Budgeting Financial Planning Family Finances What if I Can't Afford Child Care? By Miriam Caldwell Miriam Caldwell Miriam Caldwell has been writing about budgeting and personal finance basics since 2005. She teaches writing as an online instructor with Brigham Young University-Idaho, and is also a teacher for public school students in Cary, North Carolina. learn about our editorial policies Updated on May 19, 2022 Reviewed by Somer G. Anderson Reviewed by Somer G. Anderson Somer G. Anderson is CPA, doctor of accounting, and an accounting and finance professor who has been working in the accounting and finance industries for more than 20 years. Her expertise covers a wide range of accounting, corporate finance, taxes, lending, and personal finance areas. learn about our financial review board Fact checked by Hans Jasperson Fact checked by Hans Jasperson Hans Jasperson has over a decade of experience in public policy research, with an emphasis on workforce development, education, and economic justice. His research has been shared with members of the U.S. Congress, federal agencies, and policymakers in several states. learn about our editorial policies In This Article View All In This Article State Programs Head Start Military Assistance Tax Breaks Nanny Shares Child Care Co-ops Alternating Schedules Check with Your Employer Work Options for Parents Finding the Best Solution for You Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Photo: Westend61 / Getty Images Trying to make ends meet while paying for child care can be a big challenge. However, there are some resources available to help you meet those obligations, including alternatives to traditional daycare and more flexible work options. In addition, several financial assistance programs exist to help families pay for or subsidize the cost of child care. You’ll have to do a bit of research to see what’s available to you, but it will likely be worth the time. Note Child care is an increasingly expensive proposition for many families in the United States. In fact, among working families with children under the age of five, spending on those services amounts to almost 10% of the average income. State Programs Each state offers child care assistance that’s funded by the federal government, but eligibility requirements and fund availability vary by location. In some cases, states fund free or low-cost pre-K programs for children ages three to five years old. Child Care Aware of America provides a map that lets you choose your state and view all of the childcare resources available there. You can also reach out to your local child care resource and referral agency to find more affordable care options where you live. Head Start Other federally funded initiatives include the Early Head Start and Head Start programs, which provide care and child-development services to low-income families and their kids from birth to age five. Find the location of your nearest Head Start center, and contact them to see whether your family qualifies for their services. Military Assistance If a member of your family is in the U.S. military, you may be able to get help paying for child care. Select your branch of the military on Child Care Aware’s website to find out what’s available to you. Some child care providers also offer discounts to military families, but you’ll need to reach out to each provider to find out what they offer. Tax Breaks If you’re working and have a child or dependent who can’t be left alone, you may qualify for the child and dependent care tax credit (CDCTC). This credit subsidizes a percentage of what you pay for child care, and it’s based on your income. There's a dollar limit of $3,000 for a qualifying individual, and you can get up to $6,000 if you have more than one child in an eligible care facility. Note In 2021, the American Rescue Plan temporarily increased the benefit from the CDCTC. The cap is now 50% of expenses, up to $4,000 for one individual receiving care, and $8,000 for two or more. Families with incomes up to $125,000 are eligible for the full credit. Nanny Shares With this model of child care, two or more families share a single nanny. In some cases, the nanny watches all of the kids together, and in other cases, the nanny alternates based on your work schedules and needs. Nanny shares may work well for families who don’t need full-time daycare, or for neighbors with similar schedules. Since two or more families are contributing to the cost, they usually end up paying less than they would for other child care, and the nannies can earn more money than they would at a child care center or by working as a sitter for a single family. Note If you're considering a nanny share, be sure you understand tax laws governing nannies and how you can be in compliance. For extra help, you may want to consider enlisting a tax professional. Child Care Co-ops Another shared childcare option, a childcare co-op is essentially a group of parents who know and trust each other to take turns watching each other's children. Usually, no money changes hands. You're providing free child care in exchange for other parents’ free child care services. It can be especially beneficial for part-time workers and parents who have varying schedules. You may need to take the initiative to set up a child care co-op in your area if one doesn’t already exist. Alternating Schedules If you have a partner who is raising children with you, and you can’t afford child care, you may look into alternating schedules. This way, one of you is always home with the children when the other is at work. This option is usually the last resort, because it means you won’t get to spend much time with your partner. Check with Your Employer Find out whether your employer offers child care help. Some companies are willing to pay for a summer camp for kids, or even allow you to take your kids with you on business trips (and reimburse you). Other employers offer on-site childcare. Before you assume that you can't make it work, ask your employer what benefits they offer. Work Options for Parents Check with your current employer to find out if it's possible to start working from home full-time or even part-time. Some jobs are difficult to do with children underfoot, but they may offer more flexible schedules so that you can work after your kids are asleep or before they're awake in the morning. In fact, almost half of human resources managers claim that their companies have tried to make it easier to accommodate parenting schedules in recent years. Finding the Best Solution for You Depending on your situation, you might be able to combine multiple options to make child care more manageable for your family. No matter what you decide to do regarding working and caring for your children, get a good picture of your finances, and create a budget for your family. Doing so will not only help you stay on track with monthly expenses but will also help you save for your child's future. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) I can't afford daycare, but I earn too much for assistance. What can I do? Consider some alternative ways to supplement or replace your current income if the cost of daycare is eating into your budget too much, but you don't qualify for assistance. These could include consulting or any freelance work you can do using a computer, pet-sitting, dog-walking, or tutoring. Are there income limits for the Head Start programs? Your income must be lower than the federal poverty level to qualify, and that is based on your family size. It's $18,310 annually for a two-person household in 2022, increasing to $46,630 for a family of eight. Higher levels apply in Alaska and Hawaii. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Center for American Progress. 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