Why You Shouldn't Pay Your Nanny Under the Table
Playing by the rules protects you, your nanny — and your kids
Nobody likes paying taxes or unemployment insurance premiums. So if you're considering just quietly slipping your nanny a wad of cash to take care of the kids, you're not alone.
“It is still common for parents to pay nannies and other household help under the table,” says Robert J. Dougher, president of Essentia Software Corporation, which markets payroll software for people who employ nannies and other domestic help.
Unfortunately, doing so can expose you and your nanny — plus, indirectly, your kids — to fines, lawsuits and a big pile of unexpected bills. “Although it may seem tempting at first to pay your nanny under the table, it is never a good idea for either the family or the employee,” says Dougher, who is also a member of the International Nanny Association.
Here are six reasons paying your nanny legally benefits everyone involved.
1. Paying taxes is better than facing fines. Depending how much you pay your nanny, you will probably have to pay the government Social Security, Medicare and federal unemployment taxes, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). However, you don't have to withhold state or federal income taxes.
You also must comply with minimum-wage laws, pay state unemployment insurance and, in at least some cases, worker's compensation, according to the International Nanny Association.
If you don't follow the rules, the government can hit you with back taxes, penalties, fines and interest, although jail time is rare, according to Dougher. “These can add up to substantial figures depending upon, of course, how long the illegal employment occurred,” he says.
2. You might get a child care tax credit. Paying above-board can help your personal tax picture. If you hire a nanny to watch the kids while you and your spouse work or look for work, you may be able to claim the Child and Dependent Care Expenses tax credit. To do so, you will need to give the IRS the nanny's name, address and either his or her Social Security or Taxpayer Identification Number.
3. You’ll have accident protection. Paying into the worker's compensation fund protects both of you. Not having it puts you at great risk, according to the Association of Premier Nanny Agencies. If your nanny should, for instance, hurt her back while lifting your child, someone has to pay her medical and other bills until she can work again. Without worker's comp, she — and her lawyer — may turn to you for the money. Plus the government will now find out that you've been paying an employee off-the-books.
4. Your government job won’t be in jeopardy. In some professions, failing to comply with household labor laws can harm your career. “Broadly speaking, in our experience, the highest compliance rates are by professionals, government employees and other individuals who risk losing professional licenses or their own employment positions if caught,” says Dougher.
5. It’s the only way to enforce a contract. The International Nanny Association recommends the parent and nanny develop a work agreement that covers critical issues such as the nanny's responsibilities, compensation and grounds for dismissal. It may be difficult to legally enforce such an agreement if you have to admit in court that you've been evading taxes at the same time.
6. Your nanny can build her credit history. Interested in helping a young nanny develop herself professionally? Paying above-board helps her build a resume and personal credit history. “Legal employment is particularly important for younger workers because, for example, they will need to have a verifiable wage history to apply for loans or credit cards and to start earning credit toward future social security benefits,” says Dougher.
By the way, you can't get around these requirements by calling your nanny an independent contractor. If she works from your house — instead of a child-care facility — and you control how she does her work, then for tax purposes, she's an employee.
Related: 5 Ways to Pay Less in Taxes