Summer vacation — two words that make students and teachers cheer, and parents groan. With a break in school sessions approaching, many parents are scrambling to find child care or activities for the summer break.
Summer camp can be a great way to keep kids occupied — and supervised — while school is out of session. A major problem, though, is figuring out how to pay for your child’s summer camp.
The costs of summer camp can range from $200 to $800 per week for day camps, and as much as $2,000 per week for resident or sleep-away camps, according to the American Camp Association (ACA).
Summer camp likely is a major expense in your family’s budget and it requires careful planning. Here are five options parents should explore when deciding how to pay for summer camp.
1. Seek out summer camp scholarships
Before opening your wallet, seek out summer camp scholarships and other assistance to cover costs. This effort can start with finding the right camp for your child — and your budget.
“Every camp is different,” said Tom Rosenberg, ACA’s president and CEO. The organization’s report says 93% of ACA-accredited camps offer some form of financial aid to help children who have special medical needs or are from low-income families.
The ACA advises parents to contact summer camp programs to inquire about financial aid or scholarships. “The best strategy is to plan ahead,” Rosenberg said. “Check for early registration or scholarship [and] financial aid deadline. Scholarships are typically given prior to the summer camp season.”
2. Pay what you can out of pocket
What if you can’t get a summer camp scholarship or if this free money doesn’t cover the full tuition and other costs? You’ll need to figure out how to pay for your child’s summer camp. It’s time to look at your own family’s resources.
Earmark your savings. If you have some buffer built in your bank account, you could use some of those funds to cover summer camp costs.
Ask for donations. People in your support system probably would love the opportunity to help your child create great memories at summer camp. Ask grandparents, extended family members, friends, or co-workers for donations to send your kid to camp.
Let your child contribute. Adolescents or teens are capable of contributing to the costs of camp. Your kids could tap their personal savings, for instance, or work some side jobs such as babysitting or mowing lawns to raise funds for camp.
With some financial flexibility and creativity, you could find money for camp in your existing budget or generate more funds.
3. Ask about payment plans
Many summer camps provide the option to save a spot for your child with an initial deposit and settle the remaining amount with one or more payments later.
It can be more manageable to pay camp fees in installments rather than all at once. A payment plan also can buy you some time to use the strategies listed above to save or raise more money.
Contact the summer camp you like to inquire about payment plans and determine how they can fit in with your family’s needs and finances.
4. Use tax benefits to help cover day camp costs
Summer camp as a form of child care can be an essential expense for working parents. You potentially can use two kinds of tax benefits to help pay for summer day camps:
Child and dependent care tax credit: This tax benefit lets you write off a portion of child care costs, including day camp for kids below the age of 13, when you file your tax returns. You can write off up to $3,000 worth of child care costs each year for one child or up to $6,000 for two or more children.
Dependent care flexible spending accounts: If your employer offers this kind of flexible spending account (FSA), you can take advantage of the benefit to pay for day camp with your pretax dollars. The annual contribution limits for dependent care FSAs are $5,000 for single filers and for married taxpayers filing jointly, and $2,500 for a married taxpayer filing separately.
Avoid borrowing while deciding how to pay for your child’s summer camp
Summer camp might be necessary in some situations, but you should keep costs in mind and choose a program that’s affordable for your family. “There is a camp for every child and every budget,” Rosenberg said.
Pay out of pocket for camp costs if possible. Make sure you capitalize on the options listed above.
If you consider borrowing money for summer camp, it should be a last resort. Look for low-interest credit options, such as:
Small personal loan: You can borrow as little as $500 to $1,000 from reputable lenders, and might find interest rates that are lower than those charged by credit cards.
Zero-interest credit card: You can sign up for a new credit card that offers a 0% introductory interest rate and use it to pay for summer camp. Make sure you pay off the balance in full before the 0% APR promotional period expires to avoid the risk of incurring high interest charges on the balance.
As a parent, child care and extracurricular activities are sources of significant expenses that you can’t always avoid.
Start thinking about these costs now so you’ll have time to save up and explore your options. With some research and forethought, you can make your own plan for how to pay for your child’s summer camp.
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