Being your own boss can be a rewarding way to make a living, but it's not without its challenges. Chief among them is keeping your financial house in order.
As a freelancer or independent contractor, all of the things that employees take for granted—tax withholding, expense management and the like—are your responsibility. When the numbers don't make sense, or worse, when the tax man comes calling, there's no human resources department to come to the rescue.
So Intuit has rolled out a new product, called QuickBooks Online Self-Employed, that helps freelancers and other go-it-alone types get their finances buttoned up.
Easing Tax Time for the Self-employed
QuickBooks Online Self-Employed—and its accompanying mobile apps for Apple iOS and Android—let you automatically track your income and expenses simply by linking your bank and credit cards. Manual data entry is a thing of the past. You can quickly classify transactions as business or personal expenses with a simple click on the browser-based interface's "cards." On the road, you can simply swipe left or right on the mobile app.
Behind the scenes, the QuickBooks Online Self-Employed software tracks IRS Schedule C deductions and provides an estimate of quarterly and year-end taxes. It's an automated, money-saving and stress-reducing system that "avoids the scenario where I have to pay $400 to my accountant because I dumped a box of receipts on his desk," claimed Joe Callinan, a senior product manager on Intuit's QuickBooks Online Self-Employed team.
Figure 1: The dashboard for QuickBooks Online Self-Employed.
During an online demonstration, Callinan squared away pending transactions in a matter of seconds. An "Actual Income" section provides a real-time, at-a-glance view of how much "take-home pay" after expenses and taxes you've earned, so to speak. Intuit won't disclose how many beta users have taken QuickBooks Online Self-Employed for a spin, but Callinan revealed that, to date, the service has tracked "more than 50 million dollars of expenses."
Callinan told Small Business Computing that the cloud-based solution is an extension of his company's vision of being "the operating system behind small business." Now, Intuit goes a step further by focusing on the unique requirements of self-employed workers. And in the coming years, Intuit expects their ranks to swell.
"By the year 2020, 43 percent of the entire U.S. workforce will do some sort of self-employed work," said Callinan. Those millions of freelancers are going to need help adapting to a new way of handling their finances.
Adjusting to a Freelance Economy
QuickBooks Online Self-Employed was built with two goals in mind, said Callinan. The first, simply, is to help folks stay on top of their finances. The second goal was to help independent workers get accustomed to their new financial reality, which is fraught with pitfalls for people used to pulling in a paycheck every two weeks.
Many newly-minted freelancers often struggle with "understanding what their real income is," said Callinan. A seemingly large check or payment can mask a complex web of personal and business expenses. With real-time reporting and a user-centric interface, QuickBooks Online Self-Employed makes it easy to get an honest picture of a freelancer's financial footing, or "the money that you made minus your expenses," he added.
QuickBooks Online Self-Employed isn't a cheaper, pared-down version of QuickBooks Online, Callinan assured. Aside from a consistent look and feel, the product was developed completely from the ground up, he said.
The solution also arrives at an interesting time for Inuit, a top provider of tax preparation software.
Intuit has caught flack lately over changes to its TurboTax Deluxe product, at least from freelancers and folks with investment income. Long story short: the 2014 tax year edition of the software move Schedules C, D and E to the higher-priced TurboTax Home & Business and Premier versions, angering many long-time customers.
While that controversy rages on, QuickBooks Online Self-Employed is now available for $9.99 per month (MSRP).
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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