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Tax gift for Father's Day: help paying for child care

The annual arrival of Father's Day emphasizes just how much being a dad has changed. When I was a kid, a father's main role was being the breadwinner. And dads back then weren't all that emotional, or at least mine wasn't.

But that was OK. I didn't need dad around all the time telling me he loved me. My brother and I both knew it and we cherished the time we spent with Dad, either on our own or in family gatherings.

Today, however, a lot of fathers take a more hands-on approach to raising kids. Good for them and their families. I'm all for whatever works in people's myriad relationship and family situations.

More dads staying home: There were around 211,000 stay-at-home dads in 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. These married fathers took care of about 420,000 children younger than age 15. 

But we're not talking daddy day care, here. 

Daddy Day Care movie poster image

Unlike the characters in the Eddie Murphy movie, these men didn't turn caring for their and others' children into a job. Neither did they work from home in some other way so that they also could keep an eye on their kids.

The almost quarter million men counted by the Census Bureau stayed totally out of the labor force for at least one year primarily so they could provide full-time care for their youngsters while their wives worked outside the home.

Tax help for child care costs: Those arrangements worked for those families. A lot of couples, however, still need two incomes.

And that means they must find someone to look after their children while they both are at their jobs.

Good ol' Uncle Sam can help here, at least a little bit.

As the latest Weekly Tax Tip details, working parents can use day care costs to claim the child and dependent care tax credit.

Most of the time, the child care comes after school while mom and dad are still on the clock. But when the kids' classes end, you can even count summer day camp costs toward the credit.

Income, expense limits: It's not quite as simple, however, as adding up all your youngsters' care costs. That is important, but the full amount doesn't equate to the precise tax break you'll get.

You only get to claim a percentage of costs that you can claim, based on your income. That percentage ranges from 20 percent for higher earners, which is $43,000 in this case, to 35 percent for couples who make $15,000 or less.

And the amount to which your percentage applies also is limited. In calculating your child care credit, you can count only up to $3,000 for the care of one kid or up to $6,000 for two or more children.

Even a child-free person like me knows that those care expense limits are low. But some tax help is better than none.

And at least it's a tax credit, which means it can reduce dollar-for-dollar what you owe the U.S. Treasury.

Whatever system you find works for your family when it comes to child care, take some time to see if you also can get some added help from the child care credit.

As for dads on this Father's Day, here's hoping you get what you want, be it a break from the kiddos or more time with them. It's your special day, so it's your choice. Enjoy! 

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