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Parents who pay someone to care for a child or dependent while they work or look for work may qualify for a special tax credit, the Internal Revenue Service says. This Child and Dependent Care Credit may be taken not only for payments to baby sitters and day-care centers but also to certain relatives paid for this service.

This credit is available to married couples who both work part-time or full-time, or are actively looking for work, and file a joint tax return. If one spouse works full-time and the other works part-time, is a full-time student or is disabled, they are also eligible for the credit, according to the IRS.The credit may also apply to a divorced or separated parent who has custody of a child who is under 15 or physically or mentally incapable of self-care, even though the parent may not be entitled to a dependency exemption for the child. The parent claiming the credit must, however, have custody for a longer period during the year than the other parent. A married person living apart from his or her spouse for the last six months of the taxable year, is eligible for the credit if a separate return is filed.

Expenses which can be used for the tax credit include only amounts paid for household services and care of the qualified person. Child support payments are not qualified expenses, nor are amounts paid for an overnight camp.

The credit is from 20 to 30 percent of eligible expenses, depending on the taxpayer's adjusted gross income. The maximum credit that may be taken is limited to $720 for one qualifying person and to $1,440 for two or more qualifying person.

To qualify for the Child and Dependent Care Credit, a taxpayer (1) must have been gainfully employed or in active search of gainful employment when the expense for the child's or dependent's care was incurred, and (2) must have paid over half the cost of maintaining his or her household, which included one or more qualifying individuals. Also, the IRS has emphasized that the taxpayer and the qualifying person must have lived in the same home during 1988. A qualifying individual is a dependent child under 15 years of age or a spouse or dependent who is mentally or physically incapable of self-care.

To claim the credit, taxpayers can file Form 1040A, using Schedule 1 (Form 1040A) to compute the amount of the credit. Taxpayers who file Form 1040 may also claim the credit, even if they do not itemize deductions. These taxpayers compute the credit on Form 2441, "Credit for Child and Dependent Care Expenses," and attach this form to the Form 1040.