Don’t overlook child-related deductions and credits
Parents incur a variety of expenses associated with children. As a general rule, personal expenditures are not deductible. However, there are several deductions and credits that help defray some of the costs associated with raising children, including some costs related to education. Some of the most common deductions and credits related to minors are the dependency exemption, the child tax credit, and the dependent care credit. Also not to be overlooked are tax-sheltered savings plans used for education, such as the Coverdell Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).
Dependency exemption. The dependency exemption is a type of deduction that is available for children and other qualifying dependents, subject to phase out if the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI) exceeds prescribed threshold amounts. The amount of the personal exemption, adjusted for inflation, is $4,050 for tax years beginning in 2016 and 2017. The dependency exemption is available for each qualifying child under the age of 19 (under the age of 24 if a full-time student) and with no age restriction for a qualifying individual who is permanently and totally disabled. For 2017, the personal exemption begins to phase out for joint filers starting at $313,800 AGI and completely phasing out at $436,300 AGI ($261,500 and $384,000, respectively for single filers).
Child credit. The child tax credit is available for parents of qualifying children under the age of 17. The credit amount is $1,000 per qualifying child, but once again is subject to phase out if the taxpayer’s AGI exceeds prescribed threshold amounts. The phaseout of the child tax credit starts at $110,000 of modified AGI (for unmarried taxpayers, it starts at $75,000). These thresholds are not adjusted for inflation.
Dependent care credit. The dependent care credit may be available to working parents for qualifying children under the age of 13, or for dependents who are physically or mentally incapable of self care. This credit is available not only for direct employment-related expenses that take place at home, but also child-care expenses for tuition paid for pre-K programs, as well as fees paid for after-school activities that double as child care. The dependent care credit is a percentage of eligible work-related expenses. The percentage goes down as adjusted gross income (AGI) goes up. The maximum amount of eligible expenses is $3,000 for taxpayers with one qualifying individual, and $6,000 for taxpayers with two or more qualifying individuals.
The amount of the credit is further determined by multiplying work-related expenses by the “applicable percentage,” which is 35 percent reduced by one percentage point for each $2,000 by which AGI for the tax year exceeds $15,000. However, the applicable percentage cannot go below 20 percent (for those with AGI over $43,000). Thus, the maximum dependent care credit amount overall is $1,050 for one qualifying dependent and $2,100 for two or more qualifying dependents. For those with income above $43,000, the maximum credit for $3,000 of qualifying expenses is $600. Finally, the amount of the employment-related expenses taken into account in calculating the credit may not exceed the lesser of the taxpayer’s earned income or the earned income of his spouse if the taxpayer is married at the end of the tax year.
Coverdell education savings accounts. Two education savings entities let individuals pay for education on a tax-favored basis: a Coverdell Education Savings Account (Coverdell ESA or ESA) and a qualified tuition program (QTP, also referred to as a Code Sec. 529 plan). In contrast to Sec. 529 plans, which can only be used to cover college expenses, ESAs can cover expenses from kindergarten through college.
Individuals may open a Coverdell ESA to help pay for the qualified education expenses of a designated beneficiary. Contributions to a Coverdell ESA must be made in cash and are not deductible. In addition, the maximum annual contribution that can be made is limited to $2,000 a year. The annual contribution is phased out for joint filers with modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) at or above $190,000 and less than $220,000 (at or above $95,000 and less than $110,000 for single filers).
Distributions from Coverdell ESAs are not included in the income of the donor or the beneficiary, as long as payouts do not exceed the beneficiary’s adjusted qualified education expenses. For purposes of excludable distributions from an ESA, qualified elementary and secondary school expenses (kindergarten through grade 12), include the following costs:
- expenses for tuition, fees, academic tutoring, services for beneficiaries with special needs, books, supplies, and other equipment that are incurred in connection with the designated beneficiary’s enrollment or attendance at a public, private or religious school;
- expenses for room and board, uniforms, transportation, and supplementary items and services (including extended day programs) that are required or provided by the school in connection with enrollment or attendance; and
- expenses for the purchase of computer technology or equipment or internet access and related services that will be used by the beneficiary and the beneficiary’s family during any of the years the beneficiary is in school. This category does not include software designed for sports, games or hobbies unless it is predominantly educational in nature.
Medical expense deduction. For parents who itemize deductions, medical and dental costs paid for their children may be deductible.
If you have any questions regarding tax breaks associated with child care or education expenses, please contact our office.