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Our housekeeper does not work when we’re at home due to COVID-19. We still pay her. Could we treat those payments as a ‘gift’ to reduce her income tax?

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Dear Moneyist,

Due to the 2020 global pandemic my wife and I have been concerned about indoor exposure to others. We are fortunate enough that we can work from home so we are always here, and no one else is allowed in our home.

Because of this, we have tried to make arrangements to be out of the house when our housekeeper comes to clean. This isn’t always possible so over the year, we asked that she skip cleaning our house on the days when we were home.

Understanding that times are tough, we have continued to send her payment for the weeks where we asked her to stay home. My question is this: Because we gave her money but no work was done, should she consider this income or a gift?

While it doesn’t change my taxes any, it would definitely affect hers. Would it help her if I provided a statement of all the payments and which ones were for actual cleaning, along with a letter stating our position that the others were gifts?

Willing to do the Right Thing and the Smart Thing

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

Dear Willing,

When so many domestic workers are losing money during the pandemic, I want to thank you for recognizing the financial needs of your housekeeper by paying her and exploring ways to gift her money. Others are struggling to pay their housekeepers at all during this time. Many domestic workers are undocumented and are not eligible for unemployment. You are fortunate in that you are healthy and can afford to still pay your housekeeper, and considerate in that you choose to do so.

I sought the expertise of Bill Smith, managing Director for the National Tax Office at CBIZ MHM, a business consulting, tax and financial services provider. Assuming she is a W-2 employee: “All of it is most likely going to be considered wages, because the person is still controlling the employee,” he says. “The household worker is being paid to continue being under their control as an employee. Because she has to wait and hold the time until she is released, it is the equivalent of work.”


Is your housekeeper an independent contractor or a W-2 employee?

Internal Revenue Service Publication 926 addresses this: “You have a household employee if you hired someone to do household work and that worker is your employee. The worker is your employee if you can control not only what work is done, but how it is done. If the worker is your employee, it doesn’t 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.”

The agency gives this theoretical example: “You pay Betty Shore to baby-sit your child and do light housework 4 days a week in your home,” it says. “Even if the employer wants to cut the worker’s time back, and gives her a handsome holiday gift, the result is likely the same. The IRS is likely to view the gift as payment for not looking for other work because her time was reduced, which is tantamount to paying her for standby time.” It’s part taxes, part the philosophy of logic. That’s the IRS!

And if she is an independent contractor? If you gift $600 in a tax year, you must file a Form-1099-MISC. “If only the worker can control 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,” the IRS says. As an independent contractor, your housekeeper could write off clothes worn for the job, gas/mileage and cleaning supplies.

Thank you for continuing to employ your housekeeper and for seeking ways to make her life easier, even though it does not affect your own finances. Your willingness to ease your housekeeper’s financial burden is an act of goodwill in itself. The German Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote: “A good will is good not because of what it effects, or accomplishes, not because of its fitness to attain some intended end, but good just by its willing.”

The Moneyist:When my parents died, my sisters and I split their estate. I chose a painting that may be worth $50,000. Should I tell them?

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‘I want to hurt him the same way he hurt me’: My husband sprung a prenup on me 3 days before our wedding. Now I’m starting my own business and want to amend it

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Dear Quentin,

I was married just over 2 years ago and I have been in the same relationship for more than 10 years. We have both been single parents from prior relationships. Considering our age gap, he is much more successful in life as a sole proprietor. He’s 56, and I’m 40. He talked about a pre-nuptial agreement during our relationship, but he did not spring it on my until 3 days prior to our wedding day.

We discussed nothing as to what would go into the agreement. I was severely depressed, cried uncontrollably for days. Even reliving this is causing heartache. I consulted with my attorney but decided to sign it rather than not go through with the wedding. For two years, I asked for a copy and he couldn’t find it: When I finally had enough, I found it in his office, and made myself a copy.


‘I’m angry at myself now because there are provisions I would have included had I had more time to think about it.’

I still don’t fully understand what happened, and I’m angry at myself now because there are provisions I would have included had I had more time to think about it. My parents will be willing me a home, and a nice considerable amount of cash. I’m not in his will, there is no life-insurance policy, and I’m not listed on the deed of the second vacation home “we” bought before we married, but he wants to say how everything is ours.

Technically, it isn’t. Now that I am about to start my own venture, which may be lucrative, potentially six figures a year, I want to amend the prenuptial agreement. In a way, I want to hurt him the same way he hurt me. It’s caused a lot of resentment on my end as I feel he never trusted me, although I have never asked him for anything. If he dies tomorrow, what is going to happen to me?

Should I amend the prenuptial agreement? Is it possible that the current prenuptial agreement is null and void?

Postnuptial State of Mind in Pennsylvania

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

Dear Postnuptial,

You should know what’s in your own prenuptial agreement, given that’s it’s a legal document you both signed. I don’t understand why you did not have a copy when you originally signed the document, and why you didn’t actively insist on a discussion. With the help of your lawyer, that was your job to make sure that happened. You had the choice to call off the wedding and/or sit down and read every page. I’m not saying this to be provocative, but to remind you that taking responsibility for this sequence of events is more constructive than taking umbrage at your husband.

But let’s be very clear: Three days notice of a prenuptial agreement before your wedding without any willingness to compromise on the details or discuss them is sorely lacking in consideration, and is a chaotic and unsettling start to a marriage. I understand why it left you reeling, and why you felt both confused and angry. Prenups are enforceable in Pennsylvania, which is a marital property state, meaning that — in the absence of a prenup — assets are distributed in a fair and equitable manner. Inheritance is not considered marital property, so you should have no worries on that front.

Your prenuptial agreement should reflect that you both maintain your separate finances/assets in the event you divorce. In other words, what’s his is his and what’s yours is yours. He can’t have it both ways. According to Rowe Law Offices in Pennsylvania, “Historically, courts sometimes set aside premarital agreements when they were unreasonable; left one spouse destitute; were made without full disclosure of a spouse’s property and debt; were signed under duress or without mental capacity; were the product of fraud or misrepresentation; and so on.”

Should you amend the prenup? You can certainly create an amendment, as long as both of you are in agreement, or sign a new postnuptial contract that supersedes the original contract. But that is a question only you can answer based on what the prenup actually says, and whether you lawyer believes it is written in a way that gives you both the same financial independence post-divorce. The whole business seems messy and unpleasant. It was not a good way to embark on a marriage and, as a tangent to your question, it’s not a good way to continue one.

Certainly something needs to change. From the little you have said, it appears to be a marriage that lacks transparency and mutual respect. You need a financial therapist, a mediator or your own counselor to examine the causes and cures of this toxic atmosphere. Starting a business should be a time of optimism and joy, not steeped in an “I’ll show you” entrepreneurial revenge fantasy. Getting married is the biggest financial decision you will make in your life, if only because the toll divorce takes on an individual, and because you may end up taking turns supporting each other.

If this marriage ends, you should both leave with what you brought into it. Given that, the real issue here is not what happens in the event of a divorce, but everything else that comes before it.

The Moneyist:My wife has homeschooled our son and our best friends’ son since September due to COVID-19. Is it too late to bring up money?

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I lost my job at 55 and started my own successful business. I now constantly get texts from friends and former coworkers asking how I did it. What do I do?

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I read your column regularly. I never thought that I would reach out to you with my own issues. But I was wrong. I’m hoping you can help on how best to handle this situation.

In 2016, I lost my long-term job. The company simply went through serious changes, and my position was no longer needed. They were great to me when I worked there, and they gave me a small severance package. I was 55 at the time. I was more than a bit anxiety ridden as I wasn’t in a position to retire, and I was concerned about the prospects of being rehired at this age. The good news is that I was a saver, had no debt and always lived frugally. My husband’s job carried the benefits.


‘I woke up every morning at 4 a.m. to research, research, research how best to use my resources and ended up starting a small business.’

I woke up every morning at 4 a.m. to research, research, research how best to use my resources and ended up starting a small business. Once I started, I made mistakes, messed things up but I kept educating myself more and more. There were tough times that were not easy to get through, but I was determined, and kept going.

After about 18 months, it was working! Everything fell into place, and the train finally started going down the track! Now, I wake up each day and think, ‘I own a small business!’ My hubby even took early retirement to partner with me. While we are not making $1 million, we crossed over into six digits over the past few years.

We run our business out of a home office. I offer a service based on my knowledge from my prior job that I lost. So what is the problem? Several times a month, friends and prior co-workers reach out to us to ask how they too can get started in what we do.

This is just one example of the text I woke up to this morning:

“We are thinking about starting our own business as a husband and wife team like you. We want to discuss this with you, and learn from your experiences. What day and time would be good for you? Early morning or late afternoon? Can you come to our house?”

These requests send me to the moon and back, and I’m not totally sure why. I’m struggling with being a good human being and helping them vs. asking myself why would I want to train my competition to take business away from ourselves?

I liken these friends and former colleagues to the kids at school who march right to the head of the lunch line to get their food, without waiting in line like the rest of us.

My husband and I built relationships across the country and locally, but we do not live in a town where there is enough business for all of us.

Quentin, I hope you can help me sort through how best to decline these requests or tell me if I am wrong? We will retire in 6 years, and we hope to sell the business at that time.

Enjoying My Second Act (& Want It To Last)

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

Dear Second Act,

Your life and business is not a blueprint for anyone. Your path is your own. Your timing was right for you. You did your boots-on-the-ground research, and it’s paying dividends. And you’re correct: Never underestimate your own ability to build relationships. Not everybody has that skill.

That text sounds like an aggressive sales pitch: a strong-armed approach with a smile. No. 1: If they are asking you to do them a favor, regardless of what that favor is, suggesting you do it on their terms is a no-no. If these friends are not willing or able to get off their sofa and come around to your home or meet you close to your house or business, how do they expect to start their own business from scratch, and go above and beyond to build both a reputation and a business?


‘Pushy people tend to know they’re being pushy. They just don’t care.’

No. 2: Pushy people tend to know they’re being pushy. They just don’t care. They may need you to acquiesce to their requests for the reassurance that others can and will bend to their will OR perhaps they simply have their eye on their goal and everyone else are minions (with a lower case “m”). You don’t need to worry about their psychology, of course, but you do need to be just as tough and push back. If people ask me what to do with their money, I say: “I don’t even recommend Broadway plays.”

And that lunar feeling you have when you get those texts? It’s your boundaries bending and creaking. It’s the Old You and the New You doing battle: guilt and people pleasing vs. self-protection and no-can-do. Remember, saying “no” does not make you a bad person. You could pick a book and say, “I read this. The rest was luck and timing. Good luck!” But my guess is someone who thinks that you hold the key to their success will not be so easily put off.


‘You learned a valuable lesson not to discuss your affairs with other people.’

That brings me to No. 3: The clearest, fiercest response is often times no response. Find that muscle. It’s one you can exercise over and over again. As a friend once told me when I had to make a big financial decision: “Take the emotion and personalities out of it. It’s just business.” This is your business. You have nurtured it and you have worked hard at it. Trust your instinct. Protect it. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Is your gut saying no? Then don’t go.

You have learned a valuable lesson not to discuss your affairs with other people. Make it known that you do not like to talk about business when you’re off the clock. Try a new approach to conversations at dinner parties or chats over the garden fence with friends or neighbors. If they ask you about your business and how it’s going, tell them: “Good, thanks.” If they persist, say: “My first and last rule of business is I never discuss business with friends, and I never mix business with friendship.”

Delete that text without replying. Do the same for other texts. Flex that “no reply” muscle and keep flexing it. It gets easier. Don’t be held hostage to the “reply” button on your phone, and do get acquainted with the ability to say “no.” After a while, you will likely come to enjoy it.

The Moneyist:‘Warren Buffett and Harry Potter couldn’t get those two retired early’: Our spendthrift neighbors said our adviser was ‘lousy.’ So how come WE retired early?

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My husband and his brother inherited a property. Our son moved in. We paid $60K in taxes and repairs. Do we split it 50/50?

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My husband and his brother inherited their family home. When they were able to take possession, our son and his family needed a place to live. His brother was quite willing to let them move in and, in lieu of paying him rent for his 50%, my husband and I would be responsible for all upkeep, repairs, taxes, etc.

The house is probably 90 years old, and needed quite a lot of work before they could move in. We spent approximately $20,000 to make it livable. After four years the house caught fire and, with the help of a crooked contractor, it took another $30,000 of our money to repair all the damage.

Now comes my concern: If my husband and his brother had sold the house when they first inherited it, they would have split proceeds 50/50. It would definitely have been sold, because we didn’t want to be landlords to anyone other than our son. But now six years later, we have paid well over $60,000 in repairs and taxes. This amount is well over what we had planned on, but it was a chance we took.

According to old tax records, the house was probably worth $45,000, and now is worth over $100,000, and growing. The future sale and split of the house proceeds was never discussed. My husband is all for splitting it evenly. I’m the one with the issue because of all the money we spent in improvements.

I understand his brother took nothing at beginning, and I’m all for his getting 50% of the original value plus some extra, but I just don’t feel like he should get half of the current value. The house would certainly never be worth what it’s worth now if we hadn’t done all the work on it. Unless the house continues to increase in value, we will never recoup our investment.

May I have your opinion on this problem? On paper, this makes me look petty but my mind is unsettled over this.

Upset Wife

Dear Upset,

Sometimes, the clue is in the question: “In lieu of paying him rent for his 50%, my husband and I would be responsible for all upkeep, repairs, taxes, etc.”

You are aggrieved that you walked into this money pit with both eyes wide open in order for your son to save money in the short term. It seemed like an attractive prospect at the time, and I can see why: Your brother-in-law is easygoing, so why don’t your son and his family live in the house for a while and give it a new lick of paint when needed, a scrub-scrub here and a scrub-scrub there, and make sure it’s ticking over while they live there rent-free? Everyone wins, right? Well, not quite.

You, your husband and your son and his family win. Your brother-in-law, alas, did not get much out of that deal. But being Mr. Nice Guy, he said, “Be my guest.” Literally. Why would he want to charge his nephew rent? He decided to forgo the money to be made from a potential rental property or quick cash for the sake of family. What’s the point in having a house if you can’t help other people out? Plus, it would be looked after. And it was. But then there was a fire.


‘Your brother-in-law decided to forgo the money to be made from a potential rental property for the sake of family.’


— The Moneyist

You don’t say how the fire started. Was the stove left on? Did faulty wiring cause it? Or did a power line fall on the house in a storm? If it was your responsibility to take care of the property while your son and his family lived there, you are accountable for those first two scenarios. Even if it was an act of nature, you are responsible for ensuring that the home is insured. Of course, the main thing is no one was hurt. Still, as you say, upkeep (and that includes insurance) is your department.

You don’t fare well in the renovation vs. free rent argument, but you also raise a hypothetical argument to support your case: You should receive more than 50% of the proceeds from the sale of the house because your brother-in-law and husband would have sold the house (maybe; we’ll never know for sure) had your son not moved in. It was worth $45,000 then, and it’s valued at $100,000 now, so given your $60,000 in repairs and taxes, he should be happy with $22,500.

OK, I’ll play that game. Let’s peel back another layer of wallpaper and say, “If their parents passed away when they were much younger, they would have sold the house at an even lower price.” Or, “If their parents lived to be 99 1/2, they could be living in the house in 2021, and maybe you would make out like bandits because you would never have paid money to Uncle Sam and Sam the Contractor.” Let’s peel away even more layers: “If no one had been born, we wouldn’t have this problem!”

If you have to bend the laws of space and time to justify your proposal, splitting the proceeds 50/50 doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, after all.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

The Moneyist: I married ‘the life of the party,’ but he’s different at home. He takes his money woes out on me — and calls me a ‘gold digger’

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