Ready to Start Working From Home? Here’s a Guide to Get You Started

woman wearing sneakers works on her laptop on a couch.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Let’s face it: While you consider driving to the office every day torturous, making the leap to working from home can be scary. You probably have many questions.

Where do you find a job that will let you work remotely? What do you need to work from home? How do you avoid getting scammed? And what about the coffee?

While we can’t help you find the best latte, we can help with the rest.

This guide will walk you through the steps necessary to set yourself up physically, emotionally and financially to make working from home a reality.

So pour yourself a cup of java so we can get to (remote) work.

Pros and Cons of Working From Home

Working from home is not for everyone (gasp!).

So how do you know if it’s the right move for you?

While there are many perks to working from home, here are a few pros and cons to consider:

Pro: No Commute

avoid cars traffic and commuting by working at home
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

In the plus column, there may be no greater reason to work from home than cutting your commute.

In addition to saving days, weeks and months of your life, the savings on gas and maintenance can leave thousands of dollars in your pocket every year.

And by cutting your commute, you can enjoy that warm, fuzzy feeling about how working from home helps save the planet.

Pro: Every Day Is Casual Day

While it’s fun to cheer the comfort of not wearing pants, the real benefit of working in your pajamas could be the cost savings.

Consider how much you spend on clothes each year, then figure how much of that amount is dedicated to office-appropriate wear, including those pricy dry-clean-only pieces.

Sure, you might need to dress up for a meeting (or at least dress from the waist up if it’s a video conference call), but for most days working from home, it’s wear what you want.

Pro: More Time for You

A man grates cheese on a salad as he works from home.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

By working from home, you can stop wasting time and money picking up overpriced lunches and instead spend your free hour folding a load of laundry, walking the dog or starting dinner prep.

But that’s just more chores, you cry!

Yes, but by getting little chores out of the way during what was normally wasted time at work, you free yourself from laundry duties on the weekend, which means more time doing something you really love.

Like walking the dog. Again.

Con: Your New Coworkers

You can’t wait to escape that gossipy Bruce from IT, but understand that your home office mates might not give you a break from the drama, either.

Whether it’s the roommate who asks you to accept Amazon deliveries, the whiny beagle that needs to be let out every 15 minutes or the child who doesn’t understand that Daddy is on an important video conference call, you will realize that working from home doesn’t always mean an escape from people.

And Bruce also knew how to rescue your hard drive from an early grave, but that’s now all on you.

Con: It’s All on You

Speaking of the crashing hard drive, guess who has to foot that bill?

When you’re in an office, you may not consider how much those sticky notes cost or how much your employer spends on coffee creamer. Those costs become your responsibility when you work from home.

Yes, they’re business expenses you can deduct from your taxes, but that’s little comfort to your wallet when your computer taps out in July.

Con: It’s Lonely

a lonely man working from home on his laptop
Tina Russell/The Penny Hoarder

If you don’t have anyone at home to distract you, you may relish the idea of a quiet place to work where you can actually accomplish a lot every day. That could be great… at first.

But by that second day, week or month, you might discover that solitude isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, loneliness can be hazardous to your health.

You might not end up drawing a face on your volleyball, but you could find that loneliness leads you to distraction. Because if you can’t talk to someone, isn’t bingeing on that Netflix series the next best thing?

How to Find a Good Work-From-Home Job

Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder.

So, you’ve decided to start working from home. You can’t deny it — the perks are pretty sweet.

But before you can start reaping the benefits of working from home, you actually have to find a remote job first — and we know that can be tough.

With the rise of telecommuting over the past decade and with so many resources available online, it’s difficult to sort through all of the positions available, let alone find one that operates in your location and fits your skill set.

But that’s what we’re here for. Here are some things to keep in mind as you venture into work-from-home territory.

Play Up Your Strengths

One common misconception about work-from-home jobs is that they’re all in customer service, That’s just not true.

Don’t force yourself into a job that might not be the best fit. In fact, applying for a position that doesn’t match your skill set is a pretty sure-fire way to all but guarantee you’re going to hate working from home.

Do you absolutely despise talking on the phone all day? Then traditional customer service probably isn’t the best gig for you. That being said, there are customer service jobs out there that don’t require phone use — instead, they just require communication via chat or email.

And it’s also possible to avoid customer service jobs all together.

Maybe you’re a travel junkie looking for a remote job that fits your wandering lifestyle. Consider becoming a freelance travel writer or a remote travel consultant.

Do you have teaching experience or some expertise in a certain subject? There are tons of companies that will pay you to online tutor.

Are you known as The Office Flash because of your lightspeed typing skills? Transcription might be your thing.

No college degree? No worries. Plenty of work-from-home opportunities don’t require one.

And if you’re looking for a telecommuting gig that will accomodate disabilities, here are some resources that can help.

What You Need to Work From Home

Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

You say you’re ready to work from home. But is your home ready?

If you responded, “Sure, I have my hammock set up in the backyard,” you might want to reconsider.

Home office requirements vary, but there are some general technical requirements that could determine whether you get the job, plus more specifics depending on the type of work.

At a minimum, most work-from-home jobs require the following:

  • A good computer. Your 1999 laptop is unlikely to have the speed to keep up with your employer’s data needs. Buying a new one qualifies as a tax write-off, so consider investing in the machine’s processing speed, RAM (especially important if you’re running multiple applications at the same time) and screen quality.
  • High-speed internet. Some jobs require specific download and upload speeds, or wired connections.
  • Phone line. The company might require a landline and/or headset. Even if a hands-free headset isn’t required, this piece of equipment is a worthwhile investment if you’re spending a lot of time typing and talking.
  • Distraction-free work space. Although it’s not explicitly stated in some job descriptions, this one is obvious since you want to do your best work for a company, right?

Legalities and Insurance Issues

Andrey Popov/Getty Images

Home sweet home might feel like the safest place to work, but whether you’re a remote employee or self-employed, you still need protection.

If you work remotely as an employee, your employer may ask for a copy of your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance — in case your company-issued laptop floats away when that water pipe bursts. Check with your employer for the company policy on work-related equipment and coverage.

If you’re your own boss, you are responsible for any liability, whether it’s a client slipping on your front sidewalk or suing you for defamation. Filing as a limited liability corporation, or LLC, can offer multiple benefits. It’s one way to protect your personal assets in the event of a lawsuit, and it can provide significant tax benefits, as well.

Beyond that, investing in professional liability insurance (aka Errors & Omissions Insurance) is helpful should you need to defend yourself against a negligence lawsuit, which can arise from, among other things, technical glitches beyond your control.

Say your computer gets hacked and you lose your client’s big report, so your client sues. Was it beyond your control? Maybe. But insurance can help cover the legal costs and claims.

You can start your search through the companies that handle your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies.

What to Know About Taxes

Taxes incurred from working at home are manageable — as long as you plan correctly.

First, consider your employment status: Are you an employee who works remotely or are you self-employed or a contractor? The IRS explains the difference between the two on its site.

If you’re employed by a company, your employer does most of the heavy lifting by withholding income tax, Social Security and Medicare taxes from your paycheck.

If you’re a contractor or are self-employed, you’re responsible for taxes. Here are 11 ways to ease the burden.

And don’t forget freelance work. Whether you freelance from home or work in an office and freelance on the side, you still need to report any income you make, even if your employer doesn’t send you a 1099-MISC form.

If you work remotely for an employer that’s based in another state, you may need to file a tax return in that state in addition to the one where you reside.

In general, you’ll pay state taxes for the state where you reside, but income tax laws vary by state.

How to Avoid Scams

A young man wearing glasses and sitting at his desk looks at his computer screen monitor.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Whenever you hear about someone falling victim to a scam, you probably think something like, “Wow, I’d never be so gullible.”

But not all scams are as obvious as a Nigerian prince asking you to front him some money. (He’s just waiting for his trust fund to kick in, promise!)

And if you think you’re less likely to fall victim to a scam because you’re young and tech-savvy, think again — a report from the Better Business Bureau reveals that millennials are more susceptible to internet scams than seniors.

With work-from-home job popping up everyday, scammers have more opportunity than ever to pull a fast one on you. You’d be shocked to see how many of these scams can be downright convincing.

But how can you tell the difference between a legitimate work-from-home opportunity and a ploy to steal your identity? We’re here to help you find legit work-from-home jobs.

Common Warning Signs

When you’re searching for a remote job, be on the lookout for these red flags:

  • It seems to good to be true ($500 a day with no experience? Yeah, right)
  • You’re asked to pay money upfront, supposedly for something work-related like a uniform or computer equipment
  • You’re asked to accept some sort of payment upfront — you could be tricked into accepting laundered money or stolen goods
  • The job post is riddled with grammatical errors
  • The email came from a vague address that doesn’t seem related to the company. (For example, [email protected] probably isn’t the hiring manager for Apple.)

Check out this post, which walks you through a real-life work-from-home scam email, to get a better understanding of what to look out for.

Google Is Your Friend

If you stumble upon a work-from-home job that has your spidey sense tingling, do some investigating  before you get too excited. Even doing a basic Google search can separate a scam from a legitimate opportunity.

It’s not uncommon for these scammers to use big company names to lull you into a false sense of security. Check a company’s actual website and look through its careers/employment page. Can’t find the job listed on the site, or anywhere else for that matter? Spoiler alert: It’s probably a scam.

If you get the name of the hiring manager or whom ever is offering the job, Google that person, too! And a quick look at LinkedIn can reveal whether or not someone actually works for the company they claim to.

You can also check out this BBB Scam Tracker, which shows that over 6,000 employment-related swindles have been reported since 2015.

Oops, You’ve Been Scammed

From paid online surveys to mystery shopping to multi-level marketing, there are so many online job opportunities nowadays that even the best of us can slip up and fall for a common scam.

Employment scammers are good at tricking you out of vital information like your social security number and secure banking info because a real employer would need this information, too. What you might consider normal paperwork could lead to a cleaned-out bank account.

If this happens to you, don’t panic. There are steps you can take to limit the damage.

Overall, a  healthy dose of skepticism can be your best defense against a work-from-home scam. But don’t let the fear of a scam deter you; there are plenty of awesome remote jobs out there! And we’ll keep bringing them to you.

Kaitlyn Blount and Tiffany Wendeln Connors are staff writers at The Penny Hoarder. They both used to work from home full time and still consider their dogs their co-workers.