on this tax season.

1. Get organized

Whether you work full time and earn a little extra cash from a side hustle or you’re a full-time contractor, meticulous record-keeping is a must. One option is to keep track of all business expenses and related receipts in one large folder. Jaeger recommends taking that one step further by categorizing receipts into specific folders — for example, one folder for mileage and maintenance records, a second for rent or dues if you lease a workspace, and a third for office equipment and business-related equipment. Once a quarter, as you determine what you’ll owe for quarterly tax payments, make note of which of those receipts are deductible.

2. Keep track of your income

When you’re freelancing, you’re your own accounting department. Not only are you responsible for generating invoices and collecting payment, you must also keep track of all income earned and accurately report it to the IRS. That can get complicated when multiple income streams are at play.

For example, gig economy workers who make money freelancing for multiple clients while also moonlighting as an Uber or Lyft driver should track all income and expenses separately. That means keeping accurate records of any money paid directly by clients and keeping track of income reported on documents such as Forms 1099-MISC and 1099-K. These forms are issued when self-employment income exceeds $600 (1099-MISC) and when a contractor is paid through credit- and debit-card payment processors (1099-K). Come tax time, fill out a Schedule C for every company or client who has paid you to report all of the income you earned.

3. Make estimated tax payments

The IRS requires independent contractors to file and pay taxes on a quarterly basis, even if you anticipate getting a refund at the end of the tax year. Use a tax calculator to help determine whether you should make estimated tax payments. You can also use Worksheet 2.1 in IRS Form 1040-ES, Estimated Tax for Individuals, to figure out whether you must pay estimated tax. Whatever method you choose, make sure you calculate adjusted gross income, taxable income, taxes, deductions and credits.

As a rule of thumb, if you will owe at least $1,000 in taxes, you should plan to pay estimated taxes during the current tax year. Jaeger added, “If you owe estimated quarterly payments but don’t pay them in full, you could face an underpayment penalty by the IRS.”

Earning extra money from your freelance work or side gig may not make you feel like you’re self-employed, but in the eyes of the IRS, you are. By planning ahead, getting organized and doing your own taxes with an affordable online option such as TaxAct, you can avoid tax missteps and stay focused on what matters most: earning income on your own terms!

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