What does it cost to adopt a child? The answer a friend gave when she was asked was “a lot less than it’s worth.” But while the value of a child can’t be calculated, would-be adoptive parents need to have some idea of the amount of money they will need as they go through the adoption process.
Brooke Randolph, 34, had worked in adoption for several years before she decided she wanted to adopt. While she had an idea of how much money she’d need, she had some expenses she hadn’t counted on. The first, after she had applied to adopt, was a flooded basement. She used it as an opportunity to finish her basement, greatly increasing the value of her home but eating into her savings. Once she had a referral, she waited 17 long months before being allowed to bring her son, now 7, home to Indianapolis from Samoa. During that time, she was responsible for his living expenses — “probably what some people pay in rent,” she says. For the most part, she was able to pay adoption expenses with savings and a small inheritance, but when it came time to travel, she took out an interest-free loan (more about that in a moment). “I wanted to be able to travel without worrying about the money,” she said.
A Child or a New Car?
The cost of adopting a child can be comparable to what you’d pay for a new car — something Randolph says she won’t have for a long, long time — particularly if you want to adopt an infant or toddler or if you are adopting internationally. Only, in the case of adoption, you’ll be eligible for a federal income tax credit of roughly $13,000 after the adoption is finalized. In addition, a few states offer an adoption tax credit, and sometimes employee benefits include an adoption subsidy, too. The problem is, the adoption expenses must be paid before you receive the credit, and you can’t always know what the adoption’s final cost will be.
In Randolph’s case, the 17 months of waiting added to her adoption expenses, “but once I had committed to it, I was in.” She had conducted home studies to make sure would-be parents are ready to adopt and had seen the process work. “I knew it would work out,” she said. “I’ve seen it time and time again… you’d see a certain income and wonder how they could afford a new child… but they do. It works out.”
Dewey Crepeau, executive director of A Gift of Hope Adoptions in Columbia, Mo., said most of his clients come in knowing that adopting a baby will require a significant financial commitment, and many are creative in how they come up with the money. “One couple we worked with both worked two jobs” to save up to adopt, he said. In other cases, a couple’s parents have subsidized the adoption. Some couples use crowdfunding, he said. Still others have used peer lending to pay adoption expenses. Crepeau said that at his agency, which does only domestic adoptions, couples need to be prepared to spend $15,000 to $20,000 in a short time — with total costs usually between $20,000 and $40,000. In many cases, a portion of the fees are due when you apply, another portion when you get a referral or are matched with a birth mother, and another when your child comes home.
How do you come up with such sums, sometimes on short notice? Savings is one way. Others include getting a home equity line of credit, borrowing against a 401K, getting a loan or gift from a family member, taking out a personal loan or getting a cash advance from a credit card. Of those options, the cash advance is potentially the most expensive, because you are charged interest starting when you withdraw the money, and the interest rates are higher than they are for credit card purchases. Borrowing against a 401K can also be risky, particularly if you end up leaving your job and the loan comes due. If you must borrow, though, having solid credit can help. Most adoption agencies can refer you to a lender who makes adoption loans, and the interest will be lower for applicants whose credit scores are highest. (You can check your credit profile and get personalized tips to improve it for free on Credit.com.) It’s also a good idea to check your credit reports — you are entitled to a free one every year from each of the three major credit reporting agencies — to make sure those records are accurate.
Keep careful records of your adoption expenditures, too — you will need them to get your tax credit and any other benefits you are entitled to. And knowing how much money will be reimbursed can inform your decision about how much to borrow.
Grants & No- or Low-Interest Loans
Also, you may not have to borrow as much as you think. Many adoption resources exist. Lots of would-be adoptive parents try fundraising or asking local religious groups and community groups for support. There are grants and loans available, such as the no-interest loan Randolph took out. Hers was from an organization called Show Hope, and she paid it off with her adoption tax credit. But there are other groups offering grants and/or matching funds for money raised for an adoption. One way to find them is by looking online, but Randolph cautions that adoption scams abound. She said talking with your adoption agency or with others who have adopted recently may be the best way to get reliable, up-to-date information. Also, once you fill out one application, save it with your other adoption documents. The questions on applications are often the same or similar, and you can re-use your answers instead of starting over. If she could redo any of her adoption finances, she said she would look at matching loans and grants from the very beginning. (She notes that her options were somewhat limited; much of the financial aid available is for couples only.)
But would she take on debt to adopt again? Absolutely. Although her marital status made her ineligible for some aid, her son’s age qualified him for other help. “Knowing the great need for families for older children, I wish more families would be willing to take a loan for adoption,” she said. “My child is worth infinitely more than a car or a house; a car loses value immediately after purchase, yet many are willing to finance a car …. I would happily take out a loan again to add another child to our family through adoption.”
Crepeau also pointed out that some adoptions cost little or nothing: “You can adopt almost for free through your state or local government.” The children available are most often sibling groups or older children who have special needs. In those cases, the adoptive parents are sometimes eligible for continued support to pay for care the child requires. If you’re interested in going that route, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which focuses on finding families for foster children, offers resources.
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Image: Danese Kenon Photography