You can claim only up to $3,000 for the care of one person and $6,000 for two or more. Then this amount is further reduced based on your overall income (more on this later).
There is some good news, however. If you paid someone to watch over your two (or more) kids, you can combine all your care costs to reach the $6,000 limit.
In the case of Janie and Jimmy, their folks could count the $2,800 for Janie's care and $3,200 for Jimmy's in order to claim a total of $6,000, instead of only $5,800 by adding $2,800 plus $3,000. By using the total amount rather than splitting the actual costs and then applying the limits and figuring the credit, they'll get a larger tax break.
The second limit is the percentage of costs that you can claim. Once you determine your allowable expense amount, your actual credit is limited to a percentage of that figure.
So regardless of how much you pay, the potential maximum child and dependent care credit is $1,050 (35 percent of $3,000) for the care of one person, twice that for two or more. Depending upon your income, the percentage range drops from 35 percent to 20 percent of your allowable care costs.
The 35 percent rate is only for lower-income taxpayers. If you make more than $15,000, the credit percentage is incrementally phased down by salary range until it hits 20 percent for those earning more than $43,000.
And even if your care costs come up to the maximum credit amount, you may not get it all if your tax bill is less than your allowable credit. The dependent care credit is not refundable, meaning it can only take your tax bill to zero. Any excess credit is not usable.
For example, if you claim a $1,050 maximum credit for the care of one child and owe $750, the IRS will use your credit to wipe out your tax bill, but you won't get the extra $300 as a refund.