NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Parents may be busy hauling the family to the beach, mountains and ballgames this summer, but things are only going to get busier in a few weeks when kids go back to school. Back-to-school shopping, figuring out bus schedules, lining up after-school activities and getting kids to doctor and dentist appointments are all challenges to busy working parents who have to hit the career track full speed after Labor Day weekend. That burgeoning "to do" list has many parents turning to nannies -- a rescue squad for the harried working parent who can afford it. According to AmericasNannies.com, there are 860,000 nannies in the U.S. today, with 433,000 of that number self-employed.
How, out of that large number, can parents find the nanny that best fits their family's needs? "Hiring a nanny requires many critical considerations, from the very safety of your children to whether the person will be a good personality fit for your family," says Michael Alter, chief executive of SurePayroll, a Glenview, Ill., payroll services provider. "What's sometimes overlooked is that you have to also be aware of the rules and laws that apply to hiring a nanny. These legal considerations don't have to lead to added stress for parents already hustling to get their kids ready for the school year." "Fortunately for parents, there are affordable online options that can make the process easier, from finding the perfect nanny to making sure their payroll is handled accurately, on time and in compliance with federal and state laws," Alter says. Alter and SurePayroll advise taking these steps before signing on the dotted line with a new nanny: Think about what you want. The goal is to create a thorough list of "must haves" for your nanny search, a list that must include a proposed schedule, disciplinary practices and the demonstrated ability of any potential nanny to care for more than one child. "Knowing your priorities will not only help you attract the right candidate, but also make the right decision," the firm advises.
Get a trusted referral. Get a referral from a source you know and trust. So go ahead and ask around, but stick to close family members and friends, teachers and workplace colleagues. The key word in asking about potential nannies is "responsibility." Include your kids in the interview process. To make sure your child is comfortable with his or her future nanny, bring your child to the job interview. Watch how your son or daughter interacts with the candidate. Encourage your child to ask questions, and see how he or she reacts -- and how the nanny reacts. Get good help. To get the information you need -- including background checks, reference checks and salary estimates -- hire a dependable nanny selection service. Know your financial obligations. Nannies, by law, have to earn at least minimum wage and are eligible for overtime. Prepare to file a 1040-ES file with the Internal Revenue Service, along with a 1040 tax form and a W-2 form. "If you pay a seasonal nanny more than $1,000 per quarter or $1,800 per year, you most likely need to pay the 'Nanny Tax' (which includes Social Security, Medicare and the Federal Unemployment Tax)," SurePayroll says. Also, don't pay cash to your nanny. Always pay via check or direct deposit. That way you have legitimate documentation for your tax files.