Settling Accounts — *Before* she departs

by cv harquail on August 17, 2009

The comment from PA AuPair mom in the post about docking the au pair’s pay sent a chill down my spine, and reminded me that I need to write and post this bit of advice:

Before your Au Pair leaves, be sure to settle all accounts with her.

Suitcase with Ribbon lost star.jpegThis advice is not for host parents who want to screw over their au pairs in some vindictive way for all the various damage the au pair may have caused— Of COURSE it isn’t, because those kinds of host parents don’t read this blog. This advice is for host parents who want to act honorably and also make sure that their au pair keeps her commitments. Moving on…

With my agency, and I bet with others, there is a form that you fill out when your au pair is departing, either for rematch or for home. This form acts kind of like a balance sheet, where you can calculate if you own her any money (e.g., the remaining reimbursement for the up to $500 she has spent on classes) or whether she owes you money (e.g., phone bill, deductible, etc.).

In my experience, I have never owed an au pair money, but instead have been owed money.

Have a ‘nearing the end’ meeting

It’s a great idea to have what I call a ‘nearing the end’ meeting, where you clarify things like financial obligations, how she is getting to the airport, that she needs to ship her own 38 pairs of shoes home, and what bills might still be outstanding. Remember that you can often check phone bills online as the charges accrue, and you can use averages from previous bills to estimate the final bill. This is also a good time to tell your au pair about the “checkout list”, so that she can plan ahead to do this cleaning.

Have a conversation about outstanding bills in plenty of time, so that neither you nor she is left ‘holding the bag’ — her with not enough money to pay you, you with not enough remaining to pay her to withhold what should be withheld.

Before you lose your leverage

You need to make sure that you ask your au pair to pay any outstanding or anticipated bills before the very last week of her time with you. By then, your au pair may not only have already spent or committed this money to something, but also you have lost any kind of leverage you have over her to get her to pay.

Not that you necessarily want to dock her pay, but do you want to be the one left holding the $168 long distance phone bill?

You know, the bill you racked up when you were making unauthorized phone calls to Brazil, but that I didn’t discover until after you left, you little blank? Yeah, I know you got the emails that I sent you at your rematch family’s home. I know that our LCC called your new LCC to nudge you to send the money. I know that I paid you for vacation time you supposedly accrued when you refused to watch my children because you simply had to visit NYC. And I know that you still owe me $168.

Ooops sorry, I digress.

If you are in a situation like the one PA mom mentions, where her AP owes her $500, but where the host parents only have 2 weeks of pocket money left as leverage ($360 or so), it’s gonna be tough to get all of the money back that you are owed. Not only is this unfair, but also it can easily generate a lot of resentment that, if unattended, can dent your relationship with your next au pair.

Be sure to anticipate remaining expenditures, and set up a time to settle accounts, in plenty of time.

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StephinBoston August 17, 2009 at 4:08 pm

I guess I’ll consider myself lucky and have never had this issue with my APs. Your post did make me think I need to share what I do about the phone with everyone. Basically, I have an internet phone line with Broadvoice (could use other companies but they happen to have amazing phone plans). It costs me $25/month for a phone line that include unlimited phone calls to 22 countries. My au pairs have unlimited use of the phone to call their home country and they use it (1500-2000 minutes a month). The great thing is, they are not homesick, their families love to hear from them all the time and I never have bill issues. I figure $25/month is a great deal not to have to worry about any of this and the other advantages. Anyway, I’d love to write a whole post on this on how to set up and everything if anyone is interested. It’s made my life has a HM much easier :-)

PA au pair mom August 17, 2009 at 5:19 pm

We set up Skype on our AP’s computer with a webcam and had her do the same at her parents’ house before she left Germany. She can make unlimited phone calls, with video if she wants, to anywhere another Skype user is located and it’s free to sign up. It’s been a life-saver and we have never had a phone bill issue. she also loves being able to “see” her brother, mother, father, grandparents, friends back home, especially on special occasions.

CV August 17, 2009 at 5:31 pm

Those are both great suggestions– always, the best method is a systems method, where you hard wire the solution (no phone bills) into the systems you set up for your au pair (e.g., Skype).

I got caught with this one because, although we had Skype, a calling card, a cell phone with a good ld plan… we forgot that the landline in the au pair room– the line that no other au pair used for anything but wakeup calls from me– still had ld access, and not to a plan with cheap south american calls. One of the issues when you have au pairs for a while vs. getting them for the first time or two is that technology changes and/or you forget what you did. This was a real drag tho, just another disappointment with the opposite-of-good au pair. < sigh >

Darthastewart August 17, 2009 at 9:01 pm

My husband was actually the one that got us- the $300 phone call to Germany to interview au-pairs. – he insisted on cancelling the plan.. EWPS. So I put the unlimited plan back in place, and he can’t do that anymore. It’s also a nice perk to offer the au-pairs.

Alma August 18, 2009 at 7:20 am

Always good to prepare to settle up ahead of time and I agree with you about it leaking into your next relationship with an au pair.

PA Mom August 18, 2009 at 8:33 am

Interesting posts but I just had dinner the last 2 night with displace APs. Both nice girls but with pretty wacky HFs – kids fine but parents not so fine.

In both cases the HFs owe the girls their salaries. . . and left young ladies pretty much without cash. I’m fairly sure that at least one HM has issues and drank her APs salary – rather sad actually for her own kids.

Just a reminder that while the issue is real as we too have found forgotten Drs bills, an errant Macy’s charge (APs own account and only a $5 balance) and so on . . . it happens. I think the phone ideas are great – and I probably should use one of them myself. I guess I just mentally expect some extra cash needs at the end of an APs year . . they have gifts to buy to bring home to family and friends and need some cash for incidentals. Think back to when you were 19 or 20 – how good were you at budgeting for just about everything. … probably not very good. As for a less than good AP – different story but the cash shortage at the end seems to happen with each girl. They like to go out to celebrate their last few days together and that takes cash.

One of our APs friends (who was shorted by her HF by the way) left with no cash at all but for her bus fare to the airport. Wish I’d known – I’d have slipped her a $20 for snacks (5 hour wait at JFK) and incidentals in case something happened. Really what’s $20 these days. Can barely get a coffee and a sandwich at an airport for less than $10. I know this is a site for HM and HF but I guess I’ve seen it the other way around too many times the past few years. HFs not wanted to give their APs the extra $20 increase because of the minimum wage increase or not buying enough food to feed a teenager and squeezing extra hours our of the APs and forgetting about the whole cultural exchange and APs mean “on par” and part of the family thing. Sorry for venting but this past week’s behavior by 2 different HFs has me steamed.

CV August 18, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Pa Mom-

So good of you to offer some comfort to those APs. I agree with you– I really resent it when people take advantage of APs, especially around things that are so black and white, like giving them their stipend. There is no excuse for that.
It also makes it hard for Host Families and APs with ‘normal’ relationship tensions to work them out, b/c we all know, in the back of our minds, that APs can take advantage of families and families can take advantage of APs. You’d think the lines would be clear (or black and white) but it’s more a slippery slope, like with that jerk you dated in college about whom you were never quite sure…

PA au pair mom August 18, 2009 at 10:27 am

PA mom:

I am sure that some families do not treat their AP with respect and fairness.

Just to clarify, my AP has her own car for her exclusive use, her own computer, her own laptop (a xmas gift she will be taking back to germany), unlimited cell phone usage in the US, a 35 hour or less work schedule per week, and every weekend off.

I don’t think asking her to pay the deductible on an accident that was her fault is out of line or forgetting about “cultural exchange”.

Darthastewart August 18, 2009 at 12:27 pm

I think that it’s also worth reminding the au-pair that they should *always* keep a couple hundred bucks in reserve for emergencies- like going to the Dr. Office if they get sick.

But I agree that there are offenders on both sides of the story here- both host families, and au-pairs. I think that the worst case I’ve seen is the case where an AP totalled a car, and the HF was holding her responsible for the entire cost of the vehicle. The girl didn’t get paid for nearly 6 months and was a virtual prisoner. The HF did get booted from the program for that.- Thank goodness.

Anonymous August 18, 2009 at 1:04 pm

I would definitely tell my own daughter to tuck away a few hundred dollars so that she can protect herself in an emergency or hop on a plane and come home if she were not being treated well.
Over the years , I cannot say how many stories I have heard about APs not being paid in a timely way and I have heard a number of girls say that only lack of cash prevents them from going home.
Some families seem to think that because the aupair has a roof over her head that she doesn’t really need money. That is the same type of thinking that leads aupairs to rationalize that ” they are rich , they can afford it “.

West Coast Mom August 18, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Hi all,

On a related note (well, sort of related) … has anyone managed to solve the puzzle that is *International SMS*??? We have domestic and international calling down (we gave AP a cell phone with unlimited domestice calls and chat, and bought her a subscription to home country for use on Skype) … but I haven’t found a good solution to Internation SMS. ANd let’s face it, the average International 21 year old wants to send a LOT of international SMS.

Any ideas?

(P.S. If you set up Skype, you might also consider a country subscription, which covers calls to landlines for cheap … usually just a few dollars per month. With a subscription, you (or your AP) get a 50% discount on a personal online number, which they can select by international area code, so Mom can call AP using Mom’s landline, and it’s a local call. If AP sets up Skype call forwarding to her US mobile phone, she can make and receive calls on her mobile for cheap (or sometimes free). Hope that helps. Disclosure: I work at Skype.)

Anonymous August 18, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Can you post a copy of that checklist to settle up accounts.
It sounds good.

StephinBoston August 19, 2009 at 8:58 am

All these comments make me think I’m going to add a section in my handbook. Current AP is a planner and has been planning the cost of all her trips and return trip all along, but they might not all be that way. So a section about the cost of going home with multiple suitcases and the cost of shipping things home might help them plan ahead. I like to give them a little extra at the end too to make sure they make it home safely but I completely agree that accounts should be settled, if she owes you $$ its better to bring it up way early and if she won’t pay you, involve the LCC or the agency, go over the LCCs head if necessary. You paid your agency fee, take advantage of it :-)

PA Au pair mom: Your APs behavior is unacceptable, sounds like you’ve treated her more than fairly and she’s not returning the favor (and I assume its not the first time..) don’t let her get away with it.

sentimental heart December 22, 2009 at 2:14 pm

Im about to leave My current HF and go into a new one – i have how ever feel like the responsible one in the situation when it came to the bills. I would ask at the end of EVERY month for me fone bills (cell fone and home fone) and sometimes again every other week and my HM would keep brushing me off saying “oh yes sure … will look into that for you ..” she never did! now im about to leave and i get stuck with a large lump sum (5 months worth!) I’m very irratated seeing as tho i was responsible enough to ask EVERY month what i owed for the month – i was worried about getting stuck with a large bill.

No i sit in the same dilema i tried so hard to avoid … i feel like being spiteful and telling HM she can wait 5 months for the money :P but, thats not me. I just wanted to put it out there that some AP’s are really considerate and responsible.

cv December 22, 2009 at 2:34 pm

Hi Sentimental-
It really is a drag to make the effort, get little response, and then end up in the situation you were trying to avoid. We often have to take an extra step to get things resolved … maybe in this case you could have offered a token payment (an estimate) each month, which could have triggered your host parents into getting out the bill and allowing you to tally up your actually expenses.
It is no fun to have to go through the bills, whether you are the host parent or the au pair, and I can see why someone would keep putting it off. And, I can see that it would be a drag to have to continue to ask.
On the flip side, maybe you can appreciate that you did use the cell phone etc. for personal calls, and that you didn’t haven’t to pay until now… your host parents (whether through distraction, or laziness, or whatever) were ‘floating’ you… and, you probably saved up the money you anticipated that you owed, so it shouldn’t be so bad, right?
But we’ll add to this post– sometimes everyone has to take the extra step or two.

sentimental heart December 22, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Thank you :) thats all fine and dany too but, since I’ve never had to pay an american fone bill and still tryna understand the costs of things I had NO idea of what the costs would be like and so to estimate would be problematic for me and actually WHY should i have to do that – if my HF asks me to do someting or get something for them I do it asap was i wrong to expect the sam kind of courtesy?

And another thing, the money wasntthe issue wether i have it or not its the principle or being responsible … what if i didnt have the money now but i had it then …

Im sorry if i seem agressive but, ive been through alot here and im very drained and yes there are some really seedy and bad APs out there – i can honestly say Im not one of them!
this is my career path – kids. im a qualified preschool teacher. Im moral, responsible and very caring and sensitive – i sometimes find these blogs abit harsh on the APs
My point is – I think the HF is in the wrong, if they intendt for me to settle my account they should be willing to give it to me when i ask so that there is no friction.

Beacuase now all the money i have saved has a large dent in it which i dont think is fair

Euromom December 22, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Hi there sentimental heart, who are you kidding, yourself??? You knew that the bill would have to be settled sooner or later. It is in every guideline, every manual out there, so please do me a favour and do not play the innocent here.

“If they intended for you to settle your account then they should have….” your HF always intended for you to settle the account and you knew this. Yes your host parents should have given it to you when you asked for it but you have to bear the consequence that you also let it slide. The bill was and is your responsibility and you should have ensured that the bill did not reach this point because it was your responsibility.

You say you had NO idea that the bill would be this high – come on – are you really trying to say that you have not heard your fellow au pairs complain about the bill when they go over their minutes or of host families complain about au pair running up phone bills. Be honest, if it were not so very expensive, then why all the trouble. You were well aware, you knew there was always a bill there and guess what – you are an adult and it won’t go away. There is no phone bill fairy for you.

You say it’s about the priniciple and not the money, pull the other one. It’s about the money. If it were about the prinicple, you would have had it out with your HF by now. You would have told them that you wanted to see a monthly bill because you did not want a big bill at the end of your term with them and you would have insisted. Were hoping that it would slide? Well it didn’t slide, so pay up. You ask what if you had the money then and don’t have it now? Well you should have it now because you should have planned to settle your account.

And the money that you saved is only saved because you did not pay off your bills. You say that you are a responsible person, put your money where your mouth is and pay up.

You don’t think it’s fair but what would be fair to you. That your HF pays your phone bill for you?

Anna December 23, 2009 at 9:33 am

You were able to save it because you were not paying all your expenses (phone bill). What is RIGHTFULLY yours is what is remaining after you settle your bill with your family. Wake up, I know it is hard to part with money, but part of it is not yours at this point, you OWE it.
Yes, it would be better if the family made you pay every month… but not fair to pay your bill? This is life!

Sara Duke December 23, 2009 at 12:42 pm

I disagree with Euromom and Anna. Most of us would be beside ourselves if we had to pay a utility bill after 5 months. This actually happened to me. Someone diverted my phone bill when I hadn’t moved, and it took me a couple of months to realize it hadn’t come and I hadn’t paid it. By the time I managed to convince the phone company that it had been wrongfully diverted (I’m sure by clerical error rather than malicious intent) I owed more money than I could afford — and I hate using the phone. I paid it off over time, with a penalty.

Yes, Sentimental Heart should have pressed her host family harder, but I agree with her — they treated her unfairly (you’ll be wise to warn the au pair that succeeds you).

Sentimental Heart, it’s a hard lesson but every one of us learns it sooner or later – not everything is fair. Fortunately for you, you took the adult path, and set aside a little of your stipend every week for emergencies. It’s not pleasant to have your savings stripped for a bill but sometimes that’s what happens.

When responding to au pairs and their human imperfections, it might be helpful, as a host parent, to think of how you might treat your own children when they are young adults and trying to learn to balance responsiblity and pleasure. Would you turn your back on your child? Would you totally spoil your child? Your interaction with your au pair may frame your child’s perception of how the world works, too. (And au pairs – you may unwittingly be teaching your host children a lesson when you react badly.) It works both ways.

Euromom December 23, 2009 at 10:38 pm

Hi Sara, the fact of the matter is that you paid your bill because it was that – your bill. You never questioned that it was your bill or that you should or should not have to pay it because it was delivered late, yes I bet it was a horrible shock, but you still paid it and it is the same thing here, the bill needs to be paid. She made it, she pays for it. Simples.

And as for treating an an pair like my own child, my child would know better than to spilt hairs with me about money. She knows the importance of being responsible. One thing I have constantly drilled into here is actions have consequences. In this case – using the phone means paying the bill.

Anonymous December 23, 2009 at 4:58 pm

My advice to all APs would be twofold – first, get a calling card and use it, that way you NEVER owe money on the home phone bill. 2nd – if you will use more minutes or text than you are allotted, ask them to up the plan and take the extra cost of doing so out of your weekly pay automatically (ie – if it’s 20/month for unlimited texts on your phone, have them take 20 * 12 /52 = $3.15 off your weekly pay. This way, you never owe them anything for the cell, either.

Anonymous December 24, 2009 at 2:07 pm

My kids go to a private school and a couple of months ago, the business adminstrator was fired – no dishonesty, just incompetance or too kind a heart due to the economy. Quite a few parents had trouble paying their tuition and the business administrator allowed them to postpone payment. I cannot say how many of my friends have said ” they never cashed my check ; I had the money then but I don’t have it now “. Well, how did they balance their accounts ?
I always found that story fishy. If you wrote a check, you took the money out of circulation.
I think these host parents were wrong. I don’t know why this young lady is in rematch but my guess is that the host parents really did not want things to be on an equal footing. We all KNOW that the credit card companies do not want us to pay off our balances and that they want us to stay in debt, hopefully forever.
I had a similiar experience to the lady who forgot about her bill for a couple of months. My Verizon bill went astray and I got distracted and forgot about it until one day when I was reconciling my acccount. The lady at Verizon said ” think of this as a gift “.
No, it was not a gift. I like paying my bill on time.
I agree that host parents should get their own phones for personal use and use the ” company ” phone strictly for work related matters.
Very few host families let the phone bills total up. My guess is that these people did something wrong by refusing to take payment. Did they want the aupair in their debt so that she could not up and leave ? Did they perhaps think she could ” work it off ” or maybe they would have forgiven the debt if all went well. Not nice in any case.
I am assuming , of course, that we have heard the whole story. But one of my aupairs had a friend whose host father offered to let her work extra hours in exchange for paying off her phone bill.
Since it was the end of the year, she felt she had no choice. I told her to talk to her LCC but she never did. I met the LCC in the park and told her my view of the story. She told me that she personally agreed with me but that the agency she worked with would simply tell the girl to pay the money in cash and not work extra hours. But the aupair did not have the money in cash . I later heard that the girl sent home for the money. It is just wrong to allow people to get into debt and then demand payment.
I am assuming, of course , that what we have heard is the whole story.

Calif Mom December 24, 2009 at 2:39 pm

This is pretty simple: if an AP made calls on the house phone, and knew up front that she would need to pay for them, I’m very impressed that she then asked for the bill. I also understand *completely* that digging out the phone bill would be a PIA, and that the host never got around to it. I don’t say that it’s *right* for her to have done this, but I understand it. They probably have their bills set up through online payment, and never even think about it. It doesn’t matter if one doesn’t agree with this, and if you are someone who balances your checkbook every week, I’m impressed and proud of you, but you don’t have the right to judge.

The AP in this situation should have saved money to pay for her phone bills. Pretty straightforward. I don’t think the hosts are trying to do anything malicious here, they’re just busy/distracted/lazy/dealing with other bigger issues in their life. There’s no way for us to know.

But this AP needs to stop feeling like a victim, acknowledge that this is not a match made in heaven, and pay her bill or work out an arrangement to do so if she has already spent the cash that would have gone to the bill.

APs–try Skype! It’s totally free as long as you have internet access. Phone cards, as mentioned above — both solutions avoid the whole problem.

Hosts –if you’re going to nickel and dime your AP about phone calls, look at phone company offers and get an easier plan for your to administer. We had VOIP service for years; super cheap monthly fee and no real charges for long distance charges. Now we’ve got it all packaged together and we don’t bother pinging our AP with little fees like that. We heavily encourage skype and using our VOIP phone line. Much cheaper than picking up your cell phone while you’re in the house.

Anonymous December 26, 2009 at 2:13 pm

There is something very interesting here – is the family in fact asking for the money ? Did they come to the aupair and tell her that they want the money or did she just assume that they wanted it ?
Probably they do want it and whether they pay it online or in some other manner, it won’t be too much bother now, will it ?
I think aupairs should buy their own cellphones and not get involved with host families on this matter if possible. If families are going to be business minded about phone bills, well, then, they should check it every month and not let it add up. Public utilities and phone companies would work out a payment bill with customers and in some cases, they are required to do so by law. Same with credit card companies. This kid needs a responsible LCC to step in and help her work things out with the family. I personally have found that email has almost eliminated what was once a big source of contention.
Used to be that calling France or Germany in the afternoon on a weekday could add up to $ 50.00 very easily. And did this family never observe an unusually high phone bill. The first time the family refused to check the bill the aupair should have gone running to her LCC and she also should have stopped using the family phone.

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