How Does the Adoption Tax Credit Work?

by | Jan 31, 2024 | Adoptive Families Blog

Multiracial married couple at home working on their taxesIf you’ve just started looking into adoption, you may have heard of the Federal Adoption Tax Credit. You might be wondering, “How does the adoption tax credit work?” or “Do we qualify for the tax credit?” This credit is an important financing resource that adoptive parents can take advantage of to afford their adoption.
The U.S. tax code allows for a tax credit of up to $15,950 per child for adoptions finalized in 2023. Learning about the IRS’ adoption tax credit before you adopt is wise. It can help set your budget when you can anticipate the credit you are entitled to. What follows are some helpful tips to get you started when you file as a new adoptive parent. Here’s what you need to know about the adoption tax credit.

Who Qualifies for the Adoption Tax Credit?

You qualify for the tax credit if you paid out-of-pocket expenses relating to your child’s adoption. The amount you are eligible for directly relates to how much you spent the prior year on adoption-related costs.
Through an employer-provided adoption benefits program, your tax preparer can also exclude your income as taxable. You may claim both a credit and an exclusion for the same adoption. However, you can’t claim both for the same expenses.
The adoption tax credit covers most types of adoptions. Whether you adopt domestically, internationally, or from foster care, you’re eligible to receive the credit. If you opt for a special needs adoption, you automatically qualify for the maximum allowed credit, no matter what you spent out of pocket for the adoption.
Most adoptive parents are eligible for the adoption credit, but some exceptions exist. If your income exceeds $279,230 per year, the credit is not available to you, according to 2023 figures provided by the IRS. The credit is also unavailable to individuals who adopt their stepchildren. Additionally, the adoption credit is only eligible for the adoption of minors under 18. Adult adoptions are not eligible.
The Adoption Tax Credit will not cover an early pension distribution penalty, self-employment tax, or first-time homebuyer payback.
Let’s say that a woman discovers that her granddaughter had her two children taken by the state and placed in foster care. She decides to take steps to adopt her grandchildren formally. This woman makes less than $279,230 annually, making her eligible for an adoption tax credit. For her 2023 adoption, she would be eligible for a tax credit of $31,900 because two children are involved.
Adoptive father uses adoption tax credit happily while his wife and children look on

What Expenses are Covered?

To receive the maximum adoption tax credit, you need to know what kinds of costs qualify you for it. “Qualifying adoption expenses” include any expenses necessary for the adoption. Examples of qualifying adoption expenses include lawyer fees, home study, court fees, medical exams or physicals, agency fees, and any costs directly related to the adoption. In addition, qualifying adoption expenses include those surrounding your travel for the adoption, like meals, plane tickets, lodging, and gas.
Keep in mind that eligible fees can be those that are paid for adoption before you even know which child you are going to adopt. For instance, your tax credit may cover the home study or screening process costs. You can claim expenses for an adoption that isn’t yet final the year after you paid them, or you can wait until the adoption is final.
The most commonly asked question surrounding “How does the adoption tax credit work?” is whether the financial assistance given to a birth mother is considered a qualified adoption expense under the Adoption Tax Credit. They are not.

Which Children Are Considered Special Needs?

When considering “How does the adoption tax credit work?” it is important to note each state has different criteria that qualify a child as “special needs.”
A child has special needs for the purpose of the adoption credit if the state determines that the child likely won’t be adoptable without the assistance provided to the adoptive family.
The official Special Needs Declaration must come from the state where the courts legally finalized the adoption. You must submit a signed “Subsidy Agreement” with the state to qualify as a special needs adoption. Some states call this the “Adoption Eligibility Assistance Determination.”

Is the Adoption Credit Refundable?

No, the adoption tax credit is not refundable. You cannot receive it as part of a tax refund. However, it is still alive, permanent, and a great credit at $15,950 per child.
In addition, you can carry it forward for five years if necessary, so those who pay very little income tax will not see a significant change in their taxes. If you don’t use all the credit in the first year, you can carry it forward for up to five years.

When Should We Claim the Adoption Tax Credit?

Some confusion exists about when to claim an adoption tax credit, especially if the adoption process lasted longer than one year. When you claim the credit, you must consider when you actually paid the expenses, what kind of adoption you had (domestic or international), and when the court legally finalized the adoption.
In the case of domestic adoption, you can claim the credit the year following the payments you made—even if the adoption was never final. The same applies even if you never identified a specific child to adopt. You can claim any money you spent towards your adoption.
If you sought an international adoption, you could claim the adoption expenses the year the adoption is finalized. You cannot claim the credit if you paid money, but the legal system never finalized your overseas adoption, making international adoption a bit riskier.

How Can We Claim an Adoption Tax Credit?

If you want to claim an adoption tax credit, you should complete Form 8839, which is the Qualified Adoption Expenses form. Attach the form to your 1040, 1040-SR, or 1040-NR. If you need further instructions to fill out the form or claim credit, check out the Instructions for Form 8839.
The documentation you should keep for the IRS includes:

  • A home study or placement agreement completed by an authorized child-placing agency
  • The Final Judgment of Adoption
  • Adoption Assistance Eligibility Determination (Subsidy Agreement), declaring your child’s special needs, if claiming credit for a child declared special needs
  • All documentation of paid qualified expenses

All of these documents must be signed and dated. The IRS will only accept the above documents if they’re signed and dated by the proper authorities.
We’re not tax professionals here at Lifetime, and the preceding should not be considered financial advice. If you have more questions about the adoption tax credit, please consult the IRS website for guidance. You might also speak to your accountant or tax professional.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on February 5, 2020, and has since been updated. 

Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P.

Written by Mardie Caldwell, C.O.A.P.

Founder of Lifetime Adoption, adoptive mom, adoption expert, and Certified Open Adoption Practitioner (C.O.A.P).

Since 1986, adoption expert Mardie Caldwell has been dedicated to bringing couples and birth parents together in order to fulfill their dreams.

“Many years ago, I was also searching for a child to adopt. We didn’t know where or how to get started. Through research, determination, and a prayer, our dream of a family became reality. I started with a plan, a notebook, assistance from a caring adoption consultant and a lot of hard work; this was my family I was building. We had a few heartaches along the way, but the pain of not having children was worse!

Within weeks we had three different birth mothers choose us. We were overwhelmed and delighted. Many unsettling events would take place before our adoption would be finalized, many months later. Little did I know that God was training and aligning me for the adoption work I now do today. It is my goal to share with our families the methods and plans which succeed and do not succeed. I believe adoption should be affordable and can be a wonderful “pregnancy” for the adoptive couple.

I have also been on both sides of infertility with the loss of seven pregnancies and then conceiving by new technology, giving birth to a healthy daughter. I have experienced first-hand the emotional pain of infertility and believe my experience allows me to serve your needs better.

It is my hope that for you, the prospective parents, your desire for a child will be fulfilled soon.”

Read More About Mardie Caldwell

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