Wages Paid to Children

Recent Tax Court Summary Opinion; Fisher 2016-10

Business deductions are allowed under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 162(a) when they are ordinary and necessary expenses paid or incurred in carrying on a trade or business.  The determination of whether expenditures satisfy the requirements for deductibility depends on the facts and circumstances.  Wages paid to compensate employees for personal services rendered are generally deductible. The IRC does not define an age an individual must be in order to qualify as an employee.  Courts generally look to three factors when determining whether or not wages are deductible:

  1. The wage paid is a reasonable amount,
  2. The wage is based on services actually rendered, and
  3. The wage is paid or incurred.

A recent court case illustrates the factors used by the courts when determining the deductibility of wages paid to minor children.

The taxpayer was a sole proprietor who worked as an attorney.  She had three children, all of whom were under nine years old as of the close of the tax years in question.  During summer school recesses, the taxpayer often brought her children into her office, usually for two hours a day, two or three days a week.

While at the taxpayer’s office, the children provided various services to her in connection with her law practice.  For example, the children shredded waste, mailed things, answered telephones, photocopied documents, greeted clients, and escorted clients to the office library or other waiting areas in the office complex.  The children also helped the taxpayer move files from a flooded basement, they helped remove files damaged in a bathroom flood, and they helped to move the taxpayer’s office to a different location.

The taxpayer did not issue a Form W-2 to any of her children for the years at issue.  No payroll records regarding their employment were kept, and no federal tax withholding payments were made from any amounts that might have been paid to any of the children.

In court, the taxpayer claimed that wages paid to her minor children should be deductible because they provided various services to her in connection with her law practice.  The IRS claimed the taxpayer did not establish that the wages were actually paid or that any payment that was made was a payment for an ordinary and necessary business expense.

The taxpayer did not present any evidence to show how much was paid to each child, how many hours each worked, or what the hourly rate of pay was.  Without payroll records detailing this information, the court cannot tell whether the amounts deducted were reasonable, especially when the ages of the children are taken into account. The taxpayer did not present any documentary evidence, such as bank statements, canceled checks, records, or the filing of W-2’s, to support the deductions.

The court said all things considered, the taxpayer had failed to establish entitlement to the deductions for wages to minor children claimed on Schedule C.    However, the court said it was satisfied that each child performed services in connection with the taxpayer’s law practice during each year at issue and each was compensated for doing so. Taking into account their ages, generalized descriptions of their duties, generalized statements as to the time each spent in the office, and the lack of records, the court ruled the taxpayer was entitled to a limited $250 deduction for wages paid to each child for each year.

Author’s comment and bulletproof recommendation:

This is a valuable sole proprietor deduction for hiring the taxpayer’s children and allowed when proper documentation is contemporaneously compiled.  To nail this down, do the following:

  • Set a reasonable wage based on the age of the child and actual duties performed (one example; our young people have tremendous computer and social networking skills these days)..
  • Make checks out to the child for the work performed.
  • Keep date and time sheets of all work performed and describe the work performed on that date and time.
  • Prepare a W-2 for each child (and file the Form 941 payroll return).

A Win-Win Tax Strategy:

By paying your child (children), you get a wage deduction on your Schedule C to lower your taxable income and your self-employment taxes.  You retain the dependency exemption for your child (children) on your personal tax return ($6,300 in 2015) as long as you still provide over 50% of the child’s support (highly likely even with the wages they earn from you).  The optimal strategy would be to pay your child up to the standard deduction ($6,300 in 2015).  Your child will file his\her own tax return to report the W-2 wages and  he/she will not claim a personal exemption on his/her return (since you are claiming them as a dependent) but they are allowed to subtract their standard deduction ($6,300 in 2015) meaning they will pay no income tax on their wages.  For dependents, the standard deduction is the greater of $1,050 or earned income (W-2 wages) plus $350, up to the regular standard deduction ($6,300 in 2015).

Let’s say you pay your child $6,300 and he/she puts $3,000 of that in a Roth retirement account. The earnings will compound annually tax-free over the next 50+ years!  This still leaves your child a good wage to buy things he/she wants and needs.

Consult your tax professional (preferably a CPA or enrolled agent) for complete details and proper recordkeeping.