Updated: Sep 10, 2023

Why Independent Contractors Need an Online-Only Bank

Fee-free banks can be the perfect financial solution for independent contractors who don't want to spend a lot to manage their money.
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Independent Contractors are at a Major Financial Disadvantage

As one of the 53 million freelancers out there, being self-employed is kind of like walking a financial tightrope at times and you have to be meticulous about planning your steps so you don't stumble.

While being an independent contractor offers a certain amount of freedom, you're also taking a hit financially in terms of what you're missing out on.

Whereas full-time employees are entitled to certain labor protections, like worker's compensation, family and medical leave and unemployment insurance, mandatory health insurance coverage, vacation pay and access to a 401(k) or similar retirement plan, companies aren't required to provide any of that for independent contractors.

When you're trying to save for retirement or invest or just stash away a few bucks for a rainy day, it's a lot harder to do when you're paying out of pocket for things like insurance, travel expenses, supplies or equipment.

The other big problem is that you're responsible for paying your own Social Security and Medicare taxes, which an employer would normally cover.

Instead of just paying income tax, you also have to pay self-employment tax, which is 15.3 percent of your net earnings. Next year, for example, I estimate that I'll owe about $12,000, which is stomach-churning, to say the least.

Switching to a Fee-Free Bank is a Must for Independent Contractors

Over the last few years, bank fees have been increasing steadily and that trend seems set to continue.

The average fee cost to maintain a checking account is nearly $155 annually. That comes out to about $13 a month, which doesn't seem like much, but every penny counts when you're an independent contractor.

Moving to a bank with zero fees keeps more cash in your pocket that you can use to compensate for the employer benefits you're not getting.

For example, as a freelancer I have to make estimated tax payments four times during the year.

I keep a separate no-fee checking account set up just for that purpose.

I've also got other fee-free money market accounts set up to hold my emergency fund and cash that goes towards non-essential spending, like vacations and holiday shopping. The number of accounts you should have really comes down to what your needs and goals are.

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Fee-Free Banks don't Skimp on Products and Services

Switching to a fee-free bank usually means going completely online and forgoing a traditional brick-and-mortar bank.

Even though you don't have a branch you can visit, the upside is that you're not going to sacrifice any of the products or services that you're already used to.

In addition to regular checking and savings accounts, many online banks also offer money markets, CDs and retirement accounts, which is perfect if you're ready to start investing or building up your nest egg.

Because their overhead costs are so much lower than a traditional bank, you get the additional plus of earning a higher interest rate on savings.

Related: How to Compare IRA Accounts vs. IRA CDs

Online banks typically offer things like mobile deposit, direct deposit services, free bill pay, free checks, a free debit card and paperless statements.

You can move money between accounts at the click of a button and Ally Bank also makes it possible to send cash to other people via text or email through Popmoney.

Both Capital One and Charles Schwab Bank support Apple Pay, so you can easily pay for purchases using your mobile device.

Tip: When switching to an online bank, be sure to verify that it's FDIC-Insured so your funds are protected in the event that it closes down.

Comparing Fee-Free Banks

When you're shopping around for a new bank, it's easy to get bogged down in the details and lose track of who offers what.

We've broken down the highlights of the top fee-free banks to take some of the guesswork out of your decision.

Make the Switch Without Costing Yourself Money

When you're ready to move to a fee-free bank, you have to take certain steps to make sure your old bank doesn't try to pin any more fees on you before you go.

Some banks, for instance, will charge a fee if you close your account before it's been open a certain amount of time.

If you've got a minimum balance requirement, transferring all of your money into your new account without closing it right away could land you a monthly maintenance fee.

You also want to make sure that any checks you've written have cleared and any automatic bill payments you've set up have been stopped until the transfer is complete.

Otherwise, you could end overdrawing your account which means yet another fee.

The damage can be even worse if you have multiple items returned since many banks charge more than one overdraft fee per day.

Final Thoughts

A fee-free bank is a no-brainer if you're self-employed and don't want to see your hard-earned dollars get eaten up by lots of little charges.

Comparing the features of each account and the minimum opening requirements can help you find the best fit.

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