Category Archives: Insurance

How to File Taxes as an Independent Contractor

Filing taxes for independent contractors can be a very different process than filing for employees. Contractors must pay a self-employment tax as well as income tax. Here’s what you need to know to file as an independent contractor:

Follow the Guidelines for Filing as Self-Employed

For IRS Purposes, independent contractors file as Self-Employed, which makes their earnings subject to Self-Employment Tax. Contractors are typically required to pay their estimated tax quarterly along with filing an annual return.

Self-Employment (SE) tax is basically the contractor’s way of paying the Social Security and Medicare taxes that would be withheld from the pay of most workers by their employers. The term self-employment tax does not include any other tax such as standard income tax.

Determine your SE tax and income tax by figuring the net profit from your business first — subtract your business expenses from your income. If this net profit from self-employment was $400 or more, you have to file an annual return; if it was less than $400, you only have to file an income tax return if you meet another other filing requirement listed in the these IRS instructions (use Charts A, B, and C on pages 8–11).

Independent contractors are typically required to pay their estimated tax quarterly along with filing an annual return.

Making Payments and Filing Your Return

To make quarterly payments, use the estimated tax worksheet found on IRS Form 1040-ES (be sure to have your prior year’s annual tax return handy, as you’ll need it to fill out this form). This worksheet has step-by-step instructions to determine and pay your quarterly payments, including the amount due on each date and a space to keep track of each payment’s date and confirmation number (check, debit or credit card). See the Estimated Taxes page and Self-Employment Tax page for more information.

Your annual return is then used to report the total income or loss from your business and the SE and income taxes you paid during the year. When it comes time to file your annual return on July 15, use Schedule C to report your income, and Schedule SE to report your Social Security and Medicare taxes. Follow these instructions for the Schedule C and instructions for the Schedule SE for step-by-step guides to filling out these forms from the IRS.

Take Advantage of Deductions

As an independent contractor, the IRS allows you to deduct many of your business expenses — costs for computers, printers and other technology used at work, plus the cost of phone calls, supplies, and travel, as long as all expenses were work-related. Deductions also apply to the costs of renting an office or running a home office. Additionally, half of the Social Security and Medicare taxes you pay are deductible.

You can apply home office deductions if you regularly use part of your home exclusively for your business. You have two options for deducting if you qualify: a simplified option that deducts $5 for every square foot of your house that qualifies as part of your business, up to $1,500; or a standard method based on actual expenses, adding up portions of your rent, utilities, mortgage interest, property taxes and homeowners insurance.

The details of these deductions are too extensive to summarize in all forms here. More information about tax-deductible business expenses can be found at this IRS Form, the home-office deduction factsheetForm 8829 (Expenses for Business Use of Your Home), the Self-Employed Individuals Tax Center and the IRS Tax Guide for Small Business. Further reading can also be found at this Kiplinger’s guide to the Most Overlooked Tax Breaks for the Self-Employed.

As an independent contractor, you can apply home office deductions if you regularly use part of your home exclusively for your business.

COVID-19 Updates to Taxes in 2020

It would be an understatement to say that many self-employed workers have been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak. Luckily, relief provisions have been put into place by the IRS in the form of tax credits for sick and family leave. For example, if you were forced to take sick leave for either your health or for the care of a family member, you may be eligible for a refundable tax credit for up to ten days of sick pay. Additionally, there is a tax credit for qualified family leave if your child was unable to attend school or daycare due to closed facilities. These credits are refundable, so if you are claiming a credit with an amount more than the taxes you owe, you will receive a refund for the difference. For detail on these credits, visit this IRS Overview Page.

The IRS will require proof that you qualify to claim each of these credits as well, so be sure to save anything you receive related to COVID-19 testing, your family’s medical care, and closures of schools and daycares. Note that these credits

The Best Ways to Manage Student Loans in a Financial Crisis

As many Americans wonder how they can pay off their debts in the wake of COVID-19, this pandemic has highlighted the importance of educating ourselves on what happens to student loans in a financial crisis. With college’s ballooning costs, 14.4% of adults holding some form of college debt and 54% of current college attendees taking out loans to pay for school, it’s become increasingly important to have a plan for paying off your student loans as soon as possible.

If you are a student loan borrower and you’re wondering what relief is available in a financial crisis like this current national emergency, as well as under normal circumstances, we outline some of the resources you should be aware of below.

Payment for federal student loans are paused until Sept. 30, 2020.

Student Loan Relief for COVID-19

With $1.41 trillion in student debt across America, representatives in the federal government understand the importance of student loan relief while we all practice social distancing. Under the CARES Act passed on March 27, 2020, all federal student loan borrowers are granted the following provisions through September 30, 2020:

  • Pausing of all payments.
  • 0% interest accrual for certain loans (Direct Loans, FFEL Program loans, Federal Perkins Loans and defaulted HEAL loans).
  • No garnishment of wages or tax refunds.
  • Ability for your employer to pay up to $5,250 of your student loans tax free.

Outside of legislation passed for COVID relief, there are other actions to help you pay back your student loans that you can take at any time:

  • Refinancing your student loans, consolidating existing balances into a single loan with a lower interest rate.
  • Change your repayment plan to one of the eight options for federal student loans.
  • Visit studentaid.gov or call 1-800-4-FED-AID for information and advice on solutions for your particular loans.

These conditions will only apply to federally-held student loans, however. If your loans are commercially or privately held, you will have to contact your lender to see what measures they’re taking for their borrowers. Some lenders are offering to pause payments for up to 12 months, but it’s most likely that interest will still accrue during this forbearance. Be sure to contact your lender and familiarize yourself with the terms and conditions of your loan. When you’re negotiating, be sure to ask all the questions you can so you’re well-informed on the status of your debt.

Take advantage of the payment hiatus to pay whatever amount you can for now.

The Perfect Time to Keep Making Payments

Take advantage of this unique payment hiatus by making whatever payments you can afford to anyway. This could help you pay down your student loan balance faster, because the full amount of the payment will be applied to the principal balance instead of interest accrued. Ideally, you’re saving money on other expenses like gas, auto insurance, dining out and gym memberships during this time. If it’s within your means, a good idea is to funnel some of what you’re saving in these categories of your budget to pay down your student loans. Now is a unique time to be proactive — take advantage of these provisions while you can and keep your eye on the goal of a fully-paid student loan.


Read our other articles in the Focus on Your Money series to get tips on prioritizing debt in a crisis, saving more money with budgeting, and how to improve your credit score.

FFS Agents – share this blog with your networks using our resources in the ABO..

Keeping Your Team Healthy: Mental Health Resources for Isolation

At FFS, we strive to bring peace of mind to families through financial security, but we also value peace of mind for our agents during uncertain times. For that, we’ve put together some mental resources for isolation. Naturally, stress and anxiety levels rose for almost everyone when social distancing began , but also there’s never a bad time to consider your emotional well-being and make steps toward a healthier mind. Luckily, many mental health care providers have responded to COVID-19 by offering teleconferencing for their appointments (also known as “teletherapy”). There’s also been an increase in apps that offer self-training in the art of mindfulness, tool kits for coping with stress, and meditation guides for better sleep and relaxation. We’ve put together a little information on each below so you can look into the ones you like and make sure you’re taking care of yourself.

Talk With Professionals Through Teletherapy Apps

Whether you’re without a mental health care provider, waiting in between therapy appointments, or just looking for some coping mechanisms to try out on your own, you can access one of the many subscription therapy apps out there that let you call or text a licensed therapist at all sorts of odd hours. Apps like Talkspace and BetterHelp have full confidentiality protocols in place and let you talk with professionals about everything from daily stress to anxiety, fear, and self-esteem. Don’t let social distancing keep you from talking to somebody who can help you cope with stress.

Practice Mindfulness With Self-Guided Exercises

One type of therapy is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a type of psychotherapy that focuses on taking negative thought patterns about yourself and the world around you and challenging them to alter unwanted patterns of behavior. CBT is used by many self-help apps these days that can help teach and strengthen coping mechanisms and effective strategies to cope with everyday stresses as well as special circumstances like COVID-19. Apps like MoodKit and SAM (Self-help for Anxiety Management) use these methods to give you the tools to help you tackle anxiety, stress, loneliness, and other symptoms of social distancing.

Learn to Meditate With Guided Courses

Meditation is one of the primary coping mechanisms for promoting your emotional well-being. It is a great way to calm your mind, process intrusive thoughts, and make your day easier to handle. It can be hard to master, however, which is why apps like Headspace specialize in guiding people to good meditation practices. Headspace provides hundreds of guided meditation courses, as well as exercises promoting mindfulness and relaxation, helping you cope with everything from anxiety to sleep problems to trouble with focus.

Maintain a Healthy Sleep Cycle

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our well-being, yet sadly one of the first to fall by the wayside in times of stress. Keeping up good sleep practices can make you happier, healthier, and more productive in your day-to-day life. One of the most important ways to ensure you don’t lose any sleep is to wake up at the same time every day. By waking up at the same time, you train your body to get tired at the same time every evening, which results in going to bed at the same time as well. To help solidify this habit, balance your morning with exposure to sunlight — this will activate your body and help you feel more awake. Also, try not to hit snooze on your alarm, as this interrupts the consistency of your wake-up time. If you need white noise or help falling asleep, Calm is an app that offers sleep stories and other sounds to help get uses into a deep sleep.

Don't be Afraid to Talk to Someone

Even if you’ve never thought about therapy before, there’s never any shame or harm in looking for ways to improve your mental health. You don’t have to have a diagnosed mental illness to get help, either — these methods are for everyone, and most conditions like anxiety can be brought on for a brief time and helped by seeking situational treatment. If you have a healthcare provider, ask for their teletherapy options. There’s nothing wrong with asking for a little help; it’s always important to maintain your mental health in isolation and to nurture your peace of mind.

For More Information

Each of the services mentioned in this piece have different subscription models and prices. We’ve collected some information on them below; please follow the links for more details on each.

Talkspace

Subscription | Pick from many plan options that suits your budget, starting at $65 per week.

BetterHelp

Subscription | $40 – $70 weekly; offers 50% off you first month during times of COVID-19.

MoodKit

App for iOS | $4.99 to download.

SAM (Self-help for Anxiety Management)

App for iOS and Android | Free to download.

Headspace

App for iOS and Android | $12.99 per month, or $69.99 for a full year.

Calm

App for iOS and Android | $14.99 per month, $69.99 for a full year, or $399.99 for a lifetime membership.

How to Prioritize Your Debt in a Crisis

Unfortunately, payments and bills are still due even if you’ve experienced financial hardship in the wake of COVID-19. Debt management looks a little different during a crisis, but the essentials are still there — avoid late payments, put down as much as you can afford, and focus on certain debts over others.

Crisis situations are the ultimate times to re-evaluate your “needs” and “wants.” You have to ask one question about new purchases and ongoing expenses right now: “Can I live without this?” Everyone’s answers are unique. Maybe you can do away with your streaming services if you can’t afford living expenses — there is always free streaming content, jigsaw puzzles, and books that can entertain you and your family while you’re getting back on your feet. It’s possible, though, that Disney+ is keeping you sane with children at home, or your wellness app is keeping you centered. Your well being and saving your credit score for the future are your top priorities in a crisis. In this post, we’re offering a guide for what to pay first and what you can do for relief.

Your most important goal is having a safe place to live.

Mortgage & Rent

Housing expenses should be your highest priority payments. Your most important goal is having a safe place to live and keeping a home in which to shelter. While many states have put eviction freezes in place, you’re not completely off the hook. Failing to pay rent or mortgage can still result in eventual foreclosure or eviction; the freeze only makes it so you can’t be evicted right away. You may end up having to pay all of the back-logged rent at once when this is over. Keep up with your payments if possible and work with your landlord or mortgage lender to come to a deal that won’t leave you stacked with late payments when the freezes are lifted.

Household Utilities

Stay up to date with your water, sewer, electric, and gas. You don’t want to accrue fees that might bar you from energy assistance programs or shut off your utilities entirely, making it that much harder to stay healthy at home. If you’re having trouble making payments, reach out to your utility providers — many have hardship assistance programs and deferred-bill options.

Car Payments

Your car payments should remain your highest priority after your home expenses. You’ll want to avoid a repossession at all costs — you need that car for essential errands and getting to work when life returns to normal. Luckily, most major auto brands are offering payment deferrals and waiving late fees. Contact your lender to discuss how you can keep your account in good standing. While it may be tempting to cancel auto insurance, doing so can raise your rates later and leaves you open to serious expenses if your car suffers storm damage or is stolen while parked. If you don’t own your car outright, cancelling insurance isn’t an option. Many auto insurance companies are offering refunds on premiums paid during COVID-19. You should be able to work with your insurance company to reduce your rates during this time.

Federally held student loans will stop accruing interest until at least Sept. 30, 2020.

Credit Cards & Other Debts

Your other debts shouldn’t have such a direct impact on your health and safety, and therefore can be renegotiated right now — medical bill and back taxes for example.

Thankfully, the government has mandated that all federally held student loans will stop accruing interest until at least September 30, 2020. You do not need to do anything to take advantage of the 0% interest. Do not pay anyone who offers to reduce your federal student loan interest rates for a fee. The 0% interest does not, however, apply to private student loans – negotiate with your loan officer for support.

As for credit cards, most major banks are letting their borrowers defer for now. Many are also refunding certain fees and altering minimum payments. For reference, there is a list of relief-options offered by different card carriers. You’ll have to call your specific lender to take advantage of these provisions, however. Ask them directly what they can offer in terms of deferment and other measures of assistance.

Stay on Track

Remember that ignoring your debt is never a good idea. If you can’t cover a bill, confront it — contact the lender or creditor and let them know the crisis has made it so you can’t make a payment. They’ll likely be willing and ready to make an arrangement with you due to the unprecedented nature of this crisis. You have options. Take a deep breath — with planning, you can prioritize your debts and keep your credit under control. For more information on paying off debt, check out our latest Focus on YOUR Money webinar here*.

Read our other articles in the Focus on Your Money series to get tips on saving, budgeting, and how to improve your credit score.

* Webinars are available to current FFS Agents.

FFS Agents – share this blog with your networks using our resources in

COVID-19 Resources – How to Adapt Your Business

For four weeks now, businesses and employees across the country have been doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 by social distancing. Employers have been forced to adapt quickly to this operational shift as people transition to meeting with clients virtually and working from home. FFS has put together a list of resources and reading materials so both workers and managers alike can adjust to the new world smoothly and with minimal stress. Below you’ll find CDC guidelines, information on the CARES Act, help from the Small Business Association, and tips on working from home.

Running Your Business from Home

Read these articles for advice on how to make your business work virtually:

How Working Remotely Can Work for Your Insurance Agency

Thankfully, working from home was already increasing by 173% since 2005 before social distancing became the norm. AgencyBloc has good news from those who have done this before.

Virtual Events are Essential Marketing Tools for the Short and Long Term

Multibriefs offers some best practices for marketing your business virtually — all tools that you can use when we end the social distancing too.

Coronavirus advice: Astronauts' tips to surviving self-isolation - 'Just like the ISS'

Who better to give advice on self-isolation than a woman who’s been to space?

Forbes’ 10 Tips for Working from Home & NPR’s 8 Tips to Make Working from Home Work for You

Almost every publication has their version of working from home tips. These two from Forbes and NPR are good places to start.

Institutional Information and Relief

These pages will help you stay well-informed on governmental relief efforts and how they may help your business:

CDC Guide for Businesses & How the Treasury Department is Taking Action

It’s important to stay up-to-date with what the CDC and Treasury Department have to say about coronavirus relief. Here, the CDC covers what businesses can do to stay safe and prepared while the Treasury Department summarizes what the U.S. government is doing to help those who are impacted by the spread of the virus.

NASE’s Summary of CARES Act & The Small Business Owner’s Guide to the CARES Act

The National Association for the Self-Employed has been putting out indispensable resources in the wake of COVID-19. One of these documents summarizes the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in its entirety, while the other outlines how it could help your small business — both are essential reads.

Small Business Administration Local Assistance

The Small Business Association offers local assistance for anyone who wants to speak to someone about what they can do to help their business adapt.

For our agents, FFS continues to offer as much support, technology, and marketing materials as we did before the pandemic; we are committed to keeping our Home Office operations as unchanged as possible. Our Agent Services Department remains open for any agents with questions or concerns about running their business in these changing times.

The Five Most Common Questions About Identity Theft

In this week’s Focus on YOUR Money, we covered the dangers of identity theft. Here’s everything you need to know in five common questions:

Why would somebody steal my identity?

People live a good portion of their lives online now, and thieves have adapted accordingly. These criminals can now find identifying information online like your credit card or your Social Security Number and use them to make fraudulent purchases, apply for credit cards and loans, or even file taxes without any consequences to their credit record or financial history. This information is found and sold on the dark web, a criminal sector of the internet where thieves are almost impossible to catch. There is a new victim every two seconds—without a clear path to justice, the most important thing for you to focus on is prevention.

What are the consequences of identity theft?

There are many types of identity theft, each with slightly different consequences. The most common type of identity theft is strictly financial, where thieves use your credit line to buy things on your credit card. This can badly damage your credit score and make financial recovery a big headache. Other types of identity theft include medical (using your information to get false medical coverage and prescriptions), criminal (impersonating you when speaking with police), and concealment (using your information to hide from creditors).

Who is at risk for identity theft?

Everyone with a Social Security number can have their identity stolen, but the two demographics that are particularly vulnerable are children and seniors. Identity thieves will try to steal children’s identities to establish a “clean slate” identity, because kids don’t have a financial history yet. It’s important to pay attention to your children’s credit reports so you can catch suspicious activity early.

Criminals also target seniors because people are more trusting as they get older. These scams are usually over the telephone or through internet phishing. Remind your elders to be careful answering calls and emails from people they don’t know.

How do I avoid getting my identity stolen?

When it comes to identity theft, prevention is the most important thing. There are many measures you can take to keep your information safe, such as enabling two-factor identification on your online accounts, using strong passwords and secure web pages, shredding documents, and ignoring strange emails from people you don’t know. For detailed information on how to prevent identity theft, read more here or watch our latest webinar*.

What channels are safe?

Both FFS and our carrier partners take every possible measure to protect your information when you upload documents and images to our sites, so you can be sure that these channels are secure. This professional protection is why we provide agents with an FFS email address. There are also ways to protect your home network as more people start working from home during the spread of COVID-19; Consumer Affairs has recommendations for how to prevent identity theft in your home office.

Read our other articles in the Focus on Your Money series to get tips on saving, budgeting, and how to improve your credit score.

* Webinars are available to current FFS Agents.

Now is the Time to Get Life Insurance

COVID-19 has changed our world dramatically over the past few weeks, altering lifestyles and sparking many to take action. People are quickly buying toilet paper, soap, food—even life insurance. The latter, at least, is a great idea. With only 57% of Americans owning life insurance in 2019, many families should be getting covered as soon as possible.

In normal circumstances, people tend to underestimate risk and often fail to take measures that could improve their lives five, ten, or thirty years down the road.  Planning for the future is essentially having empathy for your future self, but it can be hard to keep your future self in mind when the needs of the day seem so much more urgent. Making that future seem real and important can be a challenge. Studies have shown that when people are confronted with an image of their older selves and asked to make decisions shortly afterward, the people will generally make safer, wiser, and more conservative choices in the present.

A global crisis is a similar window to the future. Coronavirus has given us a sense of urgency and exposed the need for good planning. Life insurance prepares you for the worst-case scenario, but it can also give you options for protecting your wealth and enjoying benefits while you're alive. It's not too late to put that plan in place to protect your family and their future.

Now is the time to get life insurance

Take Advantage of All Life Insurance Has to Offer

The important thing is to take action. The best insurance is one that’s in place when you need it. You can start the process of getting covered today, and the earlier you get it, the cheaper it is. Many insurance companies are doing their part in social distancing by using virtual systems to get people the coverage they need. Most people think of term insurance with a simple death benefit when they’re looking for coverage — 10-, 20- or 30-year plans with death benefits that will help your family should you die — but life insurance comes in many forms, including policies that build cash value, provide living benefits, and provide for retirement.

For anyone worried about their savings with the recent market volatility, now’s also a good time to buy an indexed policy. These products use an indexing method to credit interest to a policy so even if the market’s rate of return goes negative, you will not lose the interest credited to your policy.

These policies can include Accelerated Benefit Riders, also known as living benefits, which allow you to access all or part of your death benefit while you’re still alive. These benefits can be used if you have a qualifying terminal, chronic or critical illness. While simply getting sick doesn’t qualify, if an infectious disease like COVID-19 turns into a critical or chronic illness, is determined to be terminal, or if you are unable to perform what are called Activities of Daily Living, you may be able to access part of your death benefit early. Receiving this money through life insurance means that you can use it for anything from medical expenses, in-home care and household bills, paying for a wedding, a home for your family or covering childcare costs.

If you’re looking for tax advantages and protection against market volatility, indexed policies make sense in the long term. In times of emergency, you can borrow against the accumulated cash value when you need it — if your place of work temporarily closes, for example, or you want to strengthen your emergency fund. Upon retirement, you can access your cash value through tax-free policy loans. When choosing the right policy, remember:

  • Use indexed policies if you want to take advantage of compound interest, tax benefits and market protection.
  • Prioritize living benefits if you want to be able to cover costly medical treatment, in-home care and maintain your lifestyle in the event of a chronic, terminal, or critical illness or disability.  
  • If your main concern is taking care of loved ones in the event of your premature death, and you only expect to need the coverage for a fixed period-of-time, a term policy might be a good place to start.
Take action today

It’s Important to Act Now

The benefits of life insurance have never been clearer—take the urgency of this global event as initiative to get covered. The importance of life insurance is clear. Now is the time to protect your family, safeguard your wealth, and provide for the future. Get covered as soon as possible to give yourself financial security and peace of mind.