How the Child and Dependent Care Credit Can Save You Money

Quick Answer

The child and dependent care credit offers a bit of tax relief to working people with children or other dependents needing care. The child and dependent care credit offers a nonrefundable tax credit of up to $2,100 if you paid for care so you could work or look for a job.

Happy mother using laptop and working on taxes while her daughter is embracing her at home.

If you're paying for child care while you work or look for work, you may be able to claim a tax credit to offset some of those expenses.

The child and dependent care credit allows workers to claim work-related care expenses for qualifying dependents on their taxes. If your care expenses qualify, your credit may amount to up to $1,050 for one individual and up to $2,100 for two or more individuals for the 2022 tax year.

That's a decent tax benefit. Read on to learn what boxes you'll need to check to qualify, plus how to calculate how much credit you can claim.

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What Is the Child and Dependent Care Credit?

The child and dependent care credit is a tax credit designed for working people who pay care expenses for children or other dependents while working or actively seeking work. People who care for children, a disabled dependent or a disabled spouse may be able to claim it. This credit differs from the child tax credit, which is designed to benefit all parents and guardians of children.

The child and dependent care credit provides relief for workers who must pay someone to care for their dependent while they're working or looking for work. The credit compensates you for a percentage of what you spend on work-related dependent care, and the rate you're eligible for is based on your income. Unlike a deduction, which reduces your taxable income, a credit directly reduces your tax bill, dollar-for-dollar.

If you're eligible for a $2,100 tax credit, for example, your tax bill is cut by $2,100. On the other hand, a $2,100 deduction would only save you $462 if you're in the 22% income tax bracket.

The child and dependent care credit was temporarily expanded in 2021 to provide relief to working families during the COVID-19 pandemic, but these expanded credits have since expired. The credit is now non-refundable as well: If your credit is greater than the amount of tax you owe, you can no longer receive the excess credit as a refund.

How to Determine if You're Eligible for the Credit

You may be able to receive a credit for up to 35% of eligible work-related care expenses. The maximum amount of work-related care expenses you can take into account when figuring your dependent care credit is $3,000 for one qualifying person or $6,000 for two or more qualifying persons. This means that the maximum you can possibly claim from the credit is $1,050 for one person (35% of $3,000) or $2,100 for two or more (35% of $6,000).

Eligibility Criteria

To help you determine if you qualify, the IRS lists the following eligibility tests in Publication 503:

  • Qualifying person test: To qualify you for the credit, the care must have been provided to a dependent under age 13 or a spouse or other dependent who is physically or mentally unable to care for themselves.
  • Earned income test: You need to have earned income during the year to qualify. If you're married and filing jointly, your spouse must also have earned income.
  • Work-related expense test: You must have paid for care specifically so you could work or actively look for work. For example, paying for after-school care or day camp in the summer might qualify as a work-related expense, but paying for private kindergarten or overnight camp would not.
  • Restrictions on care provider: The IRS reimburses care provided in or outside your home, but there are restrictions on who can provide the care. The only payments that count are those made to providers who aren't your dependent, spouse or the child's parent. That means you can't pay your 16-year-old to babysit and then claim the expense.
  • Joint return test: How you file your taxes determines your eligibility. If you're married you must file jointly to qualify, although there are exceptions for spouses who are legally separated.
  • Provider identification test: You'll need to provide taxpayer identification information for your care provider, which may be a Social Security number or Employer Identification Number.
  • Dollar limit: As mentioned above, the maximum dependent care amounts considered are $3,000 for one eligible dependent or $6,000 for two or more. Since the credit offsets up to 35% of your eligible expenses, the maximum total credit is $1,050 for one qualifying person or $2,100 for two or more.

How Much Can You Claim?

The credit is for 20% to 35% of your eligible care expenses of up to $3,000 for a single dependent and $6,000 for two or more dependents. The percentage you can claim is based on your adjusted gross income, as shown in this table:

Child and Dependent Care Credit Claim Limits by Income, 2022 Tax Year
Adjusted Gross Income Percentage You Can Claim
$0 - $15,000 35%
$15,001 - $17,000 34%
$17,001 - $19,000 33%
$19,001 - $21,000 32%
$21,001 - $23,000 31%
$23,001 - $25,000 30%
$25,001 - $27,000 29%
$27,001 - $29,000 28%
$29,001 - $31,000 27%
$31,001 - $33,000 26%
$33,001 - $35,000 25%
$35,001 - $37,000 24%
$37,001 - $39,000 23%
$39,001 - $41,000 22%
$41,001 - $43,000 21%
$43,001 and up 20%

Source: IRS

If you have $3,000 in qualifying care for a single dependent, your credit would be between $600 (20% of $3,000) and $1,050 (35% of $3,000). Taxpayers who receive dependent care benefits that are excluded or deducted from income must subtract that amount from their dollar limit. Say you have one dependent child and you used your flexible spending account to pay for $1,000 in child care. Your dollar limit, or maximum allowable expense, would be reduced from $3,000 to $2,000.

How to Claim the Child and Dependent Care Credit

Claiming the child and dependent care credit is straightforward. You'll need to complete Form 2441, Child and Dependent Care Expenses, and include it when you file your federal income taxes. The form helps determine your eligibility and credit amount.

To complete the form, you'll need to provide details such as your care provider's tax ID, your dependent's Social Security number, your income and the sum of your eligible care expenses. The form includes a worksheet to help you calculate this figure.

Save Your Receipts and Consider Your Options

Not sure if you qualify for the child and dependent care credit? When in doubt, reach out to a tax professional like a certified public accountant to help you crunch the numbers and determine your eligibility.

Also speak to your company's human resources department to determine whether your employer provides a dependent care flexible spending account. These accounts allow you to use your pretax earnings on qualified care costs, which is another way to save on dependent care.