Help make garnishment easier
June 5, 2011 12:04 PM   Subscribe

We've received a wage-garnishment order from the State of California for my child's caregiver for an unpaid tax debt. What, if anything, can we do to help her?

The amount they are asking us to withhold (25%, the total debt is $1000) will cause significant hardship for her family; she's a single mom with 3 kids. She's here legally but not a native English speaker and her math skills aren't great.

She lives in Oakland and we live in San Francisco and are hoping that there's something we can do rather than just referring her somewhere for assistance or advice.
posted by dolface to Work & Money (12 answers total)
Response by poster: To clarify, the state requires us to withhold 25% of her wages until the debt is paid off.
posted by dolface at 12:10 PM on June 5, 2011

If it's an order presumably you are bound to obey it. If you want to help her out, could you pay the £1,000 for her and then deduct it in manageable amounts from her salary?
posted by essexjan at 12:10 PM on June 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

The first (non-legal) thing that comes to mind is to help out in ways that won't get her in more trouble... so, no money slipped under the table, but things like making meals for her that she can take home and pop into the oven to feed her family, helping out with her kids' clothing and school supplies. In short, cutting down on her expenses in ways that wouldn't be taxable. (I thought about suggesting that you fill up her gas tank and/or buy her BART tickets for her commute, but this seems more questionable to me, since the monetary value could be calculated so easily.)

I'm not a tax lawyer or any kind of expert, though, and if I were you, I'd safeguard myself (and her) by consulting tax laws before rendering gifts and services of any kind.
posted by artemisia at 12:15 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Pay the $1,000 for her. If you're inclined to do so, take it out at a rate of $100 a month for 10 months. If she bails before the end of the year, consider yourself to have bought some good karma.

I'm not assuming the 1K wouldn't be a bite for your family but I am assuming this isn't going to take groceries from your kids' mouths. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."
posted by DarlingBri at 12:16 PM on June 5, 2011 [15 favorites]

You could lend her the money to pay the debt and set any terms that you like for repayment. Equally important, help her make sure this doesn't happen again.

A caveat: I believe it's a good rule never to lend money one is not prepared to lose.
posted by Anitanola at 12:17 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree that you should pay it, but instead of a lump sum, you could always give her a temporary raise that will keep her take-home stable. The benefits to doing this vs. paying it off immediately and directly is that you take her salary off your taxes as a childcare expense and you won't be stuck with having paid it all if you need to fire her.

You also won't become the person who she owes money to, which is a good way to build resentment on both sides.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:39 PM on June 5, 2011 [8 favorites]

Well, you could give her a temporary 33% raise; then her actual income would remain the same after garnishment. But then you would be effectively paying off her debt for her. It doesn't sound like you're ethically obligated to do this in this situation, and it's not clear if that's something you want to do or can afford to do. But I'd imagine that would certainly make it easier for her.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 12:49 PM on June 5, 2011

I've dealt with this before in Cali as an HR guy in East LA where a lot of the workers didn't speak english. A lot just didn't do their taxes and just accepted the amount Cali assumed they owed. There's a lot of questions to be asked here but preliminary questions are:

So I'm guessing that explaining this to her is going to be really hard too. Is there a translator you can speak through?

If she's not good at math or may just be that she didn't do her taxes correctly (or at all), and got screwed. Could you refer her to a tax guy who could look through her stuff and sort her out?

If you think 25% is unmanageable, what % do you (and her) think is manageable?
posted by hal_c_on at 1:32 PM on June 5, 2011

I'd talk to her to find out what happened and whether she had good tax advice and have someone review the situation. Maybe also you could help her in renegotiating repayment. If all that passes, then you could look at loaning the money (if you're prepared to lose it).
posted by acoutu at 3:29 PM on June 5, 2011

I agree about doing a little investigation--is this debt hers alone? Because not many nanny/housekeepers really make enough money to owe any taxes, esp. in California.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:32 PM on June 5, 2011

IAAL, but IANYL and IANYNL. I have a client who is being threatened with garnishment for a tax issue that was assigned to her ex-husband 20 years ago. It's fairly clear that California is overreaching, but California FTB people are calling my client and from my second-hand assessment, they're trying to trick her into admitting the debt and agreeing to pay.

This is a good time for your nanny to lawyer up, and you may best be able to help her by sending her to somebody good, and perhaps by helping to pay that cost. California is cash-strapped, and they're resorting to some shady tactics to get a little extra money from people who may or may not owe it, but who are ill-equipped to dispute it properly.
posted by spacewrench at 4:44 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

If she was (in?)correctly classified as an independent contractor, she would have been expected to pay quarterly estimated taxes including both income tax and payroll taxes. If she didn't understand that process completely--and it is relatively complicated even for an educated English speaker--I can see how something could go wrong and have her end up owing taxes.

(I am not a tax professional or attorney, and if she were able to see one that would be a good thing.)
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:46 PM on June 5, 2011

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