Federal Adoption Tax Credit
Updated January 2013
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Please note: The adoption tax credit is a one-time credit per child. If you have received (or are still waiting for) your adoption tax credit for an adoption, you do not apply for an additional adoption tax credit in future years.
Since 2003, families who adopted a child with special needs from foster care could claim a federal adoption tax credit even if they had no adoption expenses. Children who receive adoption assistance/subsidy benefits are considered children with special needs. Other adoptive families are also eligible for the credit, but must have (and be able to document, if requested by the IRS) qualified adoption expenses.
The tax credit was refundable for 2010 and 2011, but is not for 2012 or 2013 or beyond. A refundable tax credit is one you get back regardless of what you owe or paid in taxes for the year. When the credit is not refundable, you receive only what you have in federal incomet tax liability.
Families who adopted from 2005 to 2009 may be able to benefit from the refundable credit because credits from those years can be carried forward until 2010. (Families who adopted before 2004 will not benefit. Families who adopted in 2004 and who filed for an extension on their 2009 taxes have a slim chance of benefitting. Read the fact sheet on adoptions before 2010 for more information.)
The amount of the credit is based on the year the adoption finalized:
The credit is claimed one time for each adopted child with special needs.
Below, we explain the basics of the adoption tax credit.
To be eligible for the credit, you must:
- Have adopted a child other than a stepchild — Children who receive a monthly adoption subsidy payment have been determined by the state to have special needs, so these children are eligible for the full tax credit without documenting expenses. Families who adopted children without special needs are also eligible, but need to have (and be able to document, if asked) qualified adoption expenses.
- And be within the income limits — How much of the credit you can claim is based on income. For 2012, families with a federal modified adjusted gross income above $229,710 cannot claim the credit; families with incomes above $189,710 can claim part credit. Anyone with incomes below the lower amount should be able to claim the full credit. (Adoptions from previous years had different income limits; 2013 income limits are $234,580 and $194,580.)
If You Adopted in 2012
You will claim the credit when you file your 2012 taxes. Read our fact sheet for more information.
If You Adopted in 2011
You will claim the credit when you file or amend your 2011 taxes. Read our fact sheet for more information.
If You Adopted in 2010
If you haven't claimed the credit already, you need to file or amend your 2010 taxes. Read our fact sheet for more information.
If You Adopted before 2010
Read our fact sheet for more information.
If you Adopted between 2005 and 2009 and Claimed the Credit the Year You Finalized
If you finalized in 2005 or later, claimed the credit that year, and carried forward the adoption tax credit on each year’s returns, just carry forward the remaining amount of the credit from your 2009 return to 2010. You can claim the full amount remaining as a credit on your 2010 return.
If you claimed the credit the year you finalized, but didn’t carry it forward to subsequent years’ tax forms, you’ll need to amend returns for those years.
If You Adopted from 2005 to 2009 and Didn’t Claim the Credit
Adoptions finalized from 2005 to 2009 are more complicated because the IRS allows people to amend returns to claim a credit only for the past three tax years. These are now considered closed tax years. The IRS has written, though, that these older credits can be accessed.
If you adopted in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, or 2009, you need to amend your returns starting the year you finalized. Because it’s longer than three years ago, you cannot be paid a refund for any of the credit that you would have been due in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, or 2009. (If you filed for an extension with your 2009 taxes, 2009 is still an open year and you can get a refund you were due for 2009). You must still complete the closed year returns as if you are getting a refund for the credit used, but any credit that could have been refunded in these years will be lost. Whatever amount remains after you do your 2009 taxes can be carried over and refunded in 2010.
If you didn’t claim the credit in a closed year and had sufficient tax liability in the closed years to use up the whole credit, you will not benefit. You need to have some credit carried forward to 2010 to get a payment.
If You Adopted before 2005
Those who adopted before 2005 cannot benefit since all of the tax years from 2009 and back are closed.
If you finalized an adoption in 2004 and filed for an extension for your 2009 taxes, there's a very small chance you can benefit. You cannot carry the credit forward to 2010 when the credit becomes refundable. The issue about amending returns more than three years old applies so you cannot get anything you were due from 2004 to 2008. A family with significant tax liability may use up all of the adoption tax credit in the years before 2009, but they cannot get a refund for these years. Those families who have a moderate tax liability might be able to carry forward some of the credit to 2009, when they could get a refund for whatever tax liability they had that year.
For adoptions for 2003 and earlier, there is no chance of benefitting.
Below are links to a number of resources for adoptive families.
NACAC's resources focus on adoptions of children with special needs from foster care, but may also be of use to other adoptive families.