8 Surprising Ways Community College Can Save You Money

Going to community college is a surefire way to save money earning a degree.

How much money? Try $14,336, on average.

What’s more, after you complete your two-year degree at a community college, scores of four-year universities have scholarships specifically for transfer students that could save you thousands more.

So, we’re all clear on how community college can help you save on your education.

But wait, there’s more!

Community colleges are public institutions with an underlying mission of helping more people attain higher education and enter viable career fields, and improve the community overall. In other words, they exist to provide enrichment, learning and life tools for anyone who wants them.

Here are some resources you may not know are available at your local community college, at a lower cost than you might expect.

8 Resources You Can Get for Free (or Cheap) at a Community College

1. Community Events and Speakers

Moving to a new place is an expensive endeavor. Once you’ve paid all the bills associated with setting up a new home and gotten unpacked, exploring sounds fun — and expensive.

But there are free ways to immerse yourself in your new surroundings that don’t involve expensive bars and restaurants. Community colleges regularly host fun, interesting events, often at no charge. Think “community conversations” with interesting guest speakers, meet-ups organized around a book or game, and educational opportunities like stargazing in the school’s planetarium.

2. Lifelong Learning

Many community colleges (as well as four-year colleges and universities) offer reduced or free college tuition to senior citizens.

While some institutions only allow senior students to audit classes, many offer the chance to earn credits toward a degree at a reduced — or completely waived — tuition rate.

3. Free or Cheap Dental Care

Dental schools are filled with students who need practice. By having your dental work done at an educational institution, you can save hundreds on expensive procedures.

Many community colleges offer dental hygienist programs, meaning you can get your teeth cleaned by student hygienists for a fraction of the usual cost.

4. Resume-Writing Help

Looking for your first real job? If you’re not sure how to write a resume or what to put in a cover letter, there’s help. Community colleges frequently host resume writing workshops to help job seekers make the best possible impression.

5. Free and Cheap Exercise Classes

Goodbye, $80-a-month gym membership! Yoga, Zumba, weight-lifting, climbing walls, basketball courts, tennis courts, lap pools. These are all on the menu at community college campuses, often available for free or far cheaper than a retail gym charges.

6. Low-Cost Venue Rentals

Know what else community colleges have a lot of? Space. Consider campus facilities if you’re planning an event like a luncheon for your civic group, a holiday party or even a wedding. You’ll be surprised how much more affordable community college venues are than say, a local country club or restaurant banquet space.

FROM THE SAVE MONEY FORUM

7. Summer Camps for Kids

Every summer, kids celebrate the end of school while parents sweat covering child care and paying for expensive summer camps. Community colleges offer an array of lower-cost camps for all ages. Your youngsters could get immersed in theater arts or learn to code, while your graduating senior can take a college prep boot camp to help with the transition to college. Check out what your local community college offers in the summer.

8. Foreign Language and ESL Classes

Have you always wanted to be able to converse in German? Are you planning a trip to another country and want to get a taste of the language? There are plenty of apps out there, but community colleges offer in-person language courses for just these purposes. And for non-native English speakers, community colleges have an array of courses to help students and new residents improve their English skills.

Molly Moorhead is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

How to Negotiate a Salary in 7 Steps and Get the Best Offer

After all the hard work you’ve put into designing your resume, crafting your cover letter and acing your job interview, you might be tempted to cash in on the first job offer a company gives you.

Most people do.

But putting in a little extra time to negotiate a higher salary might be the easiest and quickest way to earn more money at your new job.

Plus, hiring managers are often ready to negotiate. Are you?

What Are Salary Negotiations, and Why Are They Important?

Salary negotiations show that you’re confident in your skills, you’ve done your homework and that you’re not going to dart off to another better-paying position as soon as it’s available.

Salary negotiations are one of the last steps in the hunt for a new job. They aren’t exactly synonymous with asking for a raise, though the two share a lot of similarities.

The key distinction is that negotiations for a higher salary happen sometime after your interview and before you sign the employment contract — not during a performance review for a current job.

Salary negotiations are crucial for a few key reasons. They show the company that you’re confident in your skills, that you’ve done your homework and that you’re not going to dart off to another better-paying position as soon as it’s available (because you’ll have the better-paying position).

Negotiations are also a time for you to think about your financial needs and to use the tight labor market to your advantage to score a higher starting salary.

The moment you say yes to a job, your sway over your benefits package and starting salary drops. If you don’t negotiate, you’ll have to wait six to 12 months to ask for a raise — money you could have been pocketing all along.

Amid pandemic-related economic woes, companies are even more willing to negotiate for talent, according to a 2020 survey by staffing firm Robert Half. Among senior managers surveyed, 86% were as likely or more likely to negotiate salary with new hires compared to a year ago.

So don’t be afraid to speak up.. It’s free money.

How to Negotiate Salary

Here's how to negotiate your salary: do your research, know your worth, respond to the original offer, plan your counteroffer, practice the conversation, negotiate and get it in writing.

Job interviews are nerve-racking as it is. When you add in salary negotiations, it’s enough to send most people into full-on panic mode.

Those anxieties could be enough to keep you from getting what you’re truly worth. Don’t let them.

Our step-by-step guide will help allay those initial fears and get you into the right frame of mind to not only ask for what you’re worth — but to emerge from those salary negotiations with a better offer.

Step 1: Research Salaries for Your Role

One of the best ways to calm yourself and to approach a salary negotiation with a level head is to do your homework about the company and your role. Don’t stress over manipulation tactics and strategies.

“If we go into a negotiation worrying about [that]… then we miss out on the most important feature of negotiation,” said Lisa Gates, cofounder of She Negotiates. “It’s a conversation. A human conversation.”

Gates, a leadership and negotiation coach for businesswomen and one of LinkedIn’s top 10 voices in the workplace, advises a good place to start is by searching what others in your position are earning. That could be by asking your colleagues (no, it’s not illegal, she said) or by looking up salary information on websites like Dice, Robert Half and Payscale.

With these tools you can establish what the national median income is for your position, what your local economy is paying and what your potential employer typically pays other people with the same title.

Consider where you’re located and where the company is located. For instance, if you are working in Nebraska, the local median income for copywriters is much lower than copywriter salaries in New York. But if you’re relocating to New York for the job, definitely use that salary range in negotiations. In that case, your salary history from Nebraska is irrelevant.

Likewise, this range is useful for establishing a fair salary for work-from-home jobs. Again, if you are a copywriter in Nebraska who is applying for a remote position in New York, you can negotiate a salary that’s in line with what New Yorkers earn, or at least you will have wiggle room to tap into national rates.

“Your salary should not be calibrated by your ZIP code,” Gates said. “It’s about the benefit you deliver to the company.”

People work in an office.

Step 2: Know Your Work’s Worth

Once you’ve established a healthy salary range based on your research, you then have to plot yourself somewhere on that line.

“If you are a median performer… shoot for the median,” said Gates. “But chances are you’re amazing at what you do, and you want to shoot for a salary between median and high.”

When asking for above-average salaries, it needs to be a matter of showing rather than telling. If you believe you deserve the top of that range, then you’re going to need to fall back on something more substantial than “I believe I’m worth $70,000.” Because the obvious follow-up question to that statement is “Why?”

To be able to answer that question confidently and convincingly, “you need to make a list of all your contributions and accomplishments — and quantify them,” said Gates. “For example, if you are a customer service manager and you revamped your new-hire onboarding, what impact did that effort have on the bottom line?”

In terms of negotiation, your argument will be much stronger when it’s based on research and numbers rather than emotion. If you really do need that extra $5,000 for child care costs or relocation costs or rent, that’s OK to mention. Just don’t let that be your whole argument.

So show them exactly why you’re worth that extra five grand.

Step 3: Respond to the Initial Offer — Politely

This stage is ripe for fumbling.

You just got the job offer (congratulations!) and your emotions are running high — good or bad. It could be that the company offered you exactly what you wanted and you’re ecstatic. Or it could’ve lowballed you by about $10,000.

In either situation, it’s easy to respond on impulse. Check yourself first.

Take a deep breath and do not give your decision immediately, even if it’s a great offer. Likewise, it may not be the best time to negotiate especially if you’re a bit offended at that lowball.

“Responding graciously is the most important action to take when you first receive an offer,” said Loren Margolis, CEO and founder of Training & Leadership Success. “I recommend you state that you are grateful and excited, and then take a pause.”

FROM THE MAKE MONEY FORUM

Margolis is a career-training expert and a member of Forbes’ Coaching Council who’s worked with several Fortune 500 companies. She said that even if you know your answer or are ready to negotiate immediately, it’s good to ask for some time to think over the offer.

“If you negotiate on the spot, you run the risk of being influenced by emotion,” she said. “And you want to be logical and clear-headed when you talk money.”

The amount of time to ask the employer to think over the job offer could be anywhere from 24 hours to a week. Between 24 and 48 hours is typical, but employers may be in a pinch to fill the job quickly.

You can also ask the hiring manager for a deadline. That way you won’t be caught in a guessing game and will have a clear amount of time to review your salary research and prepare.

Step 4: Plan Your Counteroffer

At this point, you’ve done quite a bit of legwork on salary research. Now you need to pore over the details of your offer and establish what are known as a reservation point, a target salary and an anchor salary.

In salary negotiations, it’s important to stay within a realistic range that’s based on your research. And think back to your application. Did it ask, “What are your salary requirements?” If so, how did you respond?

If you answered “$40,000 to $50,000,” you have to work within that range.

For example, let’s say your initial job offer includes: $40,000 starting salary, health insurance, a 401(k) plan and three weeks of paid time off. If you’re an early-career professional, this offer might sound pretty good, and it is technically within your range. Negotiate anyway.

“Always negotiate, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that you are capable of having a problem-solving conversation,” Gates advised. “That’s what a negotiation is.”

The only exception is if the company made a “firm” offer or has a “non-negotiable” salary policy. If that’s the case, you might not want to push your luck.

But those cases are rare, so unless it’s expressly stated, get to planning your counteroffer.

First, do the numbers.

  • Set a reservation point above the amount they initially offered, perhaps at $42,500. This number is the minimum salary you will accept.
  • Your target salary, aka the amount you foresee agreeing on after negotiations, will be higher than your reservation amount — somewhere around $45,000.
  • Your anchor salary will be much higher. It’s the number you use to start the conversation and could be as high as $50,000.

It’s very possible the company won’t meet your target salary even after negotiations. But don’t fret — and don’t just look at the salary. Review the entire compensation package, including paid time off and continuing education, plus expenses you’ll incur, like the cost of living and commute.

Be prepared to also negotiate elements of your benefits package, too. Do they have wiggle room on vacation time? What about a work-from-home policy? Learning stipends? Loan forgiveness?

Or, as Margolis put it, “Determine what perks would add some sparkle to your life.”

The important part in a counteroffer is to remain flexible and open-minded.

A woman smiles as she talks to her boss at her office job.

Step 5: Practice the Negotiation Conversation

You’ve come a long way. But now you have all of these numbers and nuggets of advice floating around in your head. Can you recall them on a moment’s notice while under pressure and probably sweating profusely?

Didn’t think so.

The conversation itself could happen in person or over the phone. But it does need to be a conversation. No email negotiations — do it over the phone, via video chat or in person so you can better interpret the hiring manager’s tone and response.

And if the conversation does happen to take place in person, you’ll have to take into consideration much more than your tone. According to research from Robert Half, hiring managers pay keen attention to several nonverbal cues, the most important being:

  • Eye contact
  • Posture
  • Handshake
  • Hand gestures
  • Facial expressions
  • Fidgeting and nervous movements

This is why feedback is crucial. For the most part, you won’t be able to address any of those cues without someone else’s help.

“Practice negotiating with someone you trust. And ask them to make it difficult for you,” Margolis said.  “Have them counter your assertions and challenge you so you can practice professionally pushing back.”

Margolis also recommended writing out the perks that mean the most to you in the negotiation. Then, write down three things that distinguish yourself from the other applicants — they could highlight your experience, skills or ways you will add unique value to the company.

Forcing yourself to write it out makes your argument more cohesive.

Similarly, Gates recommended crafting an opening statement that lays out exactly what you want. She’s created a specific formula to guide the conversation that should include:

  • Your strengths.
  • Quantified results of those strengths.
  • How you plan to produce those results in the future.
  • An anchor number to start off negotiations.

Then round off your opening statement with a question that sparks discussion. She recommended something along the lines of, ”How can you help me make this so?”

Following this formula, your opening statement could look like:

“I’m a creative and witty copywriter who has produced several award-winning advertisements for past clients, which raised their ad revenue by 20% in one quarter. I believe with the new resources and larger team in my new role here, I will deliver even better results. These achievements warrant a salary of $50,000. How can we come together on this?”

Your statement will obviously look different. Use language that’s natural to you and change it around as much as you like. Be sure to include your anchor salary and an open-ended question that invites the employer to speak.

When you’re practicing with a friend, try changing the question, especially if the response isn’t what you were expecting. Because you want to start a discussion, avoid yes-or-no questions in particular.

Practice as much as you can and ask for feedback along the way. When all is said and done, thank your practice partner profusely. Drinks are on you.

Step 6: Negotiate a Higher Salary

After all that preparation, it’s not so scary anymore, is it?

Give yourself a pep talk, take a deep breath, and go get yourself a higher salary.

If you’re conducting the salary talks in person, remember to mind your body language. And if they offer you a beverage, take it. Having something to sip on will help smooth over those awkward pauses and can buy you some time to think of a response if you’re stumped.

If you’re talking over the phone, throw all that advice about body language out the window. That’s not important here. You’ll be able to have your notes in front of you, too.

Remember that your tone is what’s important on the phone. Speak clearly and slowly, and you’ll have a better offer in no time.

Step 7: Get It in Writing

You don’t want all that effort to go to waste.

After you rock your salary negotiation and come out with your target salary (or higher), be sure to ask for it in writing.

Sometimes hiring processes are long and involve plenty of people at the company. Things get forgotten or lost in translation. Perhaps the negotiation was handled by a separate person in the HR department. Maybe that separate person only had your initial salary offer on file and not the renegotiated amount. Or there could be something more nefarious in the works. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

“Ask for them to at least send it in an email to ensure that you and the hiring company are both on the same page,” Margolis said.

And when you finally sign your name on the contract, ensure it reflects what was sent in the email.

Now all that’s left is to bask in the success of the single highest-earning conversation you’ve likely ever had.

Adam Hardy is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

DoorDash vs. UberEats: Which App Is Right For Your Next Side Gig?

For better or worse, apps like DoorDash and Uber Eats have disrupted the food-delivery industry. Since their launch in 2013 and 2014 respectively, restaurants across the country have outsourced delivery services to independent drivers who use the apps to make extra cash.

During the pandemic, these services have seen demand like never before. For customers, the apps make ordering food from just about any restaurant as easy as opening their smartphones. For drivers, it’s almost as easy to land a delivery job hawking food from local eateries.

But before you download your next job, take some time to review the key differences between DoorDash and Uber Eats so that you can make the most of your delivery gig.

DoorDash vs Uber Eats: The Top Food Delivery Apps Duke It Out

The general premise of the two apps is almost identical: Customers place food orders at local restaurants. The apps alert drivers in the area with the order details. The first driver to accept the order picks up the food and drops it off to the customer. Simple enough, right?

Several differences are worth noting, though. Some minor and some major. We took a deep dive into those differences, looking at pay, vehicle and job requirements, available locations, driver reviews and more to help you make an informed decision before you start delivering.

And if it’s too close to call, you can always sign up for both to see which one suits you better.

Round 1: App Reviews

A woman looks at what's offered on Uber Eats.

Because the apps are so popular, they’ve amassed more than 4.1 million driver reviews. Both companies require their drivers to use different apps than customers, a huge perk when trying to get a sense of drivers’ perspective. Worker reviews from Glassdoor are also included.

DoorDash Driver (Dasher) Reviews

Feedback from Dashers is overall mixed, but there’s a clear preference for the iOS version of the app. Trends in negative reviews across all platforms show that many drivers have trouble with glitches and crashes, especially Android users, and that the nature of the work takes a toll on their vehicles. Many negative reviews mention that DoorDash’s strict performance metrics are a hassle.

Workers reviewed DoorDash more than 760,000 times.

App Store (iOS) review: 4.7 out of 5.
Google Play (Android) review: 3.3 out of 5.

Glassdoor review: 3.7 out of 5.

Uber Driver Reviews

More than 3 million drivers reviewed Uber. A caveat worth noting is that Uber has one driver app. That means it’s hard to get the opinions of only Uber Eats drivers because general Uber app reviews are mixed in. Overall, reviews are positive.

Trends in negative delivery reviews on Glassdoor indicate GPS issues and trouble contacting customer service. Several drivers mentioned problems with promotion and surge pay (bonus pay during in-demand times). Negative reviews regarding vehicle wear-and-tear are common.

App Store (iOS) review: 4.6 out of 5.

Google Play (Android) review: 3.8 out of 5.

Glassdoor review: 3.9 out of 5.

Round 2: Job and Vehicle Requirements

A woman drives for Uber.

To become a Dasher or Uber Eats driver, you have to meet a baseline of requirements. Some are vehicle related and some are age and experience related.

DoorDash

To qualify as a Dasher you must be at least 18. Dashers need to have a valid driver’s license. There are no car requirements, but auto insurance is required. In some markets you can make deliveries on scooters, bicycles and motorcycles.

Uber Eats

To make automobile deliveries, the minimum age requirement is based on your local jurisdiction, plus at least one year of driving experience. Vehicles must be no more than 20 years old. Drivers must be properly insured and can use bikes and scooters in certain markets. The age requirements are higher for those who prefer two wheels — 18 for bicycles and 19 for scooters.

Round 3: Sign-Up Process

Becoming a delivery driver for DoorDash and Uber Eats is simpler than landing a part-time job. You can complete the entire process from your smartphone or computer.

DoorDash

You can sign up to become a Dasher on the driver app. You’ll have to consent to a background and motor vehicle check (and pass both). They could take as little as a few days, but err on the side of a week or two.

After passing the checks, you’ll need to select what type of “orientation” you want. The pandemic paused in-person orientations. Depending on your market you may need to request an “activation kit” instead. Receiving your activation kit may take an extra couple of weeks, according to driver reviews.

The activation kit includes a Dasher manual, a hot bag and a credit card, which is used to pay for orders. Once you receive and set up the card through the app, you can start accepting orders.

Uber Eats

For drivers new to Uber, you can sign up on the website or through the driver app. Because of the stricter vehicle requirements, the application requires more detailed information on your ride. A background check is also required, which may take three to five business days to process.

After the background check clears and your application is approved, you’re free to start taking orders. No orientation or additional equipment is needed.

If you’re a current rideshare driver for Uber, it’s easy to start delivering with Uber Eats. You simply opt in to Uber Eats orders through the driver app and start delivering without any additional screening.

Round 4: Pay and Tipping

The two apps handle pay a little differently, both in how you get paid and how you pay for customers’ orders when you pick them up. Neither company offers guaranteed wages (unless you live in California).

DoorDash

As of Fall 2019, the company switched to a payment model where Dashers earn a higher base pay per order in addition to keeping 100% of their tips. Previously, a customer’s tip would subsidize the Dasher’s base pay.

Check out how this food delivery driver may $8,000 in one month.

Dashers report earning between $11 and $15 an hour depending on location, but those earnings aren’t guaranteed. Pay is based on how many orders you accept per hour and how much customers tip you. DoorDash pays weekly through direct deposit, or you can access your earnings early through Fast Pay, for $1.99.

When picking up orders, you may be required to pay for the order using the company red card from your activation kit.

Uber Eats

Depending on your location, you can expect to earn $11 to $14 an hour on average. Again, those wages aren’t guaranteed because your earnings are based on orders and tips. With Uber Eats, you pocket 100% of your customers’ tips. You get paid weekly via direct deposit, or you can pay a fee to access your earnings early through Instant Pay for 50 cents.

You won’t be involved in the payment process for food orders. Partner restaurants are reimbursed directly by Uber.

Round 5: Available Locations

People walk alongside a lake and tall buildings.

This one’s easy. Both services are available in most big cities in all 50 states.

Previously, DoorDash and Uber Eats ran driver support centers in major metro areas of most states. In 2020, many of these centers closed due to the coronavirus. Some still exist, but neither company offers a comprehensive, public list of remaining locations.

Final Round: Additional Perks

Promotional offers are popular with both DoorDash and Uber, but they’re temporary and vary by location. Aside from sign-up bonuses and referral codes, here are a couple perks that are here to stay.

DoorDash

A few perks unique to DoorDash include grocery delivery options, automatic insurance coverage and health care services.

After you’re screened and accepted as a Dasher, you can choose to deliver food in any city where DoorDash operates, meaning there are no hard location requirements. The company also launched grocery delivery services in some Midwest and West Coast areas.

Dashers also get supplemental auto insurance and occupational accident insurance for accidents or injuries that fall outside your current auto insurance. The insurance plan covers up to $1 million in medical costs, a weekly payment of $500 for disabilities and $150,000 to dependents for fatal accidents. Coverage is automatic. There are no deductibles or premiums.

While DoorDash doesn’t offer health insurance, the company does partner with Stride Health, which provides free health care advising and assistance to Dashers who need help finding affordable insurance plans.

FROM THE MAKE MONEY FORUM

Uber Eats

Uber Eats drivers get a variety of discounts and may be eligible for Uber Pro perks.

All Uber drivers receive discounts for vehicle maintenance and phone service plans. Uber also partners with Stride Health to provide health plans and tax advice. Drivers automatically receive supplemental auto insurance, which covers up to $1 million in damages. There’s a $1,000 deductible before benefits pay out.

Uber Pro perks have recently expanded to all of Uber’s markets across the U.S. Only top-rated drivers receive Pro perks like tuition and gas reimbursement, and the program is designed for Uber drivers primarily, not Uber Eats drivers.

If you drive for both Uber and Uber Eats, your food deliveries may apply to Uber Pro, but Uber-Eats-only drivers aren’t eligible.

Final Decision in DoorDash vs Uber Eats

Ding! Ding! It was an even match-up. Uber Eats and DoorDash were neck and neck throughout. No knockout punches. A good few jabs by DoorDash’s insurance coverage and grocery options and a couple of hooks by Uber’s overall ratings and ability to switch to ridesharing.

The decision goes to our judges. (That’s you.)

There are a lot more delivery options out there. Here’s how the top 10 delivery apps stack up.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, remote work and other unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

4 Ways Community Colleges Can Help Boost Your Earning Potential

Your local community college. Maybe you associate it with two-year degrees and basic computer courses, but rarely give it more thought than that.

Well, think again.

There are unexpected money-making opportunities at community colleges, whether you’re a high school grad planning your next step, an entrepreneurial type with a fledgling business idea or a working professional looking to change fields or add to your skills.

Chances are, the community college down the street offers a class or a program that can help you make money.

4 Ways to Make Money Through Community College

Attending community college can help you discover new money-making opportunities and give you a leg up in your career.

1. Explore Well-Paying Jobs That Require Only a Two-Year Degree

Think you need four years of college (or more) to earn a decent salary? Not so.

Professions such as physical therapy assistant, dental hygienist and web developer all pay a median wage above $50,000, and you can learn them and snag a job with a two-year degree.

Even amid the economic turmoil of 2020, these jobs remain in demand — and are only expected to grow in the next few years. The best place to find a program: community colleges, which are the original incubators of career programs that require only an associate’s degree.

2. Earn Valuable Career Credentials

“Credentials” is an all-encompassing term that covers any type of learning that results in an achievement. A degree, a license, a certificate and a certification are all credentials, and all of them can lead to new careers — or enhance your status in your current one. 

With employers scrambling to fill open positions, an applicant’s credential could be the key to getting noticed.

There are a plethora of credentials on offer. It’s important to vet the one you’re considering and make sure you obtain it from a reputable institution. That’s where community colleges come in

3. Take the First Step Into an Apprenticeship Program

Apprenticeship programs, as defined by the Department of Labor, require participants to earn wages from an employer as they train. Throughout the program, which can last one to six years, participants must work under the guidance of another employee and must earn an industry-recognized credential.  

That’s right — unlike college, apprenticeships pay you to learn instead of the other way around. There are several pathways into apprenticeships, including local workforce development boards and — yes — community colleges, which have established relationships with local businesses, i.e. potential employers. 

4. Make Use of a Makerspace

A makerspace is a community workshop space where you can make things. Hand-crafted things. Digital things. 3D-printed things. You supply the idea, they supply the equipment and workspace, usually for free.

Community colleges are major players in providing the public with free access to makerspaces. They have the benefit of robust career programs and those relationships with local employers. 

Much like the mission of community colleges to help more people achieve higher education, their makerspaces broaden access to innovations, technology and ideas.

Molly Moorhead is a Senior Editor at The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Can You Work While on Disability? Yes — But Know the Rules First

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in July 2019. Income thresholds and other statistics have been updated for 2020.

Anytime a letter bearing the seal of the Social Security Administration arrives, James feels afraid to open it.

A 34-year-old with cerebral palsy, he depends on Social Security disability benefits for the majority of his income. The benefits cover his rent and bills each month. But it’s not enough to live on, so he supplements it with side gigs like DoorDash, Instacart and other delivery apps.

It’s a difficult, frustrating balancing act, trying to work enough to maintain independence — but not so much that his benefits are cut off. It’s also suffused with fear. James talked to The Penny Hoarder about his experience but asked that his last name not be used out of concern of running afoul of the federal agency.

Millions of people are in James’ situation, fearful and confused by the labyrinth of rules governing their benefits. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, bringing needed attention to this subset of workers whose livelihoods seem constantly in peril.

Here’s a primer on how the system works.

The SSA Giveth, and the SSA Taketh Away

Getting approved for benefits had come as such a relief. James had heard horror stories of how it takes some applicants “months or even years” to get approved.

He qualified for benefits because his condition is permanent. It affects his speech and fine motor skills. He says those deficits, combined with the stereotypes about people with disabilities, have left him unable to secure a full-time job despite having a master’s degree in instructional technology.

Pro Tip

If you receive SSI or SSDI, did not file taxes in 2019 and did not receive a stimulus check this year, you can still use the IRS’ Non-Filer Tool until Nov. 21, 2020. 

So James does gig work because not working at all goes against his nature. “That’s not who I am,” he says.

But navigating Social Security’s work-related rules is “very, very frustrating.”

Disability benefits experts say discrimination, confusion regarding the rules and fear of benefits being cut at any time are all too common. And that’s despite the official Social Security position that people on disability should work to their fullest potential.

Is It Legal to Work While on Disability?

Yes, it’s even encouraged. The Social Security Administration helps disabled people find employment through work-incentive programs. How much a disabled worker is allowed to work and earn depends on several factors, and the two primary forms of assistance — Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) — work very differently.

SSI vs SSDI — What’s the Difference?

To be eligible for either program, the Social Security Administration first determines if applicants are disabled using a specific definition.

According to the SSA, “disabled” means applicants:

  • Are totally disabled (not partially disabled or disabled in the short-term).
  • Can’t do work they previously could before the disability.
  • Are unable to adjust to other work because of a medical condition.
  • And the disability has lasted (or is expected to last) for at least one year or will result in death.

Beyond this definition, the programs vary greatly.

“Sometimes even beneficiaries don’t get the distinction between the two,” says Kathleen Romig, a Social Security policy expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “And the work rules are totally different.”

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Supplemental Security Income is a financial-need-based program for elderly and disabled people. The federal government pays a stipend designed to cover basic necessities like food or housing for people who have little-to-no income.

As of January 2020, the maximum federal benefit for an individual is $783 per month. Several states add to that amount, according to the Social Security Administration. The total fluctuates annually.

SSI recipients may work and continue to receive their benefits until their total income exceeds $783 after a few deductions are taken into account.

Pro Tip

If you’re on SSI, have an eligible dependent, and didn’t use the non-filer tool or file 2018 or 2019 tax returns, you’ll have to file a 2020 return next year to get the $500 coronavirus child credit.

“The first $65 in earnings are disregarded; after that benefits are reduced by $1 for every $2 earned,” says Romig. “The first $20 in unearned income is also disregarded; after that, SSI benefits are reduced dollar-for-dollar.”

In other words, benefits drop after the first $85 of income each month, no matter if the money is from a job or a friend.

(Confused? So are many recipients.)

SSI is typically for people who haven’t paid Social Security taxes from past W2 jobs. Once they work enough in the eyes of Social Security, they may be able to transfer to SSDI. But the vast majority of people on SSI don’t and can’t work.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Social Security Disability Insurance is for people who qualify as disabled and have paid enough Social Security taxes through past employment (typically five to 10 years worth of work credits) to reap additional benefits.

SSDI recipients are also allowed to work, and the rules are more lax because they have paid taxes into the system for much longer.

This program isn’t for low-income people, per se. But there are monthly limits on how much income someone can earn from a job: $1,260 a month or $2,110 for blind workers. Income and assets outside work earnings are unlimited.

“The benefits for the SSI folks are different because they didn’t pay into the system,” says Paula Vieillet, CEO of My Employment Options, a national employment network and advising company for people on Social Security assistance.

Social Security Work-Incentive Programs and Rules

Social Security’s two main work-incentive programs are Plan to Achieve Self-Support (PASS) and Ticket to Work. Both are free and voluntary.

Only SSI recipients are eligible to join PASS. Folks in this program set work goals, which could include starting a business, attending a college or learning a new skill. Once Social Security approves the plan, all costs related to achieving PASS goals can be deducted from their income, which allows SSI recipients to earn more money and keep their cash benefits.

Both SSI and SSDI recipients are eligible to join Ticket to Work.

They get an exemption from what’s called a Continuing Disability Review. This periodic medical check-in determines if a person meets the strict definition of “disabled.” If an SSI or SSDI recipient has been assigned a Ticket and is making good progress in the program, they don’t need to worry about the medical review or losing their current benefits.

SSDI recipients are also granted a Trial Work Period in which they can work and earn as much as they want for nine months without jeopardizing their benefits.

“What the Ticket program does is it provides protection. It gives people the opportunity to try to go back to work,” Vieillet says. “And if they don’t make it, nothing ventured, nothing lost.”

Why Do Disabled People Still Lose Out?

For starters, federal policy hasn’t kept up with inflation or changes in the labor market, experts say. That’s especially so for Social Supplementary Income, the program James is on.

While the program mainly caters to the elderly and children with disabilities, James’s situation highlights several dated provisions. For example, the $85 income deduction was set when the act was signed into law in 1972. It hasn’t budged since. The $2,000 cap on liquid assets to qualify for SSI was set in 1989.

Another issue is the maximum monthly payout of $783. While this number does change annually, Romig notes it’s well below the poverty line.

For SSI and SSDI recipients who do work, their earned income can fluctuate month-to-month because it’s often hard to stick to a fixed work schedule due to the nature of their conditions. This makes it difficult for even the most earnest recipients to accurately report their income.

“You always want people to work to their fullest potential, of course. This is America,” Romig says. “That’s one of our foundational ideals.”

But the difficulty of navigating the programs coupled with the threat of losing benefits as a worker often clashes with that value.

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Experts’ Advice: Don’t Go It Alone

Vieillet says the intricacies of each program are confusing, even to the experts. For the average person, it can be downright overwhelming.

When letters from Social Security start coming in the mail, “they scare the bejesus out of people,” says Teresa Nier, benefits and employment manager with My Employment Options.

For disabled workers, joining a free work-incentive program and employment network can help. Ticket to Work offers benefits protection for recipients who want to test the employment waters. And organizations like My Employment Options have certified benefits counselors on staff to help applicants trudge through the paperwork and fine print — all while finding a job that fits their unique needs.

To avoid unexpected benefits cuts or having to return overpayments to the agency, “people need to keep Social Security updated with phone numbers and addresses,” Nier says. “Open those letters. Ask questions.”

For James, the idea of not working is unsettling. He doesn’t want to be a burden.

“I’m more of an entrepreneur,” he says. “I’m a very social person. I’m very outgoing.”

“I want to try to make this work. Somehow.”

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He specializes in ways to make money that don’t involve stuffy corporate offices. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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