All posts by Joy

the nightmare that is figuring out taxes and health insurance as a freelancer

the absolutely marvelous news is that i just landed a steady, well-paid, 30 hrs/week contract gig for the next three months.

the bad news it that now i have to figure out how on earth to get myself decent health insurance… and how to sort out my income and expenses for tax season.

contract work is great because of the flexibility, but all the additional “work” I have to do to be self-employed is rather terrifying.

first off — health insurance: i already know i will be denied if i tell the truth on my health insurance applications, because i took lexapro ONE MONTH for “major depression.” On the Tonik health insurance application, you get to click off your pre-existing medical conditions. Guess what category major depression falls into? “Bipolar disorder/Major Depression/Schizophrenia”

Um. I went to a psychiatrist for about two months, took meds for one month, and i kind of feel better now.

My psychiatrist kind of warned me about the potential health insurance issues, but she wasn’t very clear about it. She just said that she doesn’t like working with health insurance — because it takes her forever to get paid. And then when she was considering diagnosing me with bipolar, she asked me if it would be ok to note that on my diagnosis form, since most clients don’t want that on there, as it could hurt their chances of getting health insurance later on.

First off, I was rather ignorant at the time, thinking that health insurance existed to help you get better (wrong) and that it would be cheaper for me to use my $15 co-pay visits with a ‘major depression’ diagnosis as opposed to 50% pay for ADD or anxiety or anything else that I probably actually have (I doubt I have major depression. It’s probably recurring, but I go through phases in my life. Life is hard and sometimes i’m sad and sometimes I need someone to talk to, but I don’t think this is a life-long condition). Anyway…

So I got my $15 visits, which was nice for the two months I say my psychiatrist and my therapist. And now? Well, chances are I won’t be able to get health insurance. Because apparently whatever it is I have is just as bad as SCHIZOPHRENIA in the eyes of my potential insurers.

I spoke with a health insurance agent who, off the record, basically suggested that i take the risk and lie on my application, because that would be the only way i could get decent insurance. but, of course, then i could basically screw myself over by doing that, since health insurance companies could find out that i lied and make me pay for EVERYTHING since when i signed up for their insurance. that’s a scary thought.

Or – do I just be honest and watch as my applications get denied? I haven’t got my forms for Cobra yet, but I’m sure that will be ridiculously expensive. I had really good health insurance (Blue Shield PPO) through my employer with a $250 deductible, and now I’m looking at whatever I can get with a $1500-$5000 deductible and poor benefits. And to get that I might still have to lie.

But I should have health insurance. I realize it’s stupid to be living without health insurance. I just am not sure what kind to get. Basically I need the doctor to prescribe me Yasmin birth control pills each month (and hopefully for them not to cost me a fortune) — I need “Yasmin” specifically for hormonal imbalances and such, but unfortunately getting cheaper pills through something like planned parenthood will not let me get that brand.

Besides health insurance, there’s the issue of taxes. Gosh, I’m so behind of keeping tabs on what I’ve made in contract work this year. I know, bad me. I just set up a google docs spreadsheet to start taking detailed notes from hereonout, but I’m not 100% sure what I’ve made thus far this year. In any case, I know that taxes are going to take a HUGE CHUNK out of my income, which is fine, they did that before, but it’s just really hard to determine how much taxes will be when I don’t even know how much work I will have each month.

At least now I have a stable three month gig where I will be making $3300 a month, assuming they like me and want to keep me for the entirety of the contracted position. After that, either I get to stay on board, or it’s back to the drawing board. We’ll see. Meanwhile, my goal is to pick up one or two freelance web design projects per month, where I’d make anywhere from $500-$1000 per project (although I’m starting out with really cheap rates of like $200 per project.)

Anyway… for the next three months, my ‘income’ before taxes, minus any additional web design projects, should be $3700, which includes the contract gig and another ongoing contract project where I make $400 a month writing a few articles for my uncle’s marketing firm. $3700 a month is definitely not a bad wage, but after taxes, and health insurance, I’m not sure how much that actually is. It’d be something like $2700 a month or something? So after rent, that’s $1650 a month. Phone bill, gym membership and cable tv/internet are like, $200, so then I have $1450 left. Ok, not bad. Health insurance, assuming I go for a decent kind, will be like $300 a month. So that’s maybe $1150 left for food, entertainment and such.

Ok, I guess that’s not awful. But I just am scared about not understanding taxes and all the complicated stuff that goes into expensing things and such. Meanwhile, I just read that self-employed individuals pay a lot more in taxes because usually the company pays for like half of the taxes, but when you work for yourself you are your own company.

So. I guess I have a lot of figuring out to do. In the meantime, I have to wrap up three projects I’m working on. I’m writing some company for a startup (basically, I’m writing all the copy that will go on their site), then I have to finish this one website for a client, and then I’ve got to wrap up the basic design for a project I’m doing in a ‘trade’ deal with a personal trainer. 5 hours of web design for 4 hours of personal training. It’s not a bad deal, considering she charges $78 an hour and I charge $50. Anyway, I can tell she’s getting antsy to see the page (I already had three training sessions this week, but I told her I’d show her something this weekend.) Well, I’ve got to finish that. I’m trying my darndest to figure out Flash because A) she seems to really like pages with Flash in them and B) I need at least one site for my portfolio that incorporates Flash, so I can show clients that I can atleast put some basic animation on their pages.

Anyway.

Life is going pretty good, minus all of this confusion. My birthday is coming up next week. I’m turning 24. Happy, uh, confused birthday to me.

unemployment and depression

they say if you pursue your passion, money will come to you. i still don’t know what my passion is. i can’t figure out one job that i’d be happy doing 40-50 hours per week. i’ve tried public relations, admin, arts marketing and journalism, and ultimately i got bored with every single position.

you know what? some days i wonder what it would be like to be a photographer. i love taking pictures. but so many people are good at photography. pursuing a career in writing just feels safer. all businesses need copy. sure, most businesses need photography as well, but i just don’t believe in myself enough to pursue that career.

i just feel like spending my life writing will help me get by. maybe. if i can hold a job long enough to save some money, instead of failing every four months to a year.

i guess i’m writing at the moment because it’s one of my down days. i’m feeling rather hopeless about my future and question why i bother trying. i know that i’ve accomplished quite a bit for my age, but really, the accomplishments i have made all feel rather pointless and don’t bring me any sense of pride. if i was working as a photographer, or a graphic designer, i think i’d be somewhat happy.

i’m just too scared to take out loans and figure out how to get from where i am now to a new career. and emotionally, i feel like i have no where to turn. i love my boyfriend more than i can express, but he isn’t a very expressive person when it comes to empathy, and if i’m sad i just make him sad, so it’s not even worth telling him anymore. my parents are no help, they don’t really care about how i’m doing, as long as i have a roof over my head. but as for my emotional well being, i guess sometimes i feel like no one really cares. perhaps that’s just my depression speaking, but it’s just frustrating to feel that the only person i can really talk to about my problems is my therapist. I guess what i’m saying is I feel rather empty because the few friends i have all seem so happy. they might be working as hair stylists, or editors, but they’re all so content with their lives. i’m not content at all with where i’m at now. i feel like such a waste. i want so much more for my life. but sometimes i think i’m just the dumb kid who snuck through the system. maybe i should have ended up working as a hair stylist or something. not a writer. not a designer. maybe i should work at starbucks. or safeway. i mean, i’m losing faith in myself and my abilities. i want to be brilliant but i’m not even close. i want to help people, but i feel like i can’t even help my family, so how could I help anyone else? i really hate money, even though i love buying things. i hate that i’m such a capitalist.

I Need a Job.

Welcome to the world of unemployment. It’s not that bad of a world, minus the whole losing money every second of the day sort of thing.

The good news is that while I’m officially unemployed (sans unemployment insurance, since I resigned), I’ve picked up a few random freelance gigs here and there. My uncle always needs random work done for his e-marketing firm, and he seems really happy with the work I’ve done for him thus far, which makes me feel really good. Yea, he’s my uncle, but he’s also a really talented marketing entrepreneur and I know he wouldn’t be hiring me for more jobs if he felt like I didn’t have the chops.

I have a steady income (1/3rd my rent) each month from ongoing writing assignments from him, with occasional extra work for the firm. This month, in addition to my normal copywriting, I did my first official web page design assignment for him. I guess he liked how the design looked but wasn’t thrilled that I turned a pure HTML document into one with CSS. Oops. I was so confused by the original HTML document, given that it was causing Dreamweaver to have a hernia or something. Half the code turned GREY and I couldn’t edit it. Now, maybe that was a template that I was supposed to work in, but there was still some weird code that was making the layout all wonky. I kept the layout exactly the same, except I revamped it in CSS. Hopefully that’s not too awful. He wasn’t exactly clear on the directions, I was just told to take a pre-existing site and make it look better, and that I did. Oh well.

I’m also writing a bunch of copy for a start-up social networking-esque company. It’s all contract work, but who knows, it could lead to something more. So this week is booked solid with contract work. Next week, my sister comes to visit and I’m “taking the week off” to show her around town. Then I’m going to start focusing on my job applications. Well, I’ve been applying for jobs left and right, but am not sure anyone is going to consider hiring me full time since I was only at my last job for 4 months. That looks really bad in the eyes of a potential employer, and I can’t blame them for doubting me. It’s just frustrating because I know I have so much to give, it’s just my last job wasn’t right for me. I’m not a newshound. I’m somewhat socially anxious, which doesn’t really align with a career in journalism. But how do I explain that to potential employers? “I quit my last job because talking to strangers makes my heart explode.” Yea, that’s going to help me land a great job, for sure. 🙁

In any case, I’m hopeful that something good will come along if i’m patient and bide my time with contract work. If I can manage to turn the contract work into a full-time profession, all the better. But for now, I’m crossing my fingers that I can manage to pay for my rent, basic bills, health insurance cobra, and food until something full-time comes along.

Meanwhile, i’ve decided to focus my free time on getting into shape and figuring out how to be healthy inside and out. I’ve stopped taking the anti-depressents (wow, I took them for a whole 25 days, and now, I’m done) and am looking into herbal stuff instead. (Yup, I bought some St. John’s Wort.) I can’t figure out if all of the nutritional supplements end up costing me more than a psychiatrist and Lexapro, or if they end up costing about the same. In any case, I figured out that my lack of energy and dizziness is probably caused by iron and other nutritional deficiences. This week, I even tried eating red meat (I’ve been a vegetarian for about 10 years, though I started eating fish a year ago) – but after downing a half-pound hamburger yesterday I got sick to my stomach. Let’s just say an hour or so after eating that burger, I only digested about half of it. The rest? Don’t ask. (Yuck.) So I’m done with red meat (again) for now. Instead, I’m looking into other supplements to help the cause of mission get healthy (without – getting broke.) Think I can do it? Well, I certainly hope so.

Over and Done and on to the Next

I apologize for taking forever to update this blog. Life has been a wee bit crazy as of late, but despite all of the chaos I think in the long run all that has gone down will be for the better. In short, at the moment I am unemployed. Basically, I quit my job, although of course it wasn’t nearly that simple. In the brief hour or so I had to decide between forced resignation and firing, I chose the former. I’m still not sure if that was the right decision given that I cut myself off from unemployment benefits, but given that the parting was amicable, it seemed in my best interest to keep things that way and not have to force my boss to fire me.

Anyway, it seems like I’m back to square one. Funny that. I spent a year and three months building up my career and I really had gotten far. Too far, to be honest. I just jumped way ahead of my capabilities at this point in my career and experience. My boss even commented in our closing conversation that I’m really good at what I do, I just need more time to nurture my skills in a more stable journalism environment, preferably at a magazine. I’m not really such such a job exists these days, nor am I sure I’d want it if miracle of miracles it was offered to me. Right now I’m going through a massive re-evaluation of my career plans and goals. I’m really interested in pursuing web design and copy writing, but I’m not sure what kind of openings there would be in those areas for someone with my particular background.

For the time being, I’m doing some freelance web and writing work, and I’m going to take a trip to the local temp agency to try to land some short-term gigs until I figure this all out. I’m a wee bit nervous about the whole health insurance situation — I’m insured until the end of the month on my current policy and then it’s either dealing with expensive Cobra coverage or trying to figure out if the alternatives are any cheaper. The whole situation isn’t very good given that I’m finally on medication to treat my depression and, well, I might not be able to obtain insurance that will help pay for the condition. Ugh. It’s fine, though, I’ve been through worse times before. To be honest, I kind of feel relieved right now. I know that I did my best and it just wasn’t the right job for me at this time. Being unemployed sucks, but hopefully I won’t be job-less for long.

Health Insurance Plans & Depression

I called up a psychiatrist for an appointment since I didn’t trust my general doctor to throw random meds my way just because I told her that I was feeling blue and anxious. Whether I’m really depressed or not, I don’t know, but upon my first visit and answering a few questions my psych jotted down a bunch of notes and decided that I’ve got a case of moderate recurrent depression.

After she bitched for about 15 minutes about how most shrinks really hate medical insurance because of “all of the forms” and that it takes so long to get paid, she decided to give me a free trial of an SSRI antidepressent (Lexipro.) I’ve tried a few meds in the past — xanax for my panic attacks and ritalin for my add, but I’ve never consistently taken anything in the past. I’ve just gotten to the point where I can’t take my anxiety anymore, and it’s really getting in the way of functioning. Well, anxiety has gotten in the way of functioning since I was born, it’s just it was easier to hide it when I wasn’t completely responsible for my well being and time management.

Anyway, I figure the medicine will be rather pricey, even with insurance, but at that point I was ready to try anything to get me out of my slump. (That was about a month ago, btw.) Soon found out that a month’s supply of the antidepressant costs $50 (that’s after insurance pays their part.) Ouch. Then my doc also decided to prescribe me sleeping pills — I haven’t picked those up yet so I’m not sure how much they cost.

“Lucky” for me, I’m “severely” depressed, so my insurance only makes me pay $15 a visit (instead of 50 percent of the visits costs, which would be something like $75-$100 a visit, I think.) Also, if I wasn’t “severely” depressed, I’d be limited to 20 visits per year with a shrink. But because I apparently need lots of help, I can go see a therapist as much as I want for just my co-pay.

I barely go to the doctor for anything else, so I figured I might as well make use of my health insurance to help me be, uh, healthy. I’m quickly slipping some place I don’t want to be, and I’m willing to admit I need some outside help.

Well, after the severe depressive disorder went down in my file, I started reading up about future health insurance issues that go along with having pre-existing conditions like depression. My shrink made an aside when she was diagnosing me that she needed to check over time to see if I’m bi-polar, but then she asked for permission to write that down on my charts since apparently that makes it difficult to get insurance later down the road. At the time, I was so out of it and freaked out about the costs of therapy, I figured the worse of a diagnosis I had, the cheaper my costs were going to be.

Now I’m potentially facing a lifetime of overpriced health insurance. My dream is to work as a freelance web designer and marketing copywriter, but being a freelancer I will have to get my own individual health insurance plan. I’ve read many horror stories about people who were depressed and once on meds getting flat out denied when they applied for individual insurance.

Sure it makes sense for the health insurance agencies to protect themselves, but I’m now terrified (and admittedly even more depressed) knowing that one day I might be SOL when it comes to obtaining affordable health insurance. But it just seems so ridiculous that, while health plans cover mental health conditions, it’s all so shady. When I was looking for a psychiatrist in my area, I must have called every single person on my health insurance plan in a 30 mile radius before finding the one psych I’m seeing now. And I’m tired of her bitching about insurance companies and how most psych’s she knows don’t even take insurance anymore. Ok, I’m sorry I’m not rich enough like everyone else who lives in the area to just pay your fees and deal with my depression. I’m like, a normal person with a fairly normal salary and I need help.

Facing Eviction from Reality

(aka, pretty soon i’m likely getting the ax at work.)

I prefer not to be a “failure,” but this time around I’m not sure I can do anything to avoid such an outcome. My job and I are like oil and vinegar, and I’m certainly the oil, sinking to the bottom.

Instead of allowing myself to get depressed over this situation, I’m doing my best to see it as an opportunity to switch directions and get myself on track for the life I ought to be leading. I know I should have went to art school and studied for a career in design, but when I did that whole “college thing” I had no comprehension of what it would be like to work 40+ hours a week doing just one job. After all, in college you study all these different subjects and every hour of every day is vastly varied. Then you get to the real world and time tends to blur.

But I’d like to think I can somehow land in a design field even if I kind of messed up the whole schooling part of the plan. I’ve bought a few design and coding books, but really I know I should take a class (or twenty) to get me on track. I don’t do well with books, or any sort of reading for that matter. I learn by doing – that’s how I taught myself HTML when I was 13 and golly gee, I haven’t changed since.

While there are a whole lot of things I really suck at, I know I’m good at understanding what looks good. And that’s a valuable skill, isn’t it? Computers complicate matters because you can want something to look one way, and not be able to achieve that vision (f’n cross browser compatibility)…

Anyway, life is as it is. I’ve got a little less than two weeks to prove to the powers that be that I can do this job justice. I’m going to give it my all, but something is telling me this just wasn’t meant to be.

Here’s reality — in less than two weeks, I’ll be out of a job. Unemployed again after a solid year and three months of remaining in the work force. That’s pretty, uh, pathetic. The worst part is that I’ve only been at this job for about two months now, and my short stint is going to look awful to any potential employers. School is an option, I guess, but the whole process of applying and figuring out just how much debt I’ll have to accrue in order to pursue more education – almost – makes me want to get a job at Starbucks.

It’s tough, because I really thought I had found the perfect gig – I had all the responsibility in the world, great pay, great flexibility, and – I blew it. I blew it because my learning disabilities and such have got in the way. Or maybe it’s just me and my lack of ability to focus for long periods of time, unless I’m trying to make something look good. Either way, I’ve tried a lot of different things and have yet to find what suits me. I’m “only” 23, so I guess I shouldn’t feel that bad about it. I just know how fast time flies, and I really don’t want to get to the point where I’m saying I’m “only 34” or something, and still in the same place. Age looses validity as an excuse once on hits about 25. And that’s when the real depression starts to sink in. Oh boy. Can’t wait.

Fears of Debt Drown Potential Prosperity

These days, it seems like everyone has tens of thousands of dollars in college debt. Not me. I was one of the lucky ones. Yup, mom and dad foot the bill for my entire college tuition. Given, at the time, I didn’t understand the true value of a college tuition because I didn’t have any sort of grasp on what money is worth.

Today, I’m proudly making it on my own. But my talents are not lining up with my current career, and my boss is starting to notice. I’m trying really hard because I want to do a good job, but I guess there are just some things that come natural to certain people that, well, don’t come naturally to me.

I’ve spent my whole post-adolescent life running away from the thought of a career in design or the arts because that was what my parents expected me to do. Now I’m landing a few weekend freelance design jobs here and there and realizing that this design thing is a rather profitable endeavor. Right now I can fake it – ie, futz with CSS and Photoshop and make a site look purty, but I know I’m not designing within the bounds of modern coding standards. Trying to understand Illustrator is almost as difficult as reading Greek. I can’t do either.

What I’d love more than anything is the opportunity to spend a year or two focused on learning the art and craft of web design. I’m not so sure that’s do-able. First off, the amount of masters and certificate programs available for education in web design and back-end coding make my head spin. They’re all pricy, though pricy has a different definition in each program. Regardless of the program I chose, if I chose one, they’ll all put me into debt. And I know education debt is supposedly good debt, but I am so terrified of having negative money that I can’t really consider doing what my heart knows I ought to do.

Meanwhile, I’m slowly but surely driving my co-workers nutso at my current job. Not sure how to solve that problem since unfortunately succeeding at this job requires certain abilities I do not have. So I’m rather confused regarding what to do at this point. Deadlines for graduate school are rolling in, and I can’t figure out if they’re worth it. I do know that when it comes to web design ultimately what matters is a portfolio and skill – and that can all be created and learned without an expensive education. What to do, what to do?

Got into the Mint beta!

However, I’m sworn to secrecy about its inner workings. But I will say – extremely vaguely – that I’m very excited to see what the Mint team has done. There’s a few kinks that still need to be worked out, of course – that’s to be expected in private beta, but I have a feeling Mint will end up winning me over amongst all the PF sites out there (I’ve also used Wesabe and Geezeo thus far.)

If you want your own invite, go over to http://www.mint.com and ask for one yourself. 🙂

Labor Day Wrap Up

Investments: I’ve been avoiding checking my Vanguard accounts for a few days. My losses, however temporary, were too painful to look at on a daily basis. After checking a few minutes ago, I’m happy to report Wall Street’s latest recovery has brought my losses to an amount I can deal with.

Career: Has its ups and downs. My job is, quite frankly, amazing. I’m still not sure I’m right for it. Then again, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be “right” for anything that could be described as a “career” or a “job,” even. Figured out my biggest problem with my current job is not my inability to fact check properly (although that’s a huge problem that I’m going to fix, hopefully with the help of ADD meds that I might be getting this week), it’s my massive issue with social anxiety. It’s not ideal to be a journalist with social anxiety. Can I overcome my fear of talking to strangers? Can I find confidence in my intellect so I can stop spending my life apologizing for my errors and worrying about future ones, and focus on just doing a good job? Tune in next time…

Love: I’m lucky in love. I think. I’m just stressed out about life, overall, and that’s affecting my relationship. It isn’t fair to my boyfriend. He’s a great guy. I used to think that happiness meant being successful, ie, figuring out some way to lead a life that would make my parents go “wow.” Now that I realize this is impossible and/or unimportant, I’ve almost given up at that dream. Instead, I now understand that happiness in life is about the people who we meet along the way, especially the person (or people) who we love. I need to figure out how to live love. I’ve spent so much of my life finding security in the dramatic, and I’m tired of it. My parents’ relationship is a joke, despite that they’ve been married for more than 25 years. I’ve grown up to believe marriage is a joke as well. I’m not sure I still believe that. It’s odd that I can see myself one day having a husband and a family. It sounds really, really weird to hear myself think that. I’m not sure if my current boyfriend will be the guy I end up with forever, but I wouldn’t want to be able to foresee that clearly now anyway. On my Labor Day vacation, a bunch of strangers kept asking if we were married, or calling us husband and wife. It was weird. I still feel like I’m 16 years old, even though I’m really pushing 24. Geez, 24. You know, I hadn’t even thought about the significance of turning 24 until just now. That’s old. I mean, not old, old. But old enough that I’m no longer a young adult. I’m, well, an adult. Plain and simple. And I need to start living like one.

Sleep: Lacking. I need more sleep. Insomnia is destroying my already limited ability to focus and function properly.

Budget: Spent $125 on six pairs of shoes while on vacation. Yes, six. That includes California tax. Did I need six pairs of shoes? Probably not. But outlet stores plus a need for new shoes and finding shoes that actually fit me (a rarity) equals buying a lot of shoes. I find shoes are a worthwhile investment, especially if they’re good quality footwear sold at a relatively cheap price. At the Nine West outlet store, I actually bought a pair of shoes I already own. They are pretty gross right now and my gut instinct has told me throw them out for months. Finally, I found their replacement. The same exact pair, for $15 on a sale rack on extra sale. There is something orgasmic about walking into a shoe store that has a sale rack where prices are already marked down about 50 percent, and then there’s a giant sign that says “take 50 percent off already reduced prices.” Sometimes I think I could live on the thrill of buying $70-$100 shoes for $20.

Travel: Labor Day weekend in Tahoe was great. I felt bad that I ended up spending so little on the trip. My boyfriend’s father footed the bill for our motel and my bf covered most of the gas, so I ended up spending about $200 on the trip for food and a show. (And then I spent $125 on shoes (see above)). I’ve got a few upcoming trips that will pinch my wallet a bit… a roadtrip to LA coming up in a few weeks, and then I’m off to Miami for my childhood friend’s wedding. Overall I expect travel to cost me another $400-$500 over the next two months. My mother still wants me to take a trip to Vegas to visit my grandmother, but I’m not sure it makes sense to spend even more money on that. And then there’s the possibility of taking a trip home to the east coast for the holidays, though I might just not go home this year. There’s not much left for me there. Being around my parents, in my childhood home, just depresses me. It reminds me of all the things I’ve been trying so hard to get away from (and failing, but trying nonetheless).