NANNYGATE DISCUSSED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES

Our friends in the nanny industry are quoted in the The New York Times. Here is the link to the article below.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/24/your-money/taxes/24money.html?_r=1&ref=business

Doing the Right Thing by Paying the Nanny Tax
By RON LIEBER

The nanny tax issue simply won’t go away.

Ever since Zoë Baird, President Bill Clinton’s first nominee for attorney general, withdrew her name from consideration because she had broken rules relating to household employees, the issue has tripped up public figures every couple of years.

This week, it became part of the chatter around Caroline Kennedy’s decision to pull out of contention for New York’s vacant United States Senate seat. This month, Timothy F. Geithner’s nomination for Treasury secretary hit a snag over, among other mistakes, an issue relating to a housekeeper.

Every time this happens, it leaves a little pit in the stomach of hundreds of thousands of people who are breaking the law themselves. Various estimates put the tax cheat rate at 80 to 95 percent of people who employ baby sitters, housekeepers and home health aides. In 1997, taxpayers filed 310,367 household employee tax payment forms with the Internal Revenue Service. By 2006, the latest year for which data are available, the number was down to 225,441.

Given the unease, why don’t household employers pay the taxes and other costs that other larger employers do as a matter of course?

“The chances of getting caught are slim,” said Arthur U. Ellis, president of the Nanny Tax Company in Chicago, which helps clients pay on time. “And why should I pay for something when the vast majority of people are not paying it?”

Some employers don’t want to pay the extra 10 percent or so on top of the employee’s salary to cover the taxes and other costs. The employees often balk, too, because they don’t want taxes withheld from their paychecks. They may demand higher wages to make up for money that an employer takes out, raising employer costs even more.

Perhaps the most daunting part of all of this, however, is how much effort and paperwork it takes to do the right thing. Just how complicated is it to comply? Let us count the ways in the list below, which I derived in part from I.R.S. Publication 926, the “Household Employer’s Tax Guide.” What follows should serve as a good starting guide for anyone who’s finally been scared straight by the news this month.

1. IMMIGRATION STATUS Employers must make sure an employee is eligible to work in the United States. Employees affirm this by filling out a form called the I-9.

Mr. Geithner got this right, but in an unusual twist, his housekeeper’s authorization to work in the United States expired while he employed her. There isn’t a general obligation to regularly check up on an employee’s eligibility, according to David Grunblatt, a lawyer who runs the immigration practice for Proskauer Rose. But employers who review a new employee’s authorization document and know that the worker’s eligibility will end must review the employee’s status later.

2. EMPLOYER IDENTIFICATION NUMBER You’ll need one of these to put on tax forms you file for your household employee. It’s not the same as a Social Security number. You can apply for one on the I.R.S. Web site.

3. FEDERAL TAXES If you pay $1,700 or more in 2009 to a household employee, then you need to withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. That amounts to 15.3 percent of the worker’s salary, which is generally split equally between employer and employee. If you pay more than $1,000 in any quarter to an employee, you must pay federal unemployment taxes of another 0.8 percent of wages up to $7,000 a year.

4. INCOME TAX ISSUES You aren’t required to withhold money for federal, state and city income taxes from employees’ paychecks, but they may ask you to do so. Figuring out how much to withhold isn’t easy. The paycheck calculator at 4nannytaxes.com can help.

5. STATE UNEMPLOYMENT TAXES You will probably have to pay them. The I.R.S. keeps a list of state unemployment agencies that starts on page 13 of Publication 926. Look yours up and seek guidance on the rules.

6. WORKERS’ COMPENSATION COVERAGE Many states require you to have it, in case your employee is injured on the job. You can find a list of the states that do on the Web site of Breedlove & Associates in Austin, Tex., another company that helps people pay household employee taxes and handles payroll.

Getting this wrong can cost serious money. My wife and I struggled mightily to get our workers’ comp account set up through the entity that the state of New York forces you to use. It didn’t happen until weeks after our baby sitter started working. Not long after, the state hit us with a $1,500 fine for our short period of noncompliance, an amount that was more than three times the annual premium. We appealed and ultimately paid $250, which is still insulting given all of our failed attempts to get the agency to return phone calls and answer e-mail messages during the application process.

Kathleen Webb, co-founder of HomeWork Solutions in Sterling, Va., another service for household employers, said we were actually lucky. “I’ve seen penalties equal to the price of a small car,” she said.

Your home insurance policy may offer some coverage for household employees, too, so it’s worth a call to check.

7. FORMS AND PAYMENTS Depending on where you live and your other tax obligations, you may have to make quarterly filings and payments to your state for unemployment taxes, as well as quarterly filings and payments to the federal government. You’ll also have to file Schedule H, the household employment tax form, with your federal tax return each April. Miss a deadline, and you could owe penalties and interest.

8. RECORD KEEPING Given the potential for getting any of this wrong, it’s a good idea to keep copies of every employee pay stub, every form you file and proof of all payments from your bank. The I.R.S. suggests keeping records for at least four years after the due date of your tax return or the date you actually paid the taxes, whichever is later.

Exhausted yet? “All of the states and even the federal government make it fairly cumbersome for the average family,” said Tom Breedlove, the director of marketing and business development at Breedlove. “These are extremely busy professionals, usually with small children, and they don’t have an H.R. department and a law team to chase all of this paperwork around between 9 and 5 when the government offices are open.”

Amen, brother. The fact that this is all so hard is a national embarrassment, one that infuriates those who labor mightily to comply and causes many more to throw up their hands in disgust and flout the tax laws. This costs various governments untold millions in lost revenue at a time when they desperately need it. Someone ought to step up and find a way to streamline it all.
Until that happens — and I’m not holding my breath — consider a couple of reasons it may be wise for people who are not paying their taxes to reconsider.

Let’s say you have to fire your housekeeper or baby sitter, as an increasing number of financially distressed people are doing. The job-seeking nanny may try to file for unemployment benefits. If you haven’t paid into the system, you’ll be in for trouble when the nanny names the former employer. “The whole house of cards comes down,” said Ms. Webb of HomeWork Solutions. “The I.R.S. and the state agencies talk to each other.” That means that you could end up owing back taxes, interest and penalties to multiple parties.

Also, consider the human side of this. Household employees who spend their working years laboring for employers who don’t pay Social Security or Medicare taxes won’t be eligible for those benefits come retirement time. Is that any way to repay someone for years of service, especially if you’re not paying them enough to put away much money on their own?

If you’re ready to join the ranks of the tax compliant, it will take a dozen or so hours to get set up and then a couple dozen more annually to handle all of the paperwork and payroll duties. Or, you can hire companies like Breedlove, the Nanny Tax Company or HomeWork Solutions to do it for you. The cost ranges from roughly $400 to $1,300 a year, depending on the level of service. A company called NannyPay offers software for do-it-yourselfers for $97.95 a year.

Once you’re paying on the books, you can use a flexible spending account through your employer to cover up to $5,000 in eligible child or elder care expenses each year. If you don’t have access to such an account, you may also be eligible for the federal Dependent Care Tax Credit.

The tax savings probably won’t make up for all the costs of following the many rules, especially when you factor in the value of your time. But the good feeling that comes from doing the right thing may soothe the financial sting.

Comments

  1. 80 to 95% don’t pay taxes. Well, just hope you don’t get audited you dummies!

  2. Who cares if it takes time to comply? It’s the law. I’m so frustrated with other nannies that I speak to that want to pay taxes but don’t know how to ask their employers. Huh? It’s hard to ask them to follow the law? Doesn’t make any sense. If the parent is a lawyer, doctor, or accountant they will lose their practice. That incentive enough?Maria Lopez, Nanny

  3. Shocking statistic 80-95% don’t pay taxes. Just shocking that we’d allow ourselves to be taken for granted and taken advantage like that. I want unemployment and disability benefits.

  4. You don’t pay your taxes you shouldn’t be allowed to drive on the roads, attend schools, and you are why our soldiers don’t have the weapons they need. You should be ashamed.

  5. Here’s the thing. We (nannies) typically don’t get the benefits other workers in other fields do. While they get health insurance that isn’t taxed, I have never, ever gotten health insurance from parent employers in almost 15 years working as a nanny. I don’t get a leased car or auto insurance. I don’t get reimbursed for travel. We (nannies) are on the low part of the pay scale. Then, paying taxes is such a hassle. Put all that together why would I want to give the government 10 – 30% of my income? The government makes it difficult to pay and there are I simnply want to take home my salary. I understand the arguments about why to pay taxes. It’s just hard to when you can get away with not paying taxes. Who wouldn’t want to bring all the income home? Nanny Sarah B. Upstate NY

  6. I don’t agree Nanny Sarah B. You can convince yourself why people don’t want to pay taxes but you protect yourself by paying taxes. Obviously, weekend baby-sitting is different than a full time nanny jobs and it is ok to make some $ under the table for occasional babysitting. But if we multiply 300,000 x 80% to 95% that’s at least 240,000 nannies not paying taxes. You don’t think that much money would be helpful for soldiers, public schools, Medicare and Medicaid,the roads, social securtiy, and on and on….? During this economic recession the odds of getting laid of increase. You won’t have unemployment benefits. I hope you don’t get sick or hurt on the job because you won’t have any disability.Nanny from Canton, SD

  7. When it comes down to it not paying taxes is just laziness and unacceptable. In the long run not paying may come back to hurt you in the end.Heidi Professional Nanny Madison, Wisconsin

  8. I just don’t know how to bring the topic up now that I’ve accepted being paid under the table for so long. Everyone is talking about the economy and people losing jobs and as a nanny with employers that work on Wall St I don’t want to “rock the boat” right now. It’s not the right thing to admit, but the fact is I’m not going to force parents to start paying taxes now when I don’t want to lose my job.Scared Nanny in NYC

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