Personal Finance

Where the gig economy fails and what to do about it

Retirement savings tips for freelancers

More than 25 percent of all Americans have no savings to speak of, let alone a retirement nest egg. But for those without an employer plan, like a 401(k), that number is much, much larger.

About 70 percent of so-called 1099 workers, including freelancers and contractors, said they have no long-term savings at all, according to a recent report by payment provider Hyperwallet.

While 1099 workers often benefit from a more flexible schedule and the ability to work from home (or anywhere), it also takes longer, on average, for them to get paid compared with workers who receive a typical W2. That delay compounds the stress of living paycheck to paycheck, according to Hyperwallet Chief Commercial Officer Peter Burridge.

On top of that, more than half of American workers roughly 55 million don't have access to a retirement savings plan on the job.

"On the back of the gig economy, there's a growing group of full-time 1099 workers," said Burridge. Indeed, the percentage of workers in alternative work arrangements, including independent contractors or freelancers, jumped to 15.8 percent in 2015 from 10.1 percent a decade earlier, after barely budging in the 10 years before that, according to a report by labor economists Lawrence Katz and Alan Krueger.

However, these workers often are not offered the same financial services through their employers that many W2 workers are, Burridge said.

"When your salary isn't as steady and you don't have a plan built in, it can be a little bit harder to save for retirement," said Stuart Ritter, a senior resident for wealth strategy for PNC's Asset Management Group. "Folks should be saving 15 percent."

To bridge the gap, those without an employer plan can set up a traditional or Roth individual retirement account. Ritter recommends Roth IRAs for millennials in a low tax bracket since they can make after-tax contributions up to $5,500 a year and then take tax-free withdrawals after age 59½ and in retirement.

The federal government also offers a starter program, called myRA, which works like a Roth IRA except there are no fees, and account holders can only invest in Treasurys. Once the balance reaches $15,000, they must roll them over into Roth IRAs.

Freelance and contract workers can also contribute up to $18,000 in pretax or as Roth (after-tax) contributions into a solo 401(k). Or, those who are self-employed can make tax-deductible contributions to a Simplified Employee Pension account, or SEP IRA. Those savers can contribute up to 25 percent of their net earnings, for a maximum contribution of $53,000 this year.

Alternatively, 1099 workers who are married to a spouse with an employer-sponsored retirement plan can boost those contributions to 15 percent of the household income, Ritter said.

"Whatever option you choose, it's the amount you save that has the bigger influence."