Thank heavens for little credits
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WASHINGTON The unbridled joy of children extends into to the federal tax code, where parents can qualify for breaks for education expenses and student loans, adoption costs and even simply having a child.
The rules can be tricky, however, and complex family relationships like divorce can raise a whole set of complications.
For instance, the $500 credit applies to every child who was age 17 or under at the end of calendar year 2000. But that amount begins to phase out for married people filing jointly with more than $110,000 in adjusted gross income and above $75,000 for single filers, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
Similarly, each child claimed as a dependent brings a $2,800 exemption. But there are special rules for divorcees, which generally give the exemption to the parent with custody most of the year.
A person can't be claimed as a dependent if his or her income is above $2,800, unless the individual is 19 or younger at the end of the tax year. Students must have full-time status for at least five months and be under 24 at year's end.
Even if these tests are met, high-income taxpayers can lose some of the dependent tax benefits if their incomes exceed $193,400 for a married couple filing jointly, $128,950 for singles.
Other tax benefits for children:
- A credit up to $5,000 can be claimed for the costs of adopting a child; $6,000 for adopting a special-needs child. Examples of these expenses, according to the IRS, are court costs, adoption fees, travel expenses and attorney fees. These credits are phased out above certain income levels and there are timing rules. IRS Publication 968 spells it all out.
- There is a new definition for foster children to qualify for either the $500 child tax credit or the earned income tax credit. The child must now be the taxpayer's sibling, stepsibling or a descendant of one of these, or have been placed with the taxpayer by an authorized agency.
- Up to $2,000 of student loan interest can be deducted up from $1,500 in 1999. But the deduction isn't available for taxpayers with incomes above $75,000 for married couples filing jointly and above $55,000 for singles.
- For lower-income families, the number of children determines whether they can claim between $2,353 and $3,888 under the earned income tax credit. This credit is refundable, meaning taxpayers can claim it even if they paid no income tax during the year. Publication 596 details this credit, which can be complicated.
- The Hope Scholarship credit worth up to $1,500 can be claimed for college tuition and fees, but not room and board, for the first two years. The Lifetime Learning credit of up to $1,000 can also be used for college costs, but not for a student also claiming the Hope credit. Income limits apply; use Form 8863 to claim them.
- A tax credit of up to 30 percent of expenses is available for child and dependent care expenses necessary for parents who work or are looking for work. The child must be under age 13 at the end of the tax year. IRS Publication 503 has the details.
For people who hire someone to care for children in the home, Publication 926 goes over an employer's tax responsibilities.