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What Is IRS Form 8839: Qualified Adoption Expenses?

Updated for Tax Year 2015


The Internal Revenue Service allows you to offset your tax bill with a credit for your qualified adoption expenses, as long as you meet certain eligibility requirements. To report your qualified adoption expenses, you'll use IRS Form 8839.

If you’ve adopted a child (or attempted to), you know it can be very expensive. The good news is the Internal Revenue Service allows you to offset your tax bill with a credit for your qualified adoption expenses, as long as you meet certain eligibility requirements. To report your qualified adoption expenses, you’ll use IRS Form 8839.

Who is eligible?

If you paid qualified adoption expenses to adopt a child who is a U.S. resident or citizen, then you may be eligible for the credit, even if the adoption hasn’t been finalized or was finalized in a different tax year. You may also qualify for the credit if you paid expenses to adopt a foreign child. Additionally, there are separate rules to claim the credit on Form 8839 if you adopt a child with special needs.

Beginning with the 2012 tax year, federal law reduced the maximum credit for the qualified adoption expenses you incur. For 2015 the maximum credit is $13,400 per child. In addition, the adoption tax credit is no longer refundable. This means that in order to recognize the full benefit of the credit, your total tax must be at least equal to your credit. For example, if your total tax for the year is only $10,000 but you spend $14,000 in qualified adoption expenses, $10,000 is the most you can save in tax.

Keep in mind, as your income goes up, your eligibility for the credit goes down. For tax year 2015, as long as your modified adjusted gross income is $201,010 or less, you can qualify for the full credit. The credit phases out as your income increases and goes away completely when it exceeds $241,010.

Qualified adoption expenses

Before you begin filling out Form 8839 with your qualified adoption expenses, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the types of expenses the IRS considers qualified. Qualified adoption expenses include:

  • The fees you pay to an adoption agency that facilitates the process
  • Legal fees you pay to an attorney
  • All court costs you incur and re-adoption expenses that relate to the adoption of a foreign child.

You may also include the necessary travel expenses you incur, including the cost of food and hotels when traveling away from home. Keep in mind, however, that you may not include amounts your employer reimburses, fees you pay to a surrogate mother, or any expenses that relate to the adoption of your spouse’s child.

Form 8839 reporting

Once you calculate your qualified adoption expenses, you need to report the total in Part II of Form 8839. You will also need to provide additional information in Part II before calculating the credit. This includes the previous tax years you've taken the credit and the amount of your modified adjusted gross income. As of this writing, the final credit amount you calculate for your qualified adoption expenses is refundable, meaning it’s possible to receive a tax refund for taxes you never actually paid.

Keep in mind, when you use TurboTax to prepare your taxes, we’ll ask you simple questions about your adoption expenses, handle all the calculations, and fill in all the right forms for you.

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The above article is intended to provide generalized financial information designed to educate a broad segment of the public; it does not give personalized tax, investment, legal, or other business and professional advice. Before taking any action, you should always seek the assistance of a professional who knows your particular situation for advice on taxes, your investments, the law, or any other business and professional matters that affect you and/or your business.

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