Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Wanna get paid sooner — for a price? These freelancers say no thanks

A freelance journalist was appalled by what he felt was a predatory payment service. After he called it out, the Huffington Post stopped using it.

Inside Old City coworking space Indy Hall, where freelance writer Kathryn Anne Stewart works. Stewart worked with a client who offered a payment option where she'd could get paid in 10 days for a 2 percent fee.
Inside Old City coworking space Indy Hall, where freelance writer Kathryn Anne Stewart works. Stewart worked with a client who offered a payment option where she'd could get paid in 10 days for a 2 percent fee.Read moreREED GUSTOW

In August, I wrote about the trend of corporations offering "instant pay" options to their workers, sometimes for a fee.

Walmart framed it as an alternative to high-interest, predatory payday loans that their low-wage, hourly workers turn to when they're in a bind. But one worker I spoke with was hesitant to use the instant pay app, frustrated about the fees she'd incur to access her own paycheck.

Turns out these kinds of services aren't limited to hourly workers — and that Walmart employee isn't the only one who's giving them side eye.

In an edition of an email newsletter that recently made the rounds in the freelance journalist community, Boston-based writer Luke O'Neil described a service called FastFunds that the Huffington Post was offering to freelancers as a way to get paid sooner. FastFunds, from the New York-based WorkMarket, would take a roughly 8 percent "transaction fee." In O'Neil's case that meant $52.50 off the $700 he was owed.

He was not pleased.

Freelance journalists already contend with low rates and difficulty getting paid, sometimes having to resort to shaming outlets on Twitter to get their money. That's why, to O'Neil, the service felt so predatory and similar to a payday loan.

As he put it to WorkMarket's general manager Jens Audenaert: "Dangling a little cash in front of freelancers who might be starving is a bad look."

Audenaert said the service had been well-received and was gaining users. He added that freelancers could opt to raise their rates to account for the transaction fee.

As the number of contractors, freelancers, and people in otherwise nontraditional work arrangements grows, might this become the norm?

At least on some fronts, there's been blowback.

After O'Neil self-published an article on the service, the Huffington Post said it had stopped offering FastFunds.

ADP, the payment processing giant that bought WorkMarket in January as a way to expand its services to a growing class of freelance workers, told O'Neil it would put the FastFunds option on pause until it could "review the practice more carefully."

"Luke, thank you for your service," wrote Allegra Hobbs, staff writer for the freelance journalist collective Study Hall, in the collective's weekly newsletter.

‘I would be insulted’

Around Philly, freelancers agreed this type of payment option was predatory.

"I would be insulted by someone suggesting such an arrangement and absolutely refuse to work with them," said Mary Kate Fain, a web developer who runs a two-person software collective called Candlewaster.

Fain, 25, knows she can be choosy about clients where others may not. Most freelancers have to agree to a client's contract, but she uses her own contracts, and in them, she stipulates a payment schedule that clients must follow. Candlewaster delivers work in stages, which helps with getting paid on time: if the client doesn't pay, the project won't get done.

What works for some vendors doesn’t work for all

Kathryn Anne Stewart, a 36-year-old freelance writer who works out of Old City-based coworking space Indy Hall and works with clients in the health and finance industries, remembered a client's contract that provided a drop-down menu of options for payment. One was "2% 10 net 30." This meant if the company decided to pay her within 10 days, it'd take a 2 percent cut. Otherwise, she'd get paid in full within 30 days.

The "2% 10 net 30" option was the default choice.

For small vendors larger than one person, it is not unusual to wait anywhere between one to three months to get paid; some might even have to take out a line of credit to cover operational costs in the meantime.

Start-ups have sprung up to tackle the wait time for getting paid, including one out of Wharton, and President Obama was also focused on that gap, getting corporations to sign on to a program launched in 2014 called SupplierPay in which they agreed to pay vendors sooner, ideally within 15 days. (The program has had mixed success, in part because of a lack of enforcement.)

After talking to a lawyer whom she consults on contracts, Stewart decided against it. She found it strange that she couldn't get the guarantee of an early payment if she wanted it. It was completely up to the company.

For what it's worth, she said, the client, a wellness company she declined to disclose, was helpful and transparent about this in its supplier FAQ. It noted that 2% 10 net 30 might not be the best option and that many vendors choose not to use it. That transparency made her decision much easier, she said.