8 money-saving tax tips for parents

Father and son
Father and son

No one ever said raising kids would be a cost-effective undertaking. But, after your initial "investment" in diapers, baby food and all the other necessary bells and whistles, the financial perks of having children come at tax time. Tax credits and deductions for parenting expenses can result in a lower tax bill and a higher refund.

1. Dependent exemption

For tax years prior to 2018, your child was likely your dependent and eligible for the dependent exemption. An exemption, much like a deduction, reduces your taxable income, which can lower your tax obligation.

Children qualifying for the dependent exemption in past tax years had to be under 19 years of age at the end of the year to qualify (under 24 for students). If the qualifying child was permanently disabled, the age restriction did not apply.

Beginning in 2018, the dependent exemption has been replace with dependent credits such as the increased child tax credit - see below.

You can file a new W-4 form with your employer to claim additional withholding allowances. Since claiming an extra dependent likely will cut your tax bill, it also means you should be able to cut back on tax withholding from your paycheck.

2. Child tax credit

A tax credit directly lowers your tax bill dollar-for-dollar. For example, a child tax credit of $2,000 in 2019 could lower your tax obligation by thousands of dollars if you have several children. But not every child qualifies. Your child must be:

  • Under age 17 at the end of the year

  • Your own child, stepchild, foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, half sister, or a descendant of any of them (for example, your grandchild, niece, or nephew)

  • Claimed as a dependent on your taxes

  • A U.S. citizen, national or resident alien

  • Living with you more than half of the year

Moderate-income households can benefit from the child tax credit. Javier and his wife Sara used the credit after they took in teenage nephews at their Modesto, CA home.

"Every penny counts ... We all look forward to getting something back at the end of the year, or at least, breaking even. I think that it's very beneficial to all families who have children," says Javier of the tax break.

Many parents work hard to make ends meet, so it's important to have some help like the child tax credit, he adds.

3. Child and dependent care credit

You may qualify for a child and dependent care tax credit if:

  • You had child care expenses for children who were under 13 at the end of the year.

  • The child care allowed you either to work or to look for a job.

  • You (and your spouse, if married) earned income during the tax year.

4. Earned income tax credit

Working parents with modest incomes may qualify for the earned income credit (EIC). The amount of credit depends on the number of children you have and your income for the tax year, since income limits apply. The EIC can reduce your tax bill and may result in a refund if it lowers your tax obligation to zero.

5. Adoption tax credit

The adoption tax credit can offset the costs of adopting a child. Income limits apply, and you can only claim a certain dollar amount per adoptive child. Some of the expenses that may qualify for this credit include:

  • Court and attorney fees

  • Related travel expenses

  • Related meal expenses

Adopting a child with special needs can allow you to claim the entire adoption credit, even if it exceeds your actual expenses. However, it is nonrefundable, so it can't exceed the amount of your actual tax liability.

6. Higher education tax credits

Parents can claim two credits for higher education:

The AOTC can be used for up to four years. The Lifetime Learning Credit has no limit as long as your child higher education course.

Qualified expenses include:

  • Tuition

  • Enrollment fees

  • School materials

Personal living expenses, such as room and board and transportation, don't qualify. Income limits apply, and you can receive a refund of a portion of the AOTC, even if it results in zero tax obligations.

7. Student loan interest deduction

Parents can deduct interest payments on certain student loans. The deduction can reduce the amount of taxable income, and possibly lower your tax bill. For example, you can reduce your taxable income up to $2,500.

Student loans must come from a qualified lending institution—not a relative—and your child had to be enrolled at least half-time in a degree program when the loans were originated. Income limits apply based on filing status.

8. Self-employed health insurance

Self-employed parents often must pay for their own and their family's health insurance. If you're self-employed, generally you can deduct 100% of the cost of health insurance premiums paid for children under the age of 27.

This includes medical, dental and long-term care premiums, even if your adult child isn't a dependent. The deductions can't exceed the amount your business earns and you can only take the deduction if you and your spouse are ineligible for an employer-paid plan.

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