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FAQ: What tax breaks come with raising a child?


Andrew Presti

Taxpayers with children should be aware of the numerous tax breaks for which they may qualify. Among them are: the dependency exemption, child tax credit, child care credit, and adoption credit. As they get older, education tax credits for higher education may be available; as is a new tax code requirement for employer-sponsored health care to cover young adults up to age 26. Employers of parents with young children may also qualify for the child care assistance credit.

Dependency Exemption

In addition to the personal exemption an individual taxpayer may take for him or herself to reduce taxable income (Line 42 on Form 1040), that taxpayer may also take an exemption for each qualifying dependent who has lived with the taxpayer for more than half of the tax year. A dependent may be a natural child, step-child, step-sibling, half-sibling, adopted child, eligible foster child, or grandchild, and generally must be under age 19, a full-time student under age 24, or have special needs. The amount of the exemption is the same as the taxpayer’s personal exemption, $3,700 for the 2011 tax year and $3,800 for the 2012 tax year.

Child Tax Credit

Parents of children who are under age 17 at the end of the tax year may qualify for a refundable $1,000 tax credit. The credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction of tax liability, and may be listed on Line 51 of Form 1040. For every $1,000 of adjusted gross income above the threshold limit ($110,000 for married joint filers; $75,000 for single filers), the amount of the credit decreases by $50.

Child and Dependent Care Credit

If a taxpayer must pay for childcare for a child under age 13 in order to pursue or maintain gainful employment, he or she may claim up to $3,000 of his or her eligible expenses for dependent care. If one parent stays home full-time, however, no child care costs are eligible for the credit.

Adoption Credit

Taxpayers who have incurred qualified adoption expenses in 2011 may claim either a $13,360 credit against tax owed or a $13,360 income exclusion if the taxpayer has received payments or reimbursements from his or her employer for adoption expenses. For 2012, the amount of the credit will decrease to $12,650, and in 2013 to $5,000.

Higher Education Credits

There are two education-related credits available for 2012: the American Opportunity credit and the lifetime learning credit. The American Opportunity credit amount is the sum of 100 percent of the first $2,000 of qualified tuition and related expenses plus 25 percent of the next $2,000 of qualified tuition and related expenses, for a total maximum credit of $2,500 per eligible student per year. The credit is available for the first four years of a student’s post-secondary education. The credit amount phases out ratably for taxpayers with modified AGI between $80,000 and $90,000 ($160,000 and $180,000 for joint filers). The lifetime learning credit is equal to 20 percent of the amount of qualified tuition expenses paid on the first $10,000 of tuition per family. The phaseout for 2012 ranges from $52,000 to $62,000 ($104,000 to $124,000 for joint filers). Parents also find tax relief in saving for college though Coverdell accounts, section 529 plans and specified U.S.. savings bonds.

Extended Health Care Coverage

Effective since September 23, 2010, the new health care law requires plans to provide coverage for children until they attain age 26. Further, effective on or after March 30, 2010, children under the age of 27 are considered dependents of a taxpayer for purposes of the general exclusion from income for reimbursements for medical care expenses of an employee, spouse, and dependents under an employer-provided accident or health plan. Therefore, a plan must provide coverage to a child who is still a dependent up to age 26; but can do so up to age 27 without income tax consequences. A child includes a son, daughter, stepson, or stepdaughter of the taxpayer; a foster child placed with the taxpayer by an authorized placement agency or by judgment, decree, or other order of any court of competent jurisdiction; and a legally adopted child of the taxpayer or a child who has been lawfully placed with the taxpayer for legal adoption.

Child Care Assistance Credit (for businesses)

Employers may take up to $150,000 of the eligible costs of providing employees with child care assistance as tax credit. These costs may include a portion of the costs of acquiring, constructing, improving, and operating a child care facility.

If you have any questions about these provisions and how they may benefit you, please contact our office.