Would you give your Au Pair a credit card?

by cv harquail on June 25, 2009

An anonymous reader of the post “Feeding my kids too much fast food” mentioned having had a problem with her au pair and credit cards:

DO NOT EVER give your AP a credit card or debit card to use. We learned the hard way with our first AP. She was getting cash back with all grocery and gas purchases and managed to fund a tidy nest egg before we caught her and sent her back to her home country. Now when AP buys something, she pays with her own money and give us a receipt for reimbursement. We try to do our own shopping and keep the car full (she puts her own gas in for social use). I will leave her a $20 once in a while to pick up milk or a pizza, but I ask for a receipt and the change. Lead them not into temptation.

It never occurred to me to give my APs a credit card. I have a hard enough time with the temptation of ‘buy now, pay later’!  We’ve always used the “pizza money in an envelope” method, with me putting in cash for incidentals and her putting in receipts. This has worked well for us, in part I bet because I take care of so many other potential expenses directly (e.g., I keep the family car full of gas, I write checks for her to take to their piano lessons, I order groceries online and pay online, etc.)

But, I’m intrigued by how other people manage incidental expenses, and especially how host families use credit cards. So– Let’s think about CREDIT cards only (not debit cards) — and tell:

Would you ever give your Au Pair a credit card to use?

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Have you found a good system? Do you have a story or advice to share? Tell us more…

Eiko & Her Credit Cards by eikootje on Flickr


Au Pair June 25, 2009 at 10:58 am

Not every au pair is like that.
I had a credit card to my hostmums account and I would never have used it for anything else than food for the kids or what I was told to purchase. It just made everything a lot easier.
But without being asked I always brought the reciepts back home because I did not want to be accused of doing anything wrong.
If you say she did that cash-back thing more than once, I do not understand why you still let her have the card.You should have realized after the first time she did it. I would not trust this kind of person anymore and would not want her to live in my house, not even for a day.

Franzi June 25, 2009 at 1:47 pm

i’m with Au Pair. if you notice the card is being abused, do not allow your AP to use it again – take it away from her! i know of many families who trusted their AP with money (eg told her where the money for larger emergencies was) and/or credit and debit cards. but this method only works for host parents who regularly check their credit account and know what is being bought with their card!

Anonymom June 25, 2009 at 2:52 pm

I trust our au pair with our house, our car, and most importantly, our children. So of course I trust her with our credit card. But we were clear that it was just for gas, so there were no misunderstandings. I wanted her to be able to pay at the pump when getting gas. Then we specifically authorized her to pay for her classes with our credit card, too.
Yes, we check our statements very regularly and we know approximately how much it costs to fill up the cars she uses. But we check our statements regularly regardless, not to check up on our au pair.
If she used the card dishonestly…how could I trust her with my kids??

Corinna June 25, 2009 at 5:31 pm

I had a Debit Card from my hostmum’s bank account as well. She told me in the beginning to bring all the receipts and told me where to put them and in the beginning she checked on them every once in a while but I don’t think she did it anymore after a couple of months because she knew she could trust me and I never purchased anything on the card I wasn’t allowed to.

Bruna June 25, 2009 at 5:35 pm

Well, I had a credit card from my host family. I always kept all the receipts and showed them to my host mom once the bill came in. And this was MY iniciative. She never asked for it (or looked at them, I suppose). But they were all there, proving that I was making honest use of their card. I had illimited use of the car AND gas. Meaning they said they would pay for every gallon of gas that I needed to use. I didn’t fill up the tank during the week, even if I had personal errands to run. But on the weekends I would always fill up the tank with my own money, since I was the only one using it. My host parents probably never even realized that, I never told them I did it, but I did it every single week. And I felt this was the right thing to do.
It is a matter of character… you just happened to bump into a bad person.

Busy Mom June 25, 2009 at 8:15 pm

For us, giving our nannies/au pair a credit card is a matter of convenience. We add an additional card to our Amex account so there’s no additional fee. We gave credit cards to all but our first nanny because they did our grocery shopping, ran errands, purchased gas, took the kids out to lunch, etc. We found it easier to track spending than when we used to dole out cash.

It never occurred to me to not continue this practice for our au pair, even though she uses it less. She uses it mainly for gas, but also for occasional small grocery store runs, car washes, and outings with the kids (e.g., movies). I had her take the car she drives for an oil change and she used it for that as well. We also allowed her to use it for her classes as she could then register online. I agree with the posters above. If I trust her to live in my house, care for my children and drive my car…why wouldn’t I trust her with my credit card? After all, she’s alone in our house frequently and wouldn’t need to look very hard to find my emergency cash or my jewelry if she really wanted to.

For our AP (and nannies for that matter), we made it clear in our manual that use was limited to these items. We asked that all receipts be put in an envelope in our AP binder which sits on the kitchen counter. I should add the caveat that we stay very on top of our credit card expenditures and download transactions weekly into Quicken. So we see the transactions well before we get the bill and would be able to spot an issue if it occurred. If it did, then we’d cancel the card and collect the money from her. But convenience for us (not to mention those extra Membership Miles) outweighs the remote possibility of abuse.

Ann from NE June 25, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Over three years of having an AP, we’ve never given her a host family debit/credit card, though that’s more through lack of organization than trust, I guess. (Each AP has had her own checking account with debit card that she can use for her personal online purchases.).
I guess the system we’ve evolved has been:

(1) We the host parents supply and pay for large expenses up front: food in house, gymnastics etc. classes she takes my daugher to, kid events that I can reserve over the phone (puppet show tickets).

(2) I ask the AP to pay for work-related incidentals out of her own pocket first, log the expenses in the daily diary (I used to ask for receipts but no longer do since I know how much things should cost), and I reimburse her the total by adding it to her weekly stipend check. It usually runs no more than $20 per week, often less if it’s a rainy/cold week. I find this makes her more budget conscious with spending “my” money. The expenses usually consist of public transportation expenses (we don’t require driving), the cost of children’s museum tickets for her and my daughter (kept low through library passes), once a week ice cream at a nice cafe for her and my daughter; any food we’re running low on in the house (rarely used); arts & crafts supplies we’re running low on (though I do try to keep those stocked up or take the AP with me to arts & crafts store occasionally on “house meeting” night so she can pick out what she’d like to work on with my daughter).

I do make it clear that I generally will not reimburse for food at restaurants out of the house since I expect her to pack a healthful lunch from home for both her and my daughter when on duty.

(3) I have acted as a “bank” for my current AP several times, lending her money so she could make a deposit on a 13th month AP trip or once when the online travel agency wouldn’t accept debit cards. I registered her on my own credit card in advance of her arrival in the fall so she could get into the university extension school course of her choice for the fall semester on time. Any loans I’ve deducted from her stipend over a gradual period of 4-8 weeks.

(4) I try to facilitate free forms of entertainment, both for her when she’s working with my daughter (books/videos from library/occasional use of computer for education) and by e-mailing her lists of free festivals to go to when off-duty.

(5) I encourage her to use our house phone for work-related calls so it goes on my tab though she has cellphone for personal/emergency use. I’ve never asked an AP to pay us back for any calls on house phone. When AP was just recently traveling to South America/Canada this spring, I lent her our calling card since I wasn’t sure if her U.S. cellphone would work there.

(6) If AP is going away on vacation I usually pay her stipend a 1-2 weeks in advance so she has more money to travel with.

cv June 26, 2009 at 8:38 am

Ann, those are lots of useful practices for helping an ap (and host family) manage money & expense. Thanks for sharing!

Calif Mom June 26, 2009 at 8:55 am

This sounds like another one of those issues where the maturity and personality of the specific au pair you have makes a big difference in where you come down on this issue. We never thought to get a card for APs, hasn’t seemed necessary or useful. I write checks for classes, and buy books cheap online on my card. The envelope with spending cash method has always worked well, with occasional small items made up for by AP on their card and then reimbursed. I absolutely believe this helps keep incidental spending (and spoiling) to a minimum, and is also fair.

I can imagine a situation where you trusted someone with your children and your car but not trusting them with fiduciary responsibility–the credit card companies and our culture have made it very easy for young people to get into trouble with credit cards. Doesn’t mean they are not trustworthy people in other realms or have other skills and talents, just that they don’t have experience or judgment with money. The brain doesn’t fully mature until about 25 or so, and for some folks, and it is those abstract, how-to-be-a-responsible-and-future-looking-adult skills that are the last to jell.

I love the idea above of bringing AP with me to the art supply store! Will add that to my quiver.

Miranda June 26, 2009 at 9:40 am

My boss gave me a debit card on day one of the job (I’m a nanny). I do the majority of the family’s grocery shopping, and sometimes get my boss’s dry cleaning done, etc. It is so much more convenient to have the card with me than to have to pay out of my own pocket beforehand. I have never abused the privilege or gotten cash back for myself. I leave receipts when I remember to but she never really asks for them, and I don’t think she looks at them even when I have left them for her. I agree with Anonymom and Busy Mom- if someone trusts me with their children, they should be able to trust me with money.

An au pair or nanny should never get in trouble with your credit or debit card no matter how easy the credit card companies have made it–it’s YOUR money, not their’s. I cannot imagine overspending on a credit card that didn’t even belong to me.

Daniela June 26, 2009 at 5:42 pm

My host family gave me a Chevron Credit Card, that’s connected to their account, right when I arrived. It is in case the car I’m using with the kids is running low on gas. So I usually fill the car up if there is only 1/4 tank left. Since I once cleaned the front window while getting gas, the kids want me to do their windows etc. too, so I always go to the gas station when they’re with me. It’s always fun :)
I’m keeping the receipts for the Chevron Card for about 1-2 weeks in my wallet, but my host parents never asked for them.
I buy gas with my own money, if I’m using the car private.
There were times, when I used the car private and when I got in the car it was almost on empty. So I filled it up with the Chevron Card, and when I brought the car back after using it, I filled the tank up again, but with my money. -> I exactly filled the amount of gas in that I used.

For ice cream/Chick-fil-A/parking at Children’s Museum and other activities, I pay with my money and collect the receipts. Every now and then (depending on the amount and when my hd or I remember it) I give it to my host dad and he transfers the money to my bank account.

Ellen June 26, 2009 at 10:01 pm

We have had 3 nannies and 1 aupair. All have had access to a visa card in their own name. We have been lucky as to the best of our knowledge, it has never been taken advantage of by anyone. It has a been used to pay for classes for our kids, for the au pair to get groceries or fill the car as needed. We review the bill monthly and ask questions if appropriate. We are preparing to welcome our next aupair and will be getting her a card in her name when she arrives.

Franziska June 27, 2009 at 12:30 am

My hostfamily gave me a credit card to one of their accounts. After having some troubles with the car, which they gave to me for a road trip with a friend of mine(4days SoCal), they decided to give me a credit card so that in an emergency I have money available. I also pay with the card when I fill up gas or get some groceries we need. I always brought back the receipts but I don’t think my hostparent ever looked at them. I’m still bringing back home the reseipts and just put them on the counter in the kitchen for them to see.
I also used the credit card to book something online but told my hostparents before I booked it and paid it back immediately!
My hostparents even tell me everytime I’m on a trip that if I don’t feel safe(I usually book cheap rooms with priceline or just in Motels) I should use the credit card to book a room in a better hotel :-D

cv June 27, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Hi All, Just reflecting a little on the credit card issue. … I wanted to clarify that at least for my family, we’ve never had enough incidental expenses to make a card necessary (or even convenient). It has *not* been an issue of not trusting our APs.
I think that your paradigm re: your host family-ap relationship matters here… if you have a bit of an employee vibe, then a credit card is another tool you manage. If you have a family member vibe, then trusting her with the potential to spend a lot of money is treating her like a trusted family member—same behavior, different reasoning.
I think that one real issue with a credit card is that, in the wrong hands, it can cause a lot of damage. A lot more damage than letting her buy some fancy shampoo when she goes to get groceries. A careless spender, a selfish spender, someone who thinks you are wealthy and have extra to share, or an au pair who thinks she is entitled can get pretty far into your credit limit before you notice it on your statements, and may split before ever paying you back.

It’s another place where one bad apple makes everyone else more wary.

Northern NJ Mom June 27, 2009 at 10:50 pm

We gave our AP a credit card as soon as she got her social security number. We placed a limit of $1,500 on the card but once she paid for a car repair that exceeded that limit and we ended up paying a $35 overage fee. I was disapointed to find out that the limit was not really enforced by the credit card company.
I fully trust my aupair and have not had any issue with her using the card. She uses it for regular grocery stores shoppings, Costco, dry cleaning, gas, baby store (like baby proofing the house items), car maintenance or anything else house or family related that we need.
The bill comes out to about $1,300 per month so I can not imagine asking her pay for these items with her own cash and then be reimbursed.
I do check her credit card purchases online every few days as I do with my own charges to make sure there is nothign fraudulant.
This system works well for me.

Anonymous June 29, 2009 at 12:44 pm

I am the OP of the topic. I DID trust her with my children and my money and was heartbroken when that trust was returned by stealing. Not just my money, but my video camera, some clothes with the tags still on, a cross from the baby’s christening, a watch bought for DD4 in Paris, the list goes on and on. We discovered most of these things pack in her suitcase to go back to Bosnia, so she was slowly stealing from us from near the beginning.

I worked MANY hours (I’m a surgical resident) and my husband lives in another state (Military) so she was alone in the house 90% of the time. This gave her lots of time to shop (the kids were in daycare 6 hours a day to augment the time). I thought she was a close friend. We took her to Disney and on a cruise at our expense – during which she lamented how I had “lost” the video camera (it was in her bedroom closet)

It was our mistake that we didn’t track her spending. I took a quick glance and saw that the purchases were at the grocery or the gas station and I never bothered to calculate the amount she was actually spending or I would have known immediately.

In the end when confronted, she blamed us for tempting her since she is from a poor family. Apparently much of what she stole was going to be presented to her family as gifts. The money she took, I’m sure she used for her personal expenses since she never touched the money from her pay. She left here with over $7000.

Darthastewart June 29, 2009 at 2:01 pm

We’ve mostly given our au-pairs a credit card to pay for gas for the car (I don’t want to get in and find it empty of gas!) It also pays for 1 visit to Mcd’s a week, and a few other things. It is a huge convenience for me. I DO check the expenditures online, vs receipts- and any time we’ve had an issue, has been symptomatic of larger issues and an au-pair that isn’t going to last.

Jennifer June 30, 2009 at 3:40 pm

I do not give our APs our credit cards unless I really need to and then I ask for a receipt. At first, I felt awkward asking for receipts because it felt like I was asking for proof that they didn’t steal, but I’m so over my self-imposed feelings of guilt. There is no reason, in my mind, that your AP needs your credit card unless she does something like the food shopping in which case you should have a rule that receipts must be provided immediately (don’t wait or they can forget and you will never know the better).

Franzi June 30, 2009 at 5:23 pm

as much as i understand the argument that if you don’t trust your AP with your credit card, how can you trust her with your children. truth is, an AP has everything provided for her and additional expenses can always be payed in cash. is it more convenient to get gas with a credit card? yes. is it not possible to use cash? no.
can you pay for groceries in cash? yes.

i believe it is important to keep a close eye on the use of the card. after all, a misuse can result in you having some serious problems. asking for receipts or how/for what she spent the money is not something you should feel bad about!

PA Mom July 2, 2009 at 9:03 am

Sad story but hopefully not common. I let my AP use my card for gas (we pay for all gas including social so long as it’s not “crazy” – which it has never been with 4 APs), for food, movie trips with the kids, if she runs to the store for me or to get “extras” for the frig. If I can trust her with the kids, then a card (which I can monitor) should not be a problem. I have found all my APs to be very respectful of the card (as it’s mine – there is no long running temptation as it’s not always in their wallet). AMEX does let you add another user (my husband for example) and I’ve considered giving a card on my account to my mother or the AP but never bothered. I thought it would make it too easy to have things purchased that I might have passed by. Thanks for raising the issue as it’s good to think all the sides through.

Jem November 8, 2009 at 1:02 am

We unfortunately gave our first AP a debit card. She used it for gas and groceries and we did not feel that she abused it. However, we ended up re-matching due to major problems with this au pair. In reflecting on our problems with this AP, we decided that we enabled her unthankful behavior by treating her as if she were our own child. She had her own car key and mostly her own car with gas fully paid by us. She could purchase groceries anytime on our debit card, no questions asked. Her appalling behavior of a spoiled child was ultimately a major problem. There was one day when she would have limited access to a car and she yelled at us, “You mean to tell me I am stuck at the house for the next 2 hours?” I do not need to recount the rest of the story, but this was shortly before her stay in our home came to an abrupt end.

We were therefore far more cautious with our new AP. Thanks to this wonderful website we learned a great deal and we wrote a family handbook with detailed information and rules.

We pay her with a weekly check. She is allowed to buy minimal groceries during the week totaling no more than 25$/week and gas as needed for work only. We reimburse her for receipts once per week when we write her check. We only pay for gas during work hours. She records her own personal mileage and pays us for her miles at the end of each month (currently about 15 cents/ mile) . She is completely responsible for keeping track of her own miles.

What a difference! we find that this new AP is so much more grateful to us even though we actually give her less in terms of money than our prior AP. We also chose not to give this AP her own car or car key. I think that if the AP has to make purchases with her own money and then get reimbursed for these, she is much more mindful of what she is buying. I think it is important that the AP not regard the HF as her real parents who “owe” her a debit card, credit card or a car. We would all like a responsible adult in our home and not another dependent or spoiled child. We have certainly learned our lesson. Our new AP is amazing !

CV November 8, 2009 at 10:53 am

I think you’re right about how we can set up our au pairs to be too dependent, even with such simple things like unlimited groceries. The toughest part for most of us is when the things we do for our au pairs (out of some form of generosity) encourage the au aprs to be ungrateful. A tough balance. I’m so glad that your new set up and new AP are working out better!!

NJnanny April 29, 2011 at 4:52 pm

I’ve had it both ways…

My last family had a card in the kitchen cupboard and I was basically told to use it for whatever the family needed anywhere the card would be accepted by me (it didn’t have my name on it, so some places wouldn’t take the card from me). For times where the card wasn’t an option, there was always more than enough cash. I never used the card inappropriately, though I used it often; I did everything for this family. I think it’s just a matter of honesty and character.

My current family is different. They put out cash for the weekly groceries, but it is almost never enough. When there is a deficit, I pay with my own money and they reimburse me at the end of the week. I never let my account get low enough for it to even come close to being an issue, but there have been times when I’ve had to lay out more than $50. There is no contingency cash in the house, so any extra thing has to be paid out of pocket. I guess it’s not a huge deal, but it’s annoying sometimes.

I found the situation with my first family more convenient and, consequently, preferable.

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