Keeping your kids entertained isn't cheap -- and it isn't usually tax deductible. If your child is able to turn dance, music or athletics into a paying gig, you can treat the related bills as a professional expense. Otherwise, you're pretty much stuck with eating the costs. There are a few exceptions though.
If your child can turn recreation into cash -- if she gets a paying acting job, work with a professional dance company or a gig for her garage band -- her expenses are deductible. That includes classes, equipment, travel and other costs. The bad news is, if the costs are more than she makes, the IRS will probably decide she has a hobby, not a business. You can write off hobby expenses against hobby income, but there's no deduction beyond that.
Child Care Credit
If you and your spouse need to put your kid somewhere safe so you can both work, his recreational programs may earn you a child-care credit. This can include anything from after-school programs to summer camp as long as it frees both parents to work or look for work. It has to be an organized program: Buying a tent so your child can go camping with his uncle, for instance, won't cut it. The credit applies to the cost of the program, but not to buying tools, equipment or clothes.
If you spend money to support your child's football team, cheerleading squad or school drama club, you can claim that as a tax deduction. To qualify, it has to be paid to the school -- or another organization that qualifies you to take a charitable deduction -- and not your kids. Writing the school a check or donating equipment is a write-off, for instance; paying your child's membership fees is just a fee, and not deductible. You can only claim charitable deductions when you itemize on Schedule A.
If you think there's any chance of turning your child's fun into a tax write-off, keep paperwork to prove your deduction. When you give money to the football team, get a receipt and record the date of the donation. Keep receipts and credit-card slips for any clothes, tap shoes or cheerleader pom-poms you buy for your child's income-generating hobby. Write down your child's Social Security number when you claim the child-care credit; if you don't know the number, make sure you have a record of it handy.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.