Can you pay someone's debts anonymously?

I was fantasizing about what I’d do if I won the lottery* earlier. It went through the usual - the practical (college fund for the kids), the extravagant (my own island in the south pacific), the silly (definitely replacing all of my socks). Since this is a fantasy and I like to fantasize about being a good person, I thought about giving away some to my friends. But then the practical side of me took over, and realized I don’t want to be the giving tree for people that used to be my friends before I turned into their own personal money printing machine. In fact, I’d probably like to keep the fact that I won the lotto a secret so it doesn’t mess up my friendships.

Then I got the idea that most of my friends are at the stage in life where they’ve bought the house that they plan on raising their family in. And a mortgage (well, housing in general) is most people’s largest monthly expense. Hey, maybe I could just anonymously pay off everyone’s mortgage! Give back to my friends without them knowing who and all that. (Or possibly see which of my coworkers quit immediately when their monthly expenses are cut in half. Today was a day that I think would have gotten half of us).

Then I wondered if that was actually possible. I mean, I could look up the exact description of their house on the county property tax website. I figure a title search will let me know what lending institution actually holds the note, because you can’t sell a house without paying off the mortgage first. But at that point, is there any lender in the world, upon being presented with someone saying “hello, I’d like to pay off the mortgage on 123 Main St, and I’d like to do it anonymously”, would make it happen?

Anticipating the first response, let’s say you’re willing to prove who you are to the lender and prove that you didn’t come by the money illegally or that you aren’t fulfilling a mob contract or something. Could hypothetically rich me pay off someone’s mortgage without them finding out who did it?
*step one: ignore the horrific odds and start playing.

If you had the account number, you could make a payment. And if it were a credit card, you could probably pay it off, but you’d need a good idea about the balance. For a mortgage, you probably couldn’t completely pay it off and close the account without being the named owner and at least speaking to customer service. You could probably estimate the remaining mortgage if you knew the buying price and assumed they paid near the default payment, and therefore pay off a good chunk.

I would also send an anonymous note, or you’re going to make them freak out and have to make a confusing call to CS.

Also, in most places winning the big jackpot is not anonymous.

If I were in those shoes I would contact a lawyer. I understand that people use lawyers as middlemen to make anonymous donations. Perhaps one of our resident legal eagles could chime in.


To thelurkinghorror: most places but not all. I live in one of the states where you can claim anonymously.If I were king of the world it would be everywhere. It’s none of my or anyone else’s business who won the lottery.

In today’s paranoid world where any big movements of funds are viewed as suspicious, it might be difficult. The banks are forced into paranoia by the jack-booted IRS and DEA, etc., breathing down their necks all the time.


If you walk into a bank offering to deposit money to clear indebtedness to the bank, the bank’s inclination will be to accept. They don’t greatly care whether it’s your indebtedness or someone else’s; why would they? If you’re depositing cash, you can do so anonymously or pseudonymously, subject to compliance with any cash-transaction-reporting requirements that may apply in your jurisdiction. If there are reporting requirements, you may be able to avoid disclosing your identity by using an intermediary so that you are not directly involved.

That’s not to say that the Feds couldn’t come and ask the intermediary who he is acting for, and compel him to answer. But the beneficiary of your largesse will be unable to find out who you are, which may be all the anonymity you want or need.

While this is well-intended, I think it would really creep out the recipients of your good deed. I know if I had a $300,000 mortgage and some “anonymous stranger” just paid off such a massive sum on my behalf, I’d be freaked out. It would seem like I had become the target of someone’s extreme stalking.

Seems to me that you wouldn’t remain anonymous for very long. Presumably you’re doing this for friends & family, who presumably know that you recently won the lottery, and some of them may even remember the time you posted on the SDMB about that you’d do if you won the lottery. :stuck_out_tongue:

You could buy the mortgages and then drop their payments to zero.

It isn’t impossible but your are going to need a lawyer and a CPA to help you work through every single transaction that large. You can’t just transfer money to another person in any form in large amounts. The current limit is $14,000 per year per person as part of the gift tax rules.

You can give money in larger amounts but strict rules apply and you will be the one paying taxes on it on top of anything you give the beneficiary. Don’t even start to think you can transfer large amounts of money in smaller increments to another person. That is a felony known as structuring (typically keeping banking transactions under $10,000 on purpose in an attempt to avoid bank reporting requirements) and people have been prosecuted for it even though they had no other evidence of criminal activity.

Some banks don’t even accept deposits from anyone but the account holder because of money laundering concerns. You could probably pull off this scheme through some mechanisms like setting up a trust to keep it mostly anonymous but it would take time and effort. It is unlikely you could just do it directly and, you could end up in a world of hurt with the IRS even if you succeeded and didn’t follow every single one of their rules.

You are transferring large amounts of money to another person and that generally is not free except for the gift tax exclusion cited above.

But you couldn’t do that anonymously. The mortgagor can always find out who the mortgage has been assigned to.

For payment on large items that involve debt accounts it would be almost impossible to remain anonymous if you want to inject a big chunk of cash into someone’s account. The IRS tracks large payments and the various local police and national security agencies would also probably be interested in big chunks of cash moving around.

I had to take almost $ 5000 in 100’s on a lease payment and sec deposit for ratifying a lease on an ethnic grocery store a few weeks ago and it was a HUGE PITA to count, verify and worry about transporting vs handling a check. I could not get it out of my hands fast enough.

It would still be anonymous, as the general public would have no access to the information reported to the jackboots.

If you know an account number, you can deposit to that account, generally with no questions asked. Unless it exceeds the statutory $10K, in which case the institution needs only to file a report to the federal government, which nobody will even glance at, unless it matches an ongoing pattern and waves a red flag.

When I’m traveling overseas, I have other people make payments for me on accounts, no problem.

The beneficiary, though, would be entitled to see any relevant documentation associated with the payment, just as if he had made the payment himself.

I would have thought that the way to go would be to set up a charity, or possibly to find a defunct existing one and take it over. You could then donate your $millions to the charity and the charity could come up with something like “Aid for struggling homeowners.”

I do have a problem with your idea though as it is not fair on your older, or more frugal, friends, who may already have paid down their mortgage, compared with those who pay the minimum and have the expensive holidays.

Dumb idea. The reason the winners are made public is to prevent fraud and game rigging.

Lottery winners in the EU can elect to remain anonymous, and many do. Of course, lottery winnings here are tax free to the winners - the lottery company pays any tax up front.

I tried to pay of my sisters mortgage (~$25,000) a few years ago and I couldn’t do it. She lives is a small town (about 60,000 people) and we have the same last name. I didn’t have the account number. But I had a check, I had a suit on (for what it’s worth) more ID than you could shake a stick at, but they just won’t let me do it. I don’t think they would have even if I had their account number.

Regarding the gift tax:

There is no limit on how much you can give someone. The $14k amount is merely the max. you can give where you (the giver) have to report it. Depending on your lifetime gifts, you may not end up paying any tax at all. The recipient has no tax obligation.

Note the recipient has no access to your tax return so that you are reporting it to the IRS doesn’t give away your identity to them.

Regarding mortgage payoff:

No doubt the owner can find out from the bank info on the large check it received. The bank, account #, etc. If you go thru shell corporations, esp. via an offshore bank, you might be able to hide your real identity.

I urge you to make this dream happen! When my now wife and I were dating, I hated matching socks because each sock had just one identical mate but might have a dozen subtly different near-matches and there was always some chance two matching socks didn’t get washed in the same load. As a surprise birthday present early in our relationship, my wife replaced every sock in my drawer. I had two varieties of white (high and low), and about five pairs each of black, gray, blue, and brown. That covered the entire gamut and matching socks took about two minutes. Best hundred bucks or so she ever spent.

Isn’t that the trick though? Even if it’s set up as a charity or whatever, it’s not like the account number for a mortgage is public knowledge, and I have a hard time thinking the bank is going to share if some random joe off the street comes in and asks for the account number to the mortgage on a particular address.