My intelligent, talented retiree husband moonlights as a handyman. He charges $20 an hour, but is not insured and doesn’t pay tax

My very intelligent and talented husband retired from a government job about 10 years ago. He has a modest pension and social security income. I am 10 years younger and still working. We own our home and our cars and we have no debt. We’re not wealthy at all, but I’ll be inheriting from a family estate in a few years.

Here is my dilemma. He has skills that are in great demand; he was once a master electrician, although he is letting his license expire. He has a thorough understanding of construction, plumbers, roofers, etc., and loves doing odd jobs and making extra income.

I guess he is stimulated by the variety of jobs that are available to him and people are so grateful that he does manual work that he is in constant demand – so much so that we can’t go on vacation in the summer.

He’s built bathrooms, tiled kitchens, and rewired lights. Today he installed an electric awning. His reputation is great and his name has spread through word of mouth, especially among friends and neighbors.


“If there is a fire in a house where he worked, he will be held responsible. I’m scared because if that happens we could be held financially responsible. ‘

He charges a flat rate of $ 20 an hour and provides his own tools. All materials for the job are debited to our personal account at a hardware store, and he’ll hand over the receipts and invoices to the customer when the job is finished so there is no material surcharge. So far, he has never had a problem collecting payments from his grateful customers.

He doesn’t take any of that money as income from our taxes. He doesn’t have a building contractor license and doesn’t get any permits. It is not bound or insured in any way. He says he always tells people in advance that he is not a contractor, but he will work for them by the hour if they tell him what to do. In other words, they are the contractor and he only works for them.

Someday something will go wrong. He can fall off a ladder and injure himself, or a pipe can break and flood a house. Even if it’s not his fault, if there is a fire in a house where he worked, he will be blamed. I’m scared because if that happens we could be held financially responsible. I’m also concerned that someone will report him for contracting without a license or notifying the Internal Revenue Service. So much can go wrong.

When I try to point out that he is putting both my financial and his own at risk, he says I am paranoid and only help people.

Please advise me on how I can protect myself and our common property in the event that he is sued. I just want to retire one day and not have to work until I die. I really don’t want a divorce, but I don’t see any way to get him to stop working that way until something really bad happens.

Thank you very much.

Worried woman

Dear Concerned,

Your husband enjoys helping people and feels useful in retirement. He does his job well and he enjoys finding out the source of the problems.

I have a lot of respect for contractors and people who have the patience and the brains to figure out how things work. Sometimes it’s a simple solution that can save the customer hundreds or thousands of dollars. And these other times? It can be complex, complicated and, yes, fraught with bigger problems and risks, especially when it comes to electricity.

Regarding the risks: your husband underestimates his services by far. Even a cursory glance at the prices of similar services on platforms like TaskRabbit reveals that craftsmen and contractors charge many times your husband’s fees. Even hanging a picture can cost $ 50 or $ 60 an hour or more.

Given the risk and opportunity involved, its clients should be willing to sign a disclaimer. This agreement is designed to protect you and him. You cannot quantify rest and restful sleep. Tell him that.


“Hire a third party, preferably a lawyer, who can explain to you what it is about: fines, refunds of back taxes or even criminal charges.”

Disclaimers, however, are not tight. There are two types of cases: simple negligence and gross negligence. The former deals primarily with “unintentional” problems, while the latter typically applies to “deliberate disregard for the safety of customers or attendees,” according to the Frickey Law Firm of Lakewood, Colorado. The waiver cannot replace state law or public order.

Even after signing such a waiver, it is usually possible to sue for the above-mentioned gross negligence, misrepresentation and / or defective products, adds the law firm.

The IRS problem will prove to be more difficult. I expect he is doing these “under the table” jobs, in part because of its low rate which makes him popular with his customer base, but increasing his price would help reduce the amount of work and risk of being discovered to reduce. For this and the previous issue, call in a third party, preferably a lawyer, who can explain to you what it is about: fines, reimbursement of back tax payments and even criminal charges. This can give your man the wake up call he needs.

He can feel defensive if you approach him about his liability and tax evasion. Maybe he’s scared and avoiding a difficult conversation seems like the easiest way to go. But speaking to him in a supportive way and offering solutions could help him.

You could start with something non-confrontational like this: “I want you to keep doing what you love and help people, but I also want to make sure we tick all the boxes.”

The idea is to help him see what he can do to help himself, not what you think he is doing to you. Both points are valid, but the former may be more effective.

Also read: Jamie Dimon insists that his employees return to the office – so that’s a bit rich

You can email The Moneyist at [email protected] with any financial and ethical issues related to the coronavirus and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

By emailing your questions, you consent to their being posted anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you agree that we may use your story or versions of it in all media and platforms, including through third parties.

Check out Moneyist’s private Facebook
FB, + 1.92%
Group in which we look for answers to life’s thorniest questions of money. Readers write to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Ask your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or take part in the latest Moneyist columns.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

Comments are closed.