The IRS has issued proposed regulations under Internal Revenue Code (“Code”) 21 regarding dependent care assistance expenses. (Code Section 21 defines when a dependent care expense qualifies for the dependent care tax credit.) For Dependent Care Assistance Plan (“DCAP”) sponsors, these regulations are important because they provide much-needed clarity with respect to what constitutes a qualifying expense under a DCAP.

A dependent care assistance expense will qualify for reimbursement under a Dependent Care Assistance Plan (“DCAP”) if the expense meets the definition of an employment-related “dependent care assistance” expense under Code Section 21(b)(2). This requires, among other things, that the individual has an “employment-related” purpose in paying for the expense – in other words, the individual must incur the expense so that he or she can be gainfully employed.

Proposed Regulations

The highlights of the proposed regulations are as follows:

Pre-Kindergarten Programs, Nursery Schools, and Specialty Day Camps Qualify as Dependent Care Assistance Expenses

The expenses of pre-school and other pre-kindergarten programs now qualify as dependent care assistance expenses.

The cost of kindergarten, and other educational programs above the kindergarten level, may not be considered dependent care assistance expenses since such programs have an educational purpose. However, the cost of after-school programs for children above kindergarten age may qualify as a dependent-care assistance expense.

Day Camps/Specialty Day Camps. The full cost of day camps, including specialty day camps that specialize in one particular activity such as soccer or computers, now qualify as a dependent-care assistance expense. (Overnight camp expenses still do not qualify since they are not considered employment-related expenses.)

“Indirect Expenses,” Transportation Expenses, and a Caregiver’s Room and Board now qualify as dependent-care assistance expenses

Transportation Expenses – to and from a day camp or an after-school program not on school premises – now qualify as a dependent-care assistance expense.

“Indirect Expenses.” Indirect expenses are expenses that relate to, but are not directly for the care of a dependent. Examples of qualifying indirect expenses include application fees, agency fees, and deposits may qualify if they are paid to obtain care for the dependent. Let’s say Jane places a deposit with Pre-School A to reserve a place for her child and subsequently decides to send her child to a different pre-school. By doing this, Jane forfeits her deposit with Pre-School A. The forfeited deposit does not qualify as a dependent-care assistance expense.

Room and Board. The cost of providing room and board to a caregiver may be considered an employment-related expense and therefore qualify as a dependent-care assistance expense.

Payments to Most Relatives for “Dependent Care” Do Not Qualify as Dependent-Care Assistance Expenses

The proposed regulations clarify that an individual’s payments to his or her child, spouse, or the dependent child’s parent (who is not the individual’s spouse), do not qualify as a dependent-care assistance expense.

However, if an individual pays his parent to care for his dependent children, those payments may qualify as a dependent-care assistance expense as long as the parent cannot be characterized as the individual’s dependent under Code Section 151.

Temporary Absences and Part-Time Work

Expenses Incurred During a Temporary Absence May Qualify as a Dependent-Care Assistance Expense. Prior to the proposed regulations, this was not the case. However, under the proposed regulations, an expense may qualify as a dependent-care assistance expense even if it is incurred while the individual is temporarily absent from work, for example, due to vacation or sickness. Although the proposed regulations have not specified the maximum duration of the absence, in two examples they note that expenses incurred during a two-day absence will qualify while expenses incurred during a four-month absence will not.

Part-Time Employees

If the part-time employee is required to pay for dependent care on a periodic basis, such as weekly or monthly, which includes both worked days and non-worked days, the entire cost of day care may constitute a dependent-care assistance expense. If, however, the part-time employee pays for dependent care on a daily basis, he or she can treat as dependent-care assistance expenses only those expenses incurred while he or she was at work.

Credit: Stefanie Kastrinsky

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