Summer camp expensesAs every working parent knows, summer camp expenses can take a bite out of the family budget. But if you don't have other reliable daycare options, summer camps are likely your best alternative for keeping the kids busy – and allowing you to continue working uninterrupted.

Unfortunately, most summer camps don't come cheap, and from Boston to Beirut, prices for summer camps are on the rise.

According to the American Camp Association, the price for weekly summer camps in the U.S. can range anywhere from less than $100 to more than $800, depending on the type of camp, its location and the activities offered.And whether you choose to use a summer camp, daycare facility or an in-home babysitter/nanny, 90% of the financial burden of yearly child-care costs in the U.S. falls on the shoulders of individual families, according to the NACCRRA, the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.

That's one big reason why family requests for low-cost summer camps have nearly doubled in recent years, according to a report from ComPsych Work-Life Services, which offers employer assistance programs. Requests for financial aid for summer camp are up, too.

The good news, for those of us shelling out money for summer camp, is that you can lower the cost of summer camp in several ways.



Get That Tax Break

For starters, the IRS says those extra expenses you pay for summer camp often qualify you for a tax credit. A tax credit is better than a tax deduction, because it lowers your tax bill dollar for dollar and can even result in you getting money back from the government.

According to the IRS, if you're working during your kid's school vacation – or even just looking for work – you can get a tax break for the cost you must pay to arrange for care for your child under the age of 13.

The tax break is available in the form of the Child and Dependent Care Credit and is available for expenses you pay during the summer – and the rest of the year, too.

To qualify for the dependent care credit, the IRS says you should know these five facts:

  1. The cost of day camp may count as an expense towards the child and dependent care credit.
  2. Expenses for overnight camps do not qualify.
  3. No matter whether your childcare provider is a sitter at your home or a daycare facility outside the home, you'll get some tax benefit if you qualify for the credit.
  4. The credit can be as much as 35% of your qualifying expenses, depending on your income.
  5. You may use up to $3,000 of the unreimbursed expenses paid in a year for one qualifying individual or $6,000 for two or more qualifying individuals to figure the credit.

IRS Publication 503, Child and Dependent Care Expenses, has more details about qualifying for this tax break. You can get the publication online or by calling the IRS toll free at (800) 829-3676.

While the dependent care credit won't ease the pain of paying for camp right now, when it nets you a tax refund check early next year, you'll be thankful you implemented this strategy.

Request Scholarships and Discounts

If you're still looking for a summer camp for July or August, the American Camp Association's website is a good starting point. It can help you find a camp in your budget based on the type of camp you want, the location and other factors.

Once you find a camp you're interested in, call the camp and make sure it's accredited. (The ACA website only lists accredited camps.) Ask the camp director how long the camp has been around and if you and your child can visit to see camp activities in action.

Then try this money-saving tip: Inquire about special discounts, and ask whether any scholarships – also known as "camperships" – are available.

To help offset camp admission costs, the ACA camp community provides $39 million a year for camp scholarships. Many local community groups sponsor campers, too.

When asking for a discount, see if you can get a price break based on anything from your income to the fact that you might be enrolling several kids in camp. You'll only know what discounts may be available if you ask, so don't be shy about doing so.

Between tax breaks, scholarships and other potential discounts, you can help bring down the cost of summer camp, making the experience memorable for your kids and financially doable for you.

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