Paying Taxes on Household Helpers

If you employ someone to work for you around your house, it is important to consider the tax implications of this arrangement. While many people disregard the need to pay taxes on household employees, they do so at the risk of paying stiff tax penalties down the road.

As you will see, the rules for hiring household help are quite complex, even for a relatively minor employee, and a mistake can bring on a tax headache that most of us would prefer to avoid.

Commonly referred to as the “nanny tax”, these rules apply to you only if (1) you pay someone for household work and (2) that worker is your employee.

  1. Household work is work that is performed in or around your home by baby-sitters, nannies, health aides, private nurses, maids, caretakers, yard workers, and similar domestic workers.A household worker is your employee if you control not only what work is done, but how it is done.

Who Is a Household Employee?

If a worker is your employee, it does not matter whether the work is full-time or part-time or that you hired the worker through an agency or from a list provided by an agency or association. It also does not matter whether you pay the worker on an hourly, daily or weekly basis or by the job.

If the worker controls how the work is done, the worker is not your employee but is self-employed. A self-employed worker usually provides his or her own tools and offers services to the general public in an independent business.

Also, if an agency provides the worker and controls what work is done and how it is done, the worker is not your employee.

Example: You pay Betty to babysit your child and do light housework four days a week in your home. Betty follows your specific instructions about household and child care duties. You provide the household equipment and supplies that Betty needs to do her work. Betty is your household employee.

Example: You pay John to care for your lawn. John also offers lawn care services to other homeowners in your neighborhood. He provides his own tools and supplies, and he hires and pays any helpers he needs. Neither John nor his helpers are your household employees.

Can Your Employee Legally Work in the United States?

When you hire a household employee to work for you on a regular basis, he or she must complete USCIS Form I-9 Employment Eligibility Verification. It is your responsibility to verify that the employee is either a U.S. citizen or an alien who can legally work and then complete the employer part of the form. It is unlawful for you to knowingly hire or continue to employ a person who cannot legally work in the United States.

Keep the completed form for your records. Do not return the form to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Tip: Two copies of Form I-9 are contained in the UCIS Employer Handbook. Visit the USCIS website or call 800-767-1833 FREE to order the handbook, additional copies of the form, or to get more information, or give us a call.

Do You Need to Pay Employment Taxes?

If you have a household employee, you may need to withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, or you may need to pay federal unemployment tax or both. Refer to this table for details:

If you…

Then you need to…

Will pay cash wages of $1,900 or more in 2015 to any one household employee.Do not count wages you pay to:

  • your spouse,
  • your child under age 21,
  • your parent, or
  • any employee under age 18 during 2015.
Withhold and pay Social Security and Medicare taxes.

  • The combined taxes are generally 15.3% of cash wages.
  • Your employee’s share is 7.65%.

(You can choose to pay the employee’s share yourself and not withhold it.)

  • Your share is 7.65%.
Have paid or will pay total cash wages of $1,000 or more in any calendar quarter of 2014 or 2015 to household employees.Do not count wages you pay to:

  • your spouse,
  • your child under age 21, or
  • your parent.
Pay federal unemployment tax.

  • The tax is 6.0% of cash wages.
  • Wages over $7,000 a year per employee are not taxed.
  • You also may owe state unemployment tax.

If neither of these two contingencies applies, you do not need to pay any federal unemployment taxes. But you may still need to pay state unemployment taxes (see below).

You do not need to withhold federal income tax from your household employee’s wages. But if your employee asks you to withhold it, you can choose to do so.

Tip: If your household employee cares for your dependent that is under the age of 13 or your spouse or dependent that is not capable of self-care, so that you can work, you may be able to take an income tax credit of up to 35 percent (or $1,050) of your expenses for each qualifying dependent. If you can take the credit, then you can include your share of the federal and state employment taxes you pay, as well as the employee’s wages, in your qualifying expenses.

State Unemployment Taxes

Please contact us if you’re not sure whether you need to pay state unemployment tax for your household employee. We’ll also help you figure out whether you need to pay or collect other state employment taxes or carry workers’ compensation insurance.

Note: If you do not need to pay Social Security, Medicare, or federal unemployment tax and do not choose to withhold federal income tax, the rest of this article does not apply to you.

Social Security and Medicare Taxes

Social Security taxes pays for old-age, survivor, and disability benefits for workers and their families. The Medicare tax pays for hospital insurance.

Both you and your household employee may owe Social Security and Medicare taxes. Your share is 7.65 percent (6.2 percent for Social Security tax and 1.45 percent for Medicare tax) of the employee’s Social Security and Medicare wages. Your employee’s share is 6.2 percent for Social Security tax and 1.45 percent for Medicare tax.

You are responsible for payment of your employee’s share of the taxes as well as your own. You can either withhold your employee’s share from the employee’s wages or pay it from your own funds. Note the limits in the table above.

Wages Not Counted

Do not count wages you pay to any of the following individuals as Social Security and Medicare wages:

    1. Your spouse.
    2. Your child who is under age 21.
    3. Your parent.

Note: However, you should count wages to your parent if they are caring for your child and both of the following apply: (a) your child lives with you and is either under age 18 or has a physical or mental condition that requires the personal care of an adult for at least four continuous weeks in a calendar quarter, and (b) you are divorced and have not remarried, or you are a widow or widower, or you are married to and living with a person whose physical or mental condition prevents him or her from caring for your child for at least four continuous weeks in a calendar quarter.

    1. An employee who is under age 18 at any time during the year.

Note: However, you should count these wages to an employee under 18 if providing household services is the employee’s principal occupation. If the employee is a student, providing household services is not considered to be his or her principal occupation.

Also, if your employee’s Social Security and Medicare wages reach $118,500 in 2015 ($117,000 in 2014), then do not count any wages you pay that employee during the rest of the year as Social Security wages to figure Social Security tax. You should, however, continue to count the employee’s cash wages as Medicare wages to figure Medicare tax. You figure federal income tax withholding on both cash and non-cash wages (based on their value), but do not count as wages any of the following items:

  • Meals provided at your home for your convenience.
  • Lodging provided at your home for your convenience and as a condition of employment.
  • Up to $130 a month in 2015 for transit passes that you give your employee or, in some cases, for cash reimbursement you make for the amount your employee pays to commute to your home by public transit. A transit pass includes any pass, token, fare card, voucher, or similar item entitling a person to ride on mass transit, such as a bus or train.
  • Up to $250 a month in 2015 to reimburse your employee for the cost of parking at or near your home or at or near a location from which your employee commutes to your home.

As you can see, tax considerations for household employees are complex; therefore, professional tax guidance is highly recommended. This is definitely an area where it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you have any questions at all, please call.

What to Do if You Haven’t Filed a Tax Return

Filing a past due return may not be as difficult as you think.

Taxpayers should file all tax returns that are due, regardless of whether full payment can be made with the return. Depending on an individual’s circumstances, a taxpayer filing late may qualify for a payment plan. It is important, however, to know that full payment of taxes upfront saves you money.

Here’s What to Do When Your Return Is Late

Gather Past Due Return Information

Gather return information and come see us. You should bring any and all information related to income and deductions for the tax years for which a return is required to be filed.

Payment Options – Ways to Make a Payment

There are several different ways to make a payment on your taxes. Payments can be made by credit card, electronic funds transfer, check, money order, cashier’s check, or cash.

Payment Options – For Those Who Can’t Pay in Full

Taxpayers unable to pay all taxes due on the bill are encouraged to pay as much as possible. By paying as much as possible now, the amount of interest and penalties owed will be lessened. Based on the circumstances, a taxpayer could qualify for an extension of time to pay, an installment agreement, a temporary delay, or an offer in compromise.

Taxpayers who need more time to pay can set up either a short-term payment extension or a monthly payment plan.

  • A short-term extension gives a taxpayer an additional 60 to 120 days to pay. No fee is charged, but the late-payment penalty plus interest will apply. Generally taxpayers will pay less in penalties and interest than if the debt were repaid through an installment agreement over a greater period of time.
  • A monthly payment plan or installment agreement gives a taxpayer more time to pay. However, penalties and interest will continue to be charged on the unpaid portion of the debt throughout the duration of the installment agreement/payment plan. Taxpayers who owe $25,000 or less in combined tax, penalties and interest can apply for and receive immediate notification of approval through an IRS web-based application. Balances over $25,000 require taxpayers to complete a financial statement to determine the monthly payment amount for an installment plan.When it comes to paying your tax bill, it is important to review all your options; the interest rate on a loan or credit card may be lower than the combination of penalties and interest imposed by the Internal Revenue Code. You should pay as much as possible before entering into an installment agreement.
  • You can also pay your Federal taxes using a major credit card or debit card. There is no IRS fee for credit or debit card payments, but the processing companies charge a convenience fee or flat fee.
  • A user fee will also be charged if the installment agreement is approved. The fee, normally $120, is reduced to $52 if taxpayers agree to make their monthly payments electronically through electronic funds withdrawal. The fee is $43 for eligible low-and-moderate-income taxpayers.

What Happens If You Don’t File a Past Due Return or Contact the IRS?

It’s important to understand the ramifications of not filing a past due return and the steps that the IRS will take. Taxpayers who continue to not file a required return and fail to respond to IRS requests for a return may be considered for a variety of enforcement actions.

If you haven’t filed a tax return yet, please contact the office for assistance.

Turn Your Vacation into a Tax Deduction

Tim, who owns his own business, decided he wanted to take a two-week trip around the US. So he did–and was able to legally deduct every dime that he spent on his vacation. Here’s how he did it.

1. Make all your business appointments before you leave for your trip.
Most people believe that they can go on vacation and simply hand out their business cards in order to make the trip deductible.

Wrong.

You must have at least one business appointment before you leave in order to establish the “prior set business purpose” required by the IRS. Keeping this in mind, before he left for his trip, Tim set up appointments with business colleagues in the various cities that he planned to visit.

Let’s say Tim is a manufacturer of green office products and is looking to expand his business and distribute more of his products. One possible way to establish business contacts–if he doesn’t already have them–is to place advertisements looking for distributors in newspapers in each location he plans to visit. He could then interview those who respond when he gets to the business destination.

Example: Tim wants to vacation in Hawaii. If he places several advertisements for distributors, or contacts some of his downline distributors to perform a presentation, then the IRS would accept his trip for business.

Tip: It would be vital for Tim to document this business purpose by keeping a copy of the advertisement and all correspondence along with noting what appointments he will have in his diary.

2. Make Sure your Trip is All “Business Travel.”
In order to deduct all of your on-the-road business expenses, you must be traveling on business. The IRS states that travel expenses are 100 percent deductible as long as your trip is business related and you are traveling away from your regular place of business longer than an ordinary day’s work and you need to sleep or rest to meet the demands of your work while away from home.

Example: Tim wanted to go to a regional meeting in Boston, which is only a one-hour drive from his home. If he were to sleep in the hotel where the meeting will be held (in order to avoid possible automobile and traffic problems), his overnight stay qualifies as business travel in the eyes of the IRS.

Tip: Remember: You don’t need to live far away to be on business travel. If you have a good reason for sleeping at your destination, you could live a couple of miles away and still be on travel status.

3. Be sure to deduct all of your on-the-road-expenses for each day you’re away.
For every day you are on business travel, you can deduct 100 percent of lodging, tips, car rentals, and 50 percent of your food. Tim spends three days meeting with potential distributors. If he spends $50 a day for food, he can deduct 50 percent of this amount, or $25.

Tip: The IRS doesn’t require receipts for travel expense under $75 per expense–except for lodging.

Example: If Tim pays $6 for drinks on the plane, $6.95 for breakfast, $12 for lunch, $50 for dinner, he does not need receipts for anything since each item was under $75.

Tip: He would, however, need to document these items in your diary. A good tax diary is essential in order to audit-proof your records. Adequate documentation includes amount, date, place of meeting, and business reason for the expense.

Example: If, however, Tim stays in the Bates Motel and spends $22 on lodging, will he need a receipt? The answer is yes. You need receipts for all paid lodging.

Tip: Not only are your on-the-road expenses deductible from your trip, but also all laundry, shoe shines, manicures, and dry-cleaning costs for clothes worn on the trip. Thus, your first dry cleaning bill that you incur when you get home will be fully deductible. Make sure that you keep the dry cleaning receipt and have your clothing dry cleaned within a day or two of getting home.

4. Sandwich weekends between business days.
If you have a business day on Friday and another one on Monday, you can deduct all on-the-road expenses during the weekend.

Example: Tim makes business appointments in Florida on Friday and one on the following Monday. Even though he has no business on Saturday and Sunday, he may deduct on-the-road business expenses incurred during the weekend.

5. Make the majority of your trip days count as business days.
The IRS says that you can deduct transportation expenses if business is the primary purpose of the trip. A majority of days in the trip must be for business activities; otherwise, you cannot make any transportation deductions.

Example: Tim spends six days in San Diego. He leaves early on Thursday morning. He had a seminar on Friday and meets with distributors on Monday and flies home on Tuesday, taking the last flight of the day home after playing a complete round of golf. How many days are considered business days?

All of them. Thursday is a business day since it includes traveling – even if the rest of the day is spent at the beach. Friday is a business day because he had a seminar. Monday is a business day because he met with prospects and distributors in pre-arranged appointments. Saturday and Sunday are sandwiched between business days, so they count, and Tuesday is a travel day.

Since Tim accrued six business days, he could spend another five days having fun and still deduct all his transportation to San Diego. The reason is that the majority of the days were business days (six out of eleven). However, he can only deduct six days’ worth of lodging, dry cleaning, shoe shines, and tips. The important point is that Tim would be spending money on lodging, airfare, and food, but now most of his expenses will become deductible.

To make sure that you can legally deduct your vacation when you combine it with business, call the office before you plan your trip.