Can I Claim Private Pre-K as a Tax Deduction?

Having a child is expensive, and most of the costs are not tax deductible. Paying for pre-K can qualify for a tax break, but paying for private kindergarten or a private elementary school never does. If you qualify, you get your tax break not as a deduction, but rather as a child-care tax credit.

Qualifying

Putting your child in pre-K to get a head start on his education doesn't entitle you to the credit. You can only claim the credit if you need your child to be in the pre-K program so that you can work or look for work. If you're married and filing a joint return, you and your spouse must both be working or job-hunting to claim the child-care credit.

Work

You can take the credit whether you're self-employed or an employee, and whether you work full- or part-time. Volunteering doesn't cut it, though. If you only work part of the year, you can only claim the credit for the period you work, unless you're actively job-hunting the rest of the time. If you have a temporary absence -- you're out sick for a couple of weeks, say -- you can still take the credit for that period. For longer periods, it depends on the circumstances.

The Credit

If you have one child, you can claim the credit for up to 35 percent of the first $3,000 in your child-care costs, or $1,050. With two or more kids, you can claim the credit for up to 35 percent of the first $6,000 you paid, or $2,100. The higher your adjusted gross income, the smaller percentage of expenses you can deduct, but you always to claim a credit of at least 20 percent of the first $3,000 you paid, or $600.

Considerations

To claim the credit, you fill out Form 2441 and attach it to your Form 1040. Use 2441 to give the IRS the name, address and employer identification number for the pre-K provider. Do the same for any other child-care providers you're claiming expenses for. Report the total credit on your 1040. No matter how big a credit you get, you can't get a refund. If the credit is more than your tax bill, it can't lower your bill to more than zero.

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Author of two film reference books, "Cyborgs, Santa Claus and Satan" and "The Wizard of Oz Catalog." Published in Air & Space, Backpacker, Newsweek, The Writer, and multiple trade journals (can fax samples if requested, don't have them available digitally)

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