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When school is out of session, busy American families are incurring thousands of dollars in childcare expenses.

To pay for these expenses, many parents turn to credit cards to ease the financial burden. According to a new Bankrate survey of 3,857 adults, 33 percent of parents who plan to pay for summer childcare will accumulate debt from doing so.

Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents say that they plan to pay for summer childcare with a credit card. Just 25 percent plan to pay off their cards immediately, while 35 percent will pay some of the cost over time.

The real cost of summer childcare

The survey found that, on average, the cost of childcare is $998 per child ⁠— and that’s only for the summer. School-year childcare costs an average of $11,619 per child.

Parents are spending less on summer childcare than school-year care, but credit card industry analyst Ted Rossman says looks can be deceiving.

“I’m surprised that Americans are spending less on childcare during the summer, but it’s worth noting that other summer costs can add up in a hurry,” says Rossman.

“For example, a recent Bankrate survey found about two-thirds of parents are planning summer vacations, and their average expected expense is $2,268. Make sure to look at the total package when budgeting for summer fun.”

One in five parents plans to spend more than $2,000 per child. Of those, 8 percent will spend $2,001 to $3,000 and 12 percent expect to pay $3,000 or more.

Who’s more likely to pay for childcare

Fifty-four percent of those with incomes of $80,000 or more a year are more likely to pay for childcare compared to others, with 30 percent planning to pay upwards $2,001 per child.

From this, we can infer that those with higher salaries have more means to pay for childcare, whereas those with lower salaries may turn to family and friends.

How to minimize the cost of childcare this summer

Childcare during the summer months can get costly, especially for parents on the go. But there are a few ways to reduce the cost without going into debt.

Tax credit for childcare expenses

The Child and Dependent Care Credit is available for parents or guardians who have paid for childcare to ensure the safety of their child while they’re away.

In order to qualify, you must claim your child as a dependent. The child must also be 13 years or younger and living with you (for at least six months) when the childcare is provided.

The total cost that can be counted toward the credit is no more than $3,000 for one child and $6,000 for two or more children.

Qualification may also depend on your income, filing status and reasons for childcare. You can read more information about the tax credit on the IRS website.

Credit card options

Paying for childcare with a credit card is a financially wise choice for those looking to earn top rewards, but it’s important to avoid going into debt, if possible.

Rossman suggests looking into credit card options prior to the summer months in order to prevent debt accumulation.

“Parents who require childcare can plan ahead,” Rossman says. “If they don’t have the cash on hand, opening a zero percent interest card will give them time to pay off the expenses slowly without incurring additional interest and fees.”

If you pay off balances in full

If you plan on paying your summer childcare costs in full each month, look into cards with strong sign-up bonuses or ongoing rewards.

Cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offer a 60,000-point bonus after spending $4,000 on purchases in your first three months. You can easily cut down on summer travel (think: gas on a cross-country trip with your family) with Sapphire Preferred’s 2X points on travel and dining worldwide.

Citi® Double Cash Card offers a nice alternative to a traditional sign-up bonus and is ideal for families with busy summer schedules. You’ll earn 1% cash back on every purchase and another 1% as you pay off your purchase — an extra incentive to stay on top of your monthly payments. Plus, there’s no annual fee.

If you’re paying over time

If you’re planning to pay for childcare cost over time, consider credit cards with a zero percent introductory APR. Having extra time to pay off childcare-related purchases will save you from accruing interest.

The Double Cash Card can be lucrative in this case, too. The card includes an 18-month zero percent introductory APR offer on balance transfers (15.49% – 25.49% variable APR thereafter). Keep in mind, there is a balance transfer fee of $5 or 3% of your transfer amount, whichever is greater.

For example, if you spend an average of $1,500 on childcare over the course of the summer, you could pay as little as $84 per month over 18 months and avoid interest ⁠— all while collecting valuable cash back for summer excursions.

The bottom line

One in three parents will go into debt paying for summertime childcare, but you don’t have to.

By utilizing a tax credit, a portion of your childcare expenses can be deducted from your overall tax burden.

Similarly, you can earn back a portion of your spending on childcare with a credit card by collecting cash back or travel rewards. If you need to carry the balance and pay it off over time, you can save on interest by using a zero percent interest credit card.

As long as you plan ahead, using a card can help make the summer months a little less of a financial stressor.

Methodology

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 3857 adults, 1006 of which are the parent or guardian of a child under the age of 18. Fieldwork was undertaken between June 6-10, 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).


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