With school out for the summer, parents are looking for activities for their children. The possibilities include sending a child to day camp or overnight camp. Parents may wonder whether these costs are deductible. At least two possible tax breaks come to mind: the dependent care credit, and the deduction for medical expenses. The most likely tax benefit is the child (or dependent) care credit.
Dependent care credit. To qualify for the dependent care credit, expenses must be employment-related. They must enable the parent to work or to look for employment. The IRS has indicated that the costs of sending a child to overnight camp are not employment-related. However, the costs of sending a child to day camp are treated like day-care costs and will qualify as employment-related expenses (even if the camp features educational activities). At the same time, the costs of sending a child to summer school or to a tutor are not employment-related and cannot be deducted.
In some situations, the IRS requires that expenses be allocated between child care and other, nonqualified services. However, the full cost of day camp generally qualifies for the dependent care credit, without an allocation being required. If the parent works part-time, camp costs may only be claimed for the days worked. However, if the camp requires that the child be enrolled for the entire week, then the full cost is qualified.
Example. Tom works Monday through Wednesday and sends his child to day camp for the entire week. The camp charges $50 per day and children do not have to enroll for an entire week. Tom can only claim $150 in expenses. However, if the camp requires that the child be enrolled for the entire week, Tom can claim $250 in expenses.
Dependent care costs also may be reimbursed by a flexible spending account (FSAs) under an employer-sponsored arrangement. FSAs allow pre-tax dollars to fund the account up to specified maximum. Each FSA may limit what it covers so check with your employer before assuming the day camp or similar child care is on its list of reimbursable expenses.
Medical expenses. The cost of camp generally is not deductible as a medical expense. The cost of providing general care to a healthy child is a nondeductible personal expense.
Example. The child’s mother works; the child’s father is ill and cannot take care of the child. The cost of sending the child to summer camp is not deductible as a medical expense; however, the costs may still qualify for the dependent care credit.
However, camps specifically run for handicapped children and operated to assist the child may come under the umbrella of medical expenses. The degree of assistance is usually determinative in these situations.
Dependency exemption. In any case, the cost of sending a child to camp can be treated as support, for claiming a dependency exemption. For a parent to claim a dependency exemption, the child cannot provide more than half of its own support. The parent must provide some support but does not necessarily have to provide over half of the child’s support. If the child is treated as a qualifying relative (because he or she is too old to be a qualifying child), the parent must still provide over half of the child’s support.