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Finding financial health in the gig economy

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So, you’re cruising down the highway with your latest fare, making money whenever you choose to turn on your engine. But that 1099 economy you’re so fond of should come with a warning: Steep Drop-off Ahead.

Why? Because with the gig economy comes an entire set of income volatility issues — and if you’re not being smart about it, the state of your financial health could be impacted.

In today’s economy, the old-economy dream of financial stability through gainful employment has simply been thrown out the window:

  • Steady paycheck — nope.
  • 401k — please.
  • Employer-sponsored health insurance — not a chance.
  • Salary advance when you need it — don’t even ask.
  • Automated tax withholding — that’s cute.

Things aren’t easy for people with your basic 9-to-5 job, but gig economy workers have even more responsibility to manage their financial health. In short, you’re on your own.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the very same technology that is driving the apps and companies of the 1099 economy is also being harnessed to create new tools to manage and improve your own financial health. (Financial health is simply your ability to have a functioning day-to-day financial system that helps you deal with emergencies and pursue your dreams, whatever they may be.)

So what should you be doing? Check out these technology innovators that are helping to support financially healthy habits for 1099ers.

If you have no idea how financially healthy you are, get a financial health tune-up

The first thing you need to do is figure out where you stand financially. For a long time, the only way to do that without an expensive financial advisor was by checking your credit report, but that only tells a fraction of your financial story. You need the full picture of your financial health, and there are some great new tools to get that.

1099 employers need financially healthy workers.

If you’re a USAA member, try their financial readiness score. If you’ve got a KeyBank account, get your financial wellness score through their partnership with HelloWallet. If you don’t have one of those, get your free score at FlexScore or Melius (still in private beta), or take the Schwab MoneyWise Financial Fitness Quiz or the SunTrust OnUp Movement quiz (recently featured in their prime-time Super Bowl ad). None of these are perfect, but they’ll give you a pretty good idea of where you stand.

And while your credit score is only one piece of the puzzle, it can’t hurt to also check out your score for free at Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, or Credit.com.

If you need help saving for a better car, a quick vacation or a rainy day, put savings on cruise control

Your 1099 employer probably won’t offer you a 401k or a savings plan, but almost every bank will let you set up automatic transfers from your checking to savings account. If you’re worried that that might leave you in the lurch on a slow week, let computers decide when to save for you.

Digit (which is part of our Financial Solutions Lab) will analyze your finances and make small savings for you, automatically over time, that you won’t even feel — until one day, you’ve got a nice chunk of change waiting for you. Dyme, PlentyFi and Qapital also offer different takes on the same idea: Take the thinking out of saving.

If you need help smoothing out those uneven paychecks, know where to find a high-quality credit mechanic

This might be the toughest part about being a 1099er: Your paycheck changes month to month, but your bills don’t. Here again, technology can help solve some of the problems it created. Even will analyze your financial inflows and outflows and figure out what your “even” paycheck should be (think of it as roughly the average of your overall pay picture). Then you get that amount every week — effectively ironing out uneven cash flow. Have a good week, and Even puts a little extra into savings for you. Have a slow winter full of blizzards, and Even withdraws from your savings automatically, or even gives you a little credit if you need it to get by.

Another great tool for handling cashflow is ActiveHours. They track your work hours and will make you small advances on your paycheck for work you’ve already done but for which you haven’t been paid. It’s a low-risk bet for them, so they make it free for you (they just ask for a tip, instead).

When the rubber hits the road, ask more of your gig economy employer

I don’t have the space here to get into the additional tools you’re going to need for managing your tax burden, figuring out your own healthcare and making sure you have all the insurance you need. But I’ll close with this: 1099 employers need financially healthy workers.

These unicorns will never grow their mighty horns if their drivers, task rabbits, shoppers and cleaners are stressed out by bill payments and car repairs. They might not offer health insurance, but many of the tools mentioned above could easily be offered through an employer at relatively low cost.

Case in point: Uber started offering auto leases to some potential drivers who need a car but have less than stellar credit. This brings more drivers to Uber and offers more flexible financing options to their drivers. There’s even talk about an Uber bank account that would allow drivers to get paid daily instead of weekly.

So while you’re out there on the open road of the gig economy, don’t forget to get a financial health tune-up every 5,000 miles or so. You may be on your own, but help is just a tap away.

Featured Image: Devrim PINAR/Shutterstock