1099, Being Freelancer, Finances and Taxes, Freelancers, On Your Own, Self-Employed, Services, Taxes

3 Tips For Finding Tax Preparation Services

For an average taxpayer, completing taxes every season can be quite a challenge. If you’re part of the on-demand economy, you may also have added concerns, including more forms to file and many different streams of income to keep track of. Taxes for freelancers and independent contractors can be more complicated, especially if this is the first year that you are self-employed. It’s always a good idea to seek tax preparation services when doing your taxes. However, not everyone can afford it. If you are looking for tax services, there are many programs available at discounted prices to help low-income taxpayers. 3 Tips For Finding Tax Preparation Services:

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance or VITA is a tax preparation service provided by IRS certified professional volunteers. Their services are offered free of charge to those who earn less than $53,000 a year or are disabled, elderly, or not a native English speaker. They offer basic tax services, such as tax preparation and filing. They do not, however, help with Schedule C preparation, which means this service may not be for those in the on-demand society looking for help with self-employed taxes. Volunteers are usually found in local community centers and libraries. To find one near you, click here.

Myfreetaxes.com

Myfreetaxes.com is a free online tax preparation software for households earning $60,000 or less. This software will help you with tax preparation and filing for both your federal and state taxes. They can also help with 1099 taxes. Their software is provided by H&R Block, while the services are funded by Goodwill, the Walmart Foundation, and the United Way.

Additional Resources

Additionally, Myfreetaxes.com offers a tax help hotline, which you can reach by dialing 1-800-MY-TX-HELP. The IRS also has resources for help with your taxes on their website, which you can look into here.

If you are looking for help with issues after you have filed your taxes, you can reach out to the TaxPayers Advocate or Low Income Taxpayer Clinics. This is an independent group within the IRS that can assist with audits, collections issues, and appeals.

Lastly, you may also be able to find local resources within your community to help with your taxes.

Demand and supply: Independent Contractors
Companies, Flexibility: Hours, Family, etc., Freelancers, Self-Employed, Services

Supply and Demand: Independent Contractors

Interview with Steven King of Emergent Research and someone who I consider one of the go-to-guys for information about the Freelance economy. During the Interview, Steve state that:

  • 30% of the workforce are Independent Contractors and Freelancers… Many of these people are doing part-time work
  • 60% of Freelancers do this work by choice and 25% are doing it based on necessity
  • People are becoming Independent Contractors because they want autonomy
  • Biggest issues and concerns center on the fact they have no benefits, do not get reimbursed for expenses and always have to find their next gig
  • Freelancers have to be a jack of all trades and wear many hats, but it does help fi they can find an accountant and a lawyer to assist them.
  • More and more companies and developers focus on creating solutions for this market. QuickBooks for the Self-Employed is an example.
  • Both companies and developers need to think about what platforms, such as Intuit or Google, do you want to associate yourself with. More and more developers are focusing on vertical markets and areas where they have experience and expertise.
  • Big companies are relying increasingly on a contingent workforce where they can scale up and down quickly, hiring independent contractors when they need them. The demand-side (Companies:) get a significant cost savings because they save 10%-20% in hiring a part-time worker vs. a full-time employee. Conversely, the Supply Side (the Contractors) gets autonomy and flexibility because they can pick their assignments and when they do these assignments..

Steve finishes the interview with this piece of wisdom:

  • Start part-time and don’t give you your day job
  • Give yourself a financial cushion
  • Show up for work every day (you need to treat it like an everyday job)

 

Handy’s Corner of the Gig Economy Is a Mess. Doesn’t Bother Startup Investors!
Companies, Health Care, Industry Research, Ondemand Platform, Services, The American Dream, Uber

Home Services need to be Cleaned Up

Originally Published in Slate

The startup world is full of ironies and poetic justices. The bubbly race to wash your clothes. The club of billion-dollar “unicorns” that boasts more than 100 members. And the undeniably messy market for on-demand cleanings and home services.

In recent months, the home-services market has repeatedly proven one of the riskiest and most muddled in the burgeoning “gig” economy. The clearest evidence of this came in mid-July, when Uber-but-for-cleaning platform Homejoy announced it was shutting down. At the time, the company attributed its exit to problems with raising money and to a lawsuit over its employment practices;other reports since have traced the collapse to substantial losses, poor customer retention, costly expansion, and Homejoy’s inability to keep its best workers on the platform.

Similar problems have plagued Handy, another Uber-but-for of the home-services sector, and Homejoy’s main competitor before it went under. Like Homejoy, Handy poured money into scaling up its operation, spending tens of thousands of dollars a week—if not more—to onboard cleaners. Like Homejoy, Handy struggled to retain those cleaners, with 20 to 40 percent becoming inactive after two to three months. Like Homejoy, Handy is in litigation over its independent contractor-based business model. On top of that, Handy has faced tough criticism about its customer service—in particular, a signup system that automatically enrolled users in repeat bookings and made it extremely difficult to cancel them.

And yet the gig economy keeps chugging. Handy said Monday that it had raised $50 million in a Series C funding round led by Fidelity Management and several of its current investors. That brings the company’s total funding to $110 million, for an unofficial valuation of around $500 million.

In its press release, Handy points to its 1 million-plus bookings (a milestone it celebrated over the summer), and that 80 percent of them come from “loyal, repeat customers.” Presumably a good deal of the company’s valuation and new funding is tied up in this claim—repeat customers are much more likely to actually pay off than one-time users—though the fact starts to sound less compelling when you wonder how many of the 80 percent were repeatedly using Handy of their own volition, and not because they couldn’t cancel those automatic recurring bookings.

“Handy has demonstrated to consumers that it is the company to trust when it comes to finding professionals to take care of their homes,” Handy co-founder Umang Dua says in the release. “Professionals love the flexibility, high-paying jobs and high demand for their services, while consumers enjoy the convenience and high quality.” It’s nice PR boilerplate that becomes less convincing once you consider the cleaners who have filed lawsuits against Handy, the customers stuck with followup bookings they didn’t want, and the customer-experience employees at Handy’s headquarters who had their jobs outsourced and were fired en masse between late 2014 and early 2015. For more on most of that, see my Slate story from this summer.

On the other hand, it’s possible that Handy, in the spirit of its sector, has started cleaning up its act. In late August, a former Handy employee notified me that the company had finally reviewed its compensation and payroll practices and issued back-pay to some customer-experience employees for their rest periods. As part of that, back-wage recipients were asked to “stipulate and agree that my accepting this payment does not constitute, for any purpose whatsoever, either directly or indirectly, an admission of any violation of law or contract or any other legal obligation whatsoever by Handy,” according to a copy of one agreement provided to Slate. They also released Handy from “any and all individual and/or class claims under the New York Labor Law and, to the extent allowable, any other federal, state or local law, related to the payment of wages, benefits or other compensation related to my employment with Handy,” so you have to assume that’s something the company was nervous about.

Could such changes, plus the Homejoy exit, be enough to pave Handy’s way toward establishing a profitable, sustainable business?Or is the market for home-cleaning and other household services fundamentally too tough? Those are questions that as of yet don’t seem to have clear answers. For now, though, Handy doesn’t need to convince the world one way or another. It just needs metrics that are aspirational enough to attract a few investors—to keep the cash flowing in from one end to be burnt up on the other. Fifty million dollars might not feel like much compared to the $1 billion rounds that Uber raises with casual regularity. But for a company in a space as murky and fraught as Handy’s, it’s an equally big vote of confidence.

 

On-demand freelance lawyers
Companies, Connecting talent, Future of Work, Services

On-Demand Lawyers

On-Demand Workers ‘Gone Wild.’ We are not talking about the retired guys driving Ubers or a stopping by our house to fix your wifi. Now there’s On-Demand freelance lawyers. And other White Collar folks are rapidly joining our On-Demand Society. Not just as individuals consuming services. They are not providing them. UpCounsel, a start up in my home town, is a good example. It is something very close to an for Lawyers — a market place that offers experienced lawyers to do micro-tasks. Think of a bit like high end Mechanical Turk for Lawyers. Or like Doctors On Demand.

Today’s UpCounsel’s job board listed the following:

  • Trademark Registration needed at a fixed fee of $645
  • Single Member LLC Formation at $595
  • Commercial Lesse Review starting at $950

I also tested it out — looking for a lawyer who can help me license an application  I developed to a large public company. (I need advise on how to protect my software, how to price it and also how to go about writing up an agreement). After I entered my zip code and some information about the project, it displayed a bunch of lawyers and their contact info to me. It felt a little like Match.com (I know cause I met my wife on that service).

This is not my wife, but you can see what I mean (sorry if this sounds sexist)

Lawyer from UpCouncel

Unlike Match, UpCouncel’s A-La-Carte approach offers assistance at discounted prices. It also enables lawyer to focus on the areas they are most passionate about. Upcounsel manages all the electronic paperwork and also ensure the lawyers are paid. What’s the appeal for lawyers involved? Predictable Income? Another channel to reach clients? Another way to deal with the touch economy they are dealing with. As the NY Times recently wrote about   school graduates are burdened with debt and are finding it difficult to find work. (For a good research report on this issue)

This White Collar approach will seep into other businesses. We will see more and more highly trained and educated doctors, lawyers and other professions. The question is how will this approach impact these industries. Will it be like Uber and turn industries upside down?

Probably not for a while. I researched two competitors tonight:

  1. Attorneyfee.com, but their website down (permanently?)
  2. QuickLegal, but after being live for over a year, it is only available in California and its blog has not been updated since June.
Companies, Health Care, Industry Research, Services

Health Care Industry: Change is happening

Printed without permission (but I like the topic). Original from CBInsights.com

I recently had the chance to attend Rock Health’s Digital Health Summit and below are my notes throughout the two-day event and my overarching takeaways.

Digital health is very different from tech (especially time horizons)

Health is a gigantic, lucrative, and an essentially recession-proof business. But companies in healthcare are often slowed down by regulatory issues and the need for health outcomes data, i.e. data showing a given therapy’s effectiveness and safety. That may be why in health, “it’s better to be long-term greedy, than short term greedy,” as Chamath Palihapitiya of SocialCapital put it several times.

Almost every speaker from the VC side emphasized that venture capital as an asset class was designed to make risky bets on companies that have longer return timelines, so healthcare is an important place for them to be. As Noah Lang of Stride Health said, “The important thing is to be patient.” (I’m guessing he didn’t intend the pun, but it got some laughs.) Chamath was a bit more blunt, saying ”VCs should be investing in health but instead, they’ll keep investing in these on-demand brownie delivery services instead.”

Unlike tech startups, healthcare companies don’t enjoy the luxury of a soft landing. Tech is known for pushing out products and iterating as they get feedback, especially when things aren’t working. Health is different because products cannot fail. People’s lives are at stake. And because of that, potential customers — not to mention regulators in many cases — want to see evidence that these companies have an actual impact. This presents many healthcare startups with the Catch 22-type problem, “how do we get evidence if we can’t get customers?”

Healthcare needs to be more personalized

As we move towards value-based care where price is dependent on results (as opposed to fee-for-service), attention to patients is being given new priority. The old system that fits patients into a one-size-fits-all mold is primed to be disrupted. Whether it’s using software to connect customers/patients with caregivers that match their preferences (like Honor), or making sure wellness or healthcare coaches continuously work with the same users to understand their needs (like Lantern), or helping users find the right insurance company for them (like Collective Health). This is a great time for small and nimble companies to find niches where they can appeal to patient needs or fill gaps, which could allow them to compete with some of the larger entrenched players.

Preventive medicine is what’s cool right now (and still growing)

The Affordable Care Act in the United States expanded the market size and importance for preventive medicine by creating incentives for healthcare organizations to keep patients out of hospitals. Plenty of startups are ready to operate in this space. With more individualized care, companies can make sure that at-risk patients are identified and helped before they have to enter the hospital. Lyra Health does a good job of this by identifying patients that might need behavioral health services at critical moments by using data (like after pregnancy or coping with chronic disease). The goal of Human Longevity is being able to use genomic data to identify problems before they occur, rooting the company in preventive medicine. As we get more data from patients outside of hospital settings, it will be easier to identify those who are at risk.

 

Lots of entrepreneurs are coming from tech into digital health

It was interesting to see the number of entrepreneurs that were jumping into healthcare from tech (even if they didn’t have a background in the field). On the panels were David Ebersman from Lyra Health (previously Facebook), Ali Diab from Collective Health (previously at Qwilt Software) and Alejandro Foung from Lantern (previously at Trulia), as well as many entrepreneurs I met at the reception with similar backgrounds. Coming from tech brings positive qualities, like the willingness to break systems when they aren’t efficient, the desire to move quickly, and a strong customer-oriented focus.

However, it’s important when going into healthcare to understand more patience is necessary (see above) and behaviors are very different. In tech, investors/customers care much more about your growth and potential. In healthcare people care much more about how much money you’re saving the system, and want data to back up your claims.

It’s all about the data, and that data needs to be open. We need better interoperability.

New health data is being created by the boatload, and healthcare is not doing a good job keeping up. Fitbit CEO James Park made a relevant observation in this regard when he said Fitbit’s fitness trackers allow people to visualize something that was previously invisible (like steps taken in a day, sleep duration, etc). As wearables, diagnostic tests, online portals, and other instruments create and accumulate data, we need better ways of packaging it and making it usable so that doctors and systems are not bombarded with noise.

Unfortunately, due to tight regulations surrounding health data, outdated electronic medical record (EMR) systems, and hesitance about data quality, there is very little communication and interoperability between systems. These barriers will need to come down in the future for any progress to happen. As J. Craig Venter of Human Longevity said, the innovations in genomic data/linkages that his company is doing with the genome are “only useful if the data is available”.

Siloing health problems is no longer the way to go

Healthcare has historically taken an approach of focusing on one issue at a time, but “integrated care” is coming into the spotlight as more people realize the cost of “co-morbidities,” or interrelated health threats. J. Craig Venter spoke at length about how different alleles and phenotypes are interconnected, and we need to look at disease holistically.

More anecdotally, several presenters spoke about how patients with chronic diseases who subsequently develop mental health problems as a result (such as depression) are much costlier to the system than either problem alone. However, reimbursement from insurance companies currently isolates each condition separately, even as more evidence mounts that they are interrelated. In the future, we’ll be able to use better data to understand how health problems correlate and better treat and price our patients.

Digital health aims to improve efficiency and remove humans from non-core functions

One of the biggest improvements digital health can bring is to improve efficiency. Many startups are trying to remove any process that isn’t a core function of a healthcare professional (Sandy Jen from Honor spoke extensively about how their software removes a lot of the tedious aspects of caregiving that are not directly related to taking care of customers). By using software, not only can more time be dedicated to better care, but there is also an opportunity for better scale so that practitioners, coaches, and caregivers can see far more people in a far shorter time.

Branding is extremely important

The concept of “branding” came up several times in different contexts. The first time was when DJ Patil said that the branding around software workers in government needs to change. Workers are often called “IT” when in reality they’re designers, programmers, product people, etc. and it’s important to recognize them as such. Sandy Jen from Honor spoke about branding in the context of marketing different services. She spoke about how people are adamantly against people putting their parents into home-care services, but if the same product is positioned as “someone coming to check on your parents every couple of weeks,” people are much more receptive.

And finally, David Ebersman from Lyra Health talked about the importance of phrasing and methodology of outreach when talking to people that might be at risk for behavioral disorders (which prompted a wider conversation about the stigma barrier in behavioral health as a whole, since many potential patients can’t get past the stigma of admitting they are depressed or struggling with a treatable disorder).

 

The current regulatory framework is broken

There was unanimity among everyone at the conference about the need to address the broken regulatory framework. Chamath talked quite passionately about this issue, and explained that the capital intensity required to get through the FDA process was what allowed companies like Axovant etc. to go public at crazy high valuations without any products out. On the other hand, many investors are scared that regulatory burden will cripple their investments before their companies can even get to the starting line.

Meanwhile, Leslie Botorff of GE Ventures outlined the different levels of regulation the FDA imposes, and how startups are trying to find ways to stay in the less heavily-regulated classes of FDA approval. On top of FDA issues, the need to be HIPAA compliant is one of the driving reasons why interoperability and data sharing are such complicated issues in the US market.

 

Developing countries are great places to start digital health companies

Developing countries have become ideal places for investors to look to for investments in digital health companies. Not only do these companies face less stringent and complex regulations (which result in lower costs to start companies and a more open uses of data), but the governments in these areas are much more concerned with increasing the overall health of their citizens so that they can compete with the standard of living in the US.

In addition, the massive populations and their growth — in India and China specifically — yield extremely high patient-to-doctor ratios, which creates a strong demand for more efficient systems. Combined with a growing working class that will have more income to spend on healthcare, the arenas outside the US are starting to look promising.