Parenting classes before you can take tax deductions and credits?
I’m not a parent. I don’t claim to know how someone should be a parent. However, I do know when I see something I don’t like, and many times I’ve wondered “Why don’t people need a license to be a parent?”. This question has a complicated answer that involves more questions like “What happens if they fail the license test?” and “Who determines the criteria?”. But perhaps licensing is stretching it too far. Perhaps we have a better way to encourage new moms and dads to be more educated.
Restricting Tax Benefits for Parents
For you parents out there, you know there are tax benefits for having kids (aka “dependents”). Generally, they come in the form of deductions, and sometimes credits, that can save $thousands at year-end.
Well, what if you had to go to classes before you could claim those tax deductions and credits?
Here’s my idea of a very basic curriculum for classes. I don’t have a method or structure for how to dole out money, but that’s why we pay our legislators $millions every year to come up with this, right? (*snicker*).
Some of these items come from my wife who is a pediatric dietitian and sees tons of families who simply don’t know where to get started with their children:
- Feeding your infant/child: breastfeeding (and alternatives), switching to solids, feeding complications
- Caring for your child: bathing, illnesses (when to call physician), basic needs (sleep, attention, discipline)
- Safety: child-proofing your home, CPR, car safety, etc.
- Finances: this is where it gets complicated because you’ll have students of all ages and income levels (including no income), but there are basic principals every person should know, especially those with dependents as the kids can’t fend for themselves. I would want to be careful not to teach people to manipulate the system (welfare and food stamps), but to educate enough to know what’s available and how to access it. Even middle-income parents can benefit knowing what programs are available to help them.
- Budgeting for your child (what to consider and average costs)
- Banking (interest, types of accounts)
- Handling credit and debt
- Government and local programs to help new parents
This is just my own short list of need-to-knows for any parent, without getting too much into interfering with religious or cultural issues. Keep it simple to the things that are common knowledge across most doctors, nurses, dietitians, certified financial planners, safety groups (fire, police, etc.) and, this is the tricky part, child psychologists. I say this last part because no, your kid probably isn’t ADD, ADHD or bi-polar, and trying to blame a mental or physical disorder on their behavior is avoiding the bigger issues of being a good parent. But that’s an argument for another time and place.
You’re not going to please everyone. You’ll have many people against parts of the curriculum, against the government “enforcing” a curriculum, or just the fact that we made it harder to get tax deductions. I’m sorry, but I know one too many people in my life (one is enough) who simply pops out kids to stay on welfare and get as much tax lenience as possible.
I’m not proposing making it impossible to get tax leniency when you’re having a child; rather, I’d like to know that the people at most need of this information (parents) have access AND incentive to get it.
Auditing the Process
How can we ensure parents are truly earning their deductions/credits? We certify educators and require proof of identity at class registration AND attendance. The educators submit the attendance roles through an electronic system straight to the IRS.
There’s always room for fraud with any system, and again, it’s not my call on the best way to implement these ideas; it’s for the legislators (and lobbyists I guess). Ultimately my goal is to educate parents (of your first, second or tenth child), and provide an incentive to learn basic topics. You can go to class, sit in the back and tune out the teacher, but you can’t catch ’em all, right?