Advertisement

How to protect your identity beyond a credit freeze

Hands type on a computer keyboard
There are many types of identity theft. Freezing your credit reports will help prevent someone from opening new credit accounts, but you need to do more.
(Elise Amendola / Associated Press)
Share via

Dear Liz: I volunteer for an organization that does background checks every two years. A recent check found my name and Social Security number was used in Texas from 2019 to 2021. I have never been to Texas. What can I do to find out how this happened, and how to protect my Social Security number? I have already frozen my account with the three main credit bureaus.

Answer: You may never know exactly how this happened, but you can make an educated guess.

Most Americans’ Social Security numbers have been exposed in one database breach or another, including the massive Equifax breach in 2017 that exposed the personal information of nearly 150 million people. As a result, Social Security numbers are sold by criminals on the dark web for just a few dollars.

Because Social Security numbers have become all-purpose identifiers — something they were never intended to be, by the way — criminals can use a purloined number to get jobs, steal your tax refunds, receive medical care and apply for credit, among other misuses. They also could pretend to be you if they’re ever arrested, something known as criminal identity theft.

Advertisement

Freezing your credit reports will help prevent someone from opening new credit accounts. Credit freezes typically won’t help with the many other types of identity theft, however.

If you haven’t already done so, create a personal account on Social Security’s site to check your earnings record. If what you see doesn’t match your own records, contact the Social Security Administration by calling (800) 772-1213. If someone used your Social Security number to work or get your text refund, contact the IRS at irs.gov/identity-theft-central or by calling (800) 908-4490.

You also can report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov, a site that will create a recovery plan to help you navigate the next steps.

Reporting caregivers’ pay to the IRS

Dear Liz: We have a gardener, pool man and caregivers. We pay the gardener, pool man and some of the caregivers directly, while we pay an agency for the other caregivers. Do we have an obligation to report payments to the IRS?

Answer: As an individual taxpayer, you typically don’t have to report payments to businesses. Your gardener and pool cleaner probably either are self-employed or work for a company that takes care of reporting requirements for its workers. Likewise, the caregiving agency should handle reporting requirements for its employees.

The caregivers you pay directly, however, are generally considered your household employees. That means you may be responsible for reporting their wages to the IRS and paying their employment taxes. That responsibility kicks in if a caregiver receives at least $1,000 in any calendar quarter or at least $2,400 per calendar year for 2022 (or $2,300 per calendar year for 2021), says Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. IRS Publication 926, Household Employer’s Tax Guide, has details.

Advertisement

Taxes on trust’s income

Dear Liz: My father passed away last year leaving an estate that will make us comfortable through the foreseeable future. His holdings are mostly securities that are traded either on the NYSE or the Nasdaq. From our investments, we currently have non-earned income of between $75,000 and $100,000 annually without any other income. After estate taxes are paid for my father’s estate, the annual yield (mostly dividends) will be in the $225,000 to $250,000 range. My question for you is should we keep my father’s holdings within his trust and let the trust pay the taxes on the income, or should we take the income and pay the taxes ourselves?

Answer: Tax rates on trusts are notoriously high. If you have a choice, you probably would want to pay the taxes yourself rather than letting the trust do so. The question is whether you have a choice, and that will be determined by the wording of your father’s trust, Los Angeles estate planning attorney Burton Mitchell says.

Speaking of estate planning attorneys, you need to hire one, along with a tax pro and a fee-only financial planner, so you can get solid, personalized advice on questions like this. You already had substantial income, and you just inherited an estate worth multiple millions, so you’re long past the point when doing it yourself makes sense.

Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com.

Advertisement