If you’re planning to have children any time soon, you may be wondering what you’ll be faced with financially in terms of child care. Unfortunately, a number of recent studies have revealed that the news is not all good. While childcare costs are indeed on the rise, the amount of money you’ll need to set aside also depends on various factors, such as which state you live in and how often you work. Here we’ll delve into how much childcare costs around the country and explore a tax perk that may be able to help you out.
The staggering cost of childcare
Recently the New York Times decided to look into why young Americans are tending to have fewer children these days. While some cited that they wanted more leisure time or struggled with a work/family balance, the number one reason given by those surveyed was worry over childcare costs. Another study by Fortune revealed that in over half of the states in the U.S., the cost of childcare is even more than the cost of college tuition.
So how much does it cost exactly? Though in a perfect world childcare wouldn’t account for more than 10% of a family’s income, many studies are turning up substantially higher numbers. The average monthly cost of childcare across the United States is somewhere between $9,000 and $9,600. This breaks down to somewhere in the area of $200 per week.
Depending on which state you live in, however, the average may be far higher or lower. The costs also depend on the age of your child or children. As a general rule, the younger your kids are, the higher their daycare costs per week and general care costs overall.
At the higher end of the childcare cost spectrum are states such as Massachusetts. Working parents in the state pay an average of $20,415 per year on center-based child care for an infant, $18,845 for a toddler, and $14,736 for a 4-year-old. While those in states such as New York and the District of Columbia also pay thousands more than the national average, Southern states tend to be much cheaper when it comes to childcare costs. The lowest numbers come from Mississipi, where the annual cost for center-based infant care comes to only $5,307. Arkansas, Alabama, and Kentucky likewise tend to have lower childcare costs annually, making the South among the cheapest places to be a working parent.
Child care tax breaks
Considering that 70% of women with children under the age of 18 are active members of the workforce, what are parents supposed to do? Luckily, there is a tax break that may be able to help. The next time you file, make sure you look into the child and dependent care credit. The credit is offered to qualifying parents who are forced to pay for childcare so that they can work or go to school.
The credit covers kids until they turn 13 and can cover 20-35% of child care expenses, depending on your family’s income. If you’ve got one child, you can claim the credit for up to $3,000 in expenses, and if you have two or more, the limit jumps to $6,000. If your child is over the age of 13 and cannot care for themselves, you may still be eligible to receive the credit, as it even applies to adult dependents in the same situation.
The tax credit is fortunately pretty flexible as far as what qualifies as child care. It can range from nursery or preschool to before/after school care that your child attends while you’re at work. Paying for a nanny will also qualify you for the credit, as will hiring a family member as long as it’s someone other than one of the child’s parents or another one of your children who are under the age of 19. Your child or children also have to live with you for at least half a year in order to claim the credit on that year’s taxes.
Luckily, there are also several other options for parents struggling to cover the costs of raising children while they work. Be sure to check in with HR at work to see if your employer offers a dependent care FSA. If so, you’ll be able to open an account to fuel with pre-tax dollars which can then be used to pay for childcare costs. You can generally have up to $5,000 deposited to an FSA per year, but just be sure that you don’t put in more than you’ll use, as the money will be forfeited if you don’t use it by the end of the year. Just beware that you can’t claim any money you use from your FSA account towards the child care credit.
Other options may include joining the 43% of employees who now work remotely. Sites such as Flexjobs.com can be a great resource when attempting to get a job you can work from home. Also be sure to check into non-profit organizations such as churches, the YMCA, Jewish Community centers, etc. Many such organizations offer low-cost or even free childcare if you’re willing to do the research to find them. Some states are now also offering free pre-K schooling to kids ages 4-5, so checking into what kinds of services are currently available in your area may pay off as well.
Last, but certainly not least, never underestimate the power of calling upon friends and family. Finding a family member or friend who can take your kids even a few days a week can go a long way as far as cutting down on overall costs. Even if you aren’t able to find someone who is in the position to babysit your kids, you may be able to find one that knows a teen who’s up for taking on the job for much cheaper than the average daycare center.