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Tax Breaks for Grandparents

Article Highlights:

More and more individuals who thought their child-rearing days were over are now raising their grandchildren. It is estimated that 6.5 million children in the United States live with at least one grandparent, accounting for approximately 9% of all children nationally and more than half of those not living with their parents.

Another study found that the number of grandchildren living with their grandparents has increased 50% over the past ten years. Grandparents in this challenging situation should be aware that a variety of tax breaks may be available to ease the financial burden of becoming primary caregivers for grandchildren. These include:

Head of household filing status

An unmarried grandparent may be eligible to use the head of household filing status. This filing status generally is more favorable than the single filing status. To qualify, the grandparent must maintain a household that is the principal place of abode for the grandchild for more than half the year. Generally, the grandchild must not be self-supporting and must be under the age of 19 (24 if a full-time student) at the close of the tax year or permanently and totally disabled.

Earned income credit

A grandparent who is working and has a grandchild who is a qualifying child living with him or her may be able to take the earned income tax credit (EITC), even if the grandparent is 65 years of age or older. Generally, to be a qualified child for EITC purposes, the grandchild must meet the same requirements as a dependent but without the requirement that the child didn't provide more than half of their own support. To qualify for EITC for 2021 on account of a grandchild or grandchildren, a taxpayer's adjusted gross income (AGI) must be less than:

  • $51,464 ($57,414 for married filing jointly) if he or she has three or more qualifying children;

  • $47,915 ($53,865 for married filing jointly) if he or she has two qualifying children; and

  • $42,158 $48,108 for married filing jointly) if he or she has one qualifying child.

There's no EITC if the taxpayer files as married filing separately, isn't a U.S. citizen or resident alien all year, files Form 2555 or Form 2555-EZ (relating to foreign earned income), doesn't have earned income or has more than $10,000 of investment income for 2021 ($3,650 for 2020).

Child tax credit

A grandparent raising a grandchild may qualify for a $2,000 child tax credit and, under certain specific circumstances, up to $1,400 of the credit may be refundable. To qualify, the grandchild must be under the age of 17, a U.S. citizen or resident alien, and the grandchild must be the grandparent’s dependent. The credit is reduced for higher-income taxpayers. Note: For 2021 only, as part of the COVID relief, the child tax credit was increased to $3,000 for children under the age of 18 ($3,600 for children under age 6), and the credit is fully refundable.

Credit for grandchild care expenses

A grandparent may also qualify for the child and dependent care credit if the grandparent pays someone to care for a dependent grandchild under the age of 13 or a grandchild who is physically or mentally not able to care for himself or herself. The grandparent works or looks for work and has the same principal place of abode as the grandchild for more than half the tax year. The credit is 35% of employment-related expenses for taxpayers with an AGI of $15,000 or less. The percentage decreases by 1% for each $2,000 (or fraction thereof) of AGI over $15,000, but never below 20%. The maximum amount of employment-related expenses that may be used to compute the credit is $3,000 for one qualifying individual or $6,000 for two or more qualifying individuals. These maximums must be reduced, dollar-for-dollar, by the total amount excludable from gross income through an employer’s dependent care assistance program. Note: For 2021 only, as part of the COVID relief, the maximum amount of expenses that can be used to compute the credit is increased to $8,000 for one qualified individual and $16,000 for two or more qualified individuals, and the credit percentage is a full 50% the expenses before high-income phaseout and is fully refundable.

Grandchild education expenses

Several tax breaks may be available to a grandparent who pays his or her dependent grandchild's education costs. These include:

Education credits

An individual taxpayer may claim an income tax credit of up to $2,500 for the American Opportunity tax credit (AOTC) and the Lifetime Learning credit (up to $2,000) for higher education expenses of their dependent grandchild at accredited post-secondary educational institutions. The AOTC is available for qualified expenses of the first four years of undergraduate education. The Lifetime Learning credit is available for qualified expenses of any post-high school education at "eligible educational institutions." Both credits can't be claimed in the same tax year for any one student’s expenses, and they phase out for higher-income taxpayers.

Deduction for interest on qualified education loans

Grandparents may qualify to claim an above-the-line deduction for up to $2,500 of interest paid on a qualified higher education loan for any debt they incurred solely to pay qualified higher-education expenses for a dependent grandchild, who is at least a half-time student. The deduction phases out for higher-income taxpayers. These education tax benefits only apply to a grandparent who claims the grandchild as a dependent. Many generous grandparents pay these types of expenses for a non-dependent grandchild, but unfortunately, they get no tax breaks for doing so.

Medical and dental expenses

A grandparent who itemizes deductions can deduct certain unreimbursed medical and dental expenses paid for a dependent grandchild during the year. The grandchild’s medical expenses are combined with the grandparent’s medical deductions and are allowed to the extent that the total exceeds 7.5% of the grandparent’s adjusted gross income for the year.

The foregoing is an overview of the tax benefits available to grandparents. Not all limits and requirements were covered in complete detail. Please contact this office to determine if you qualify for one or more of them.


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