Tuesday, March 18, 2008

7 Ways to Make Summer Camp Affordable for Families

While it’s hard to put a price tag on their children’s learning and growth, parents certainly have their family budgets to think about when considering camp.
The good news is that there is a camp program to fit nearly every budget.
With a little research, parents can find ways they may not have thought of to make camp affordable. Not only can a parent look for camps within a certain price range, they may also reduce certain costs by asking some key questions. Here are seven ways to find the right camp at the right price.
Research camps according to cost. At the American Camp Association’s (ACA) family-dedicated Web site, http://www.campparents.org/, families can use the Find A Camp database to search for camps within their price range. Using the database, they can identify camps according to a number of variables, including cost. The database also allows parents to search by location, special needs, special activities, length of session, and age, and they can search multiple variables at one time. Fees to attend camp vary, and parents may be surprised to learn that among ACA-Accredited® camps, fees can be as low as less than $100 per week for some camps. If a parent is looking to estimate costs, it’s helpful to know that day camp fees in New England range from no fee to $500 per week, with a median weekly fee of $193. For resident camps in New England, fees range from no fee to more than $1,000 per week, with the median being $780 per week. Sliding fee scales are sometimes used.
Ask camps what financial assistance is available. Ninety percent of camps offer some sort of financial assistance to families, usually in the form of "camperships." Camperships can cover a portion or all of the camp enrollment fees. The camp may not offer this option up front, so parents do need to ask if assistance is available. Although camperships are usually awarded based on need, parents should not automatically assume that their income level doesn’t qualify — they should ask the question! For this kind of assistance, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s vital to apply early.
Check to see if the camp offers special discounts. Camps offer discounts for situations such as early registration, full-season enrollment, or multiple enrollments from one family. This is another case of making sure that families ask the question. Parents may find that they’re entitled to a reduced rate!
Be sure to find out the camp's refund policy. Refund policies vary greatly from camp to camp. Some will give a total refund prior to a certain date, while others will refund in the case of illness only. Other camps do not offer refunds, so parents should be certain of their chosen camp’s policy before they enroll their child and send money. Most camps will ask for a small nonrefundable deposit at the time of application, which may or may not go toward the cost of camp fees.
In planning a budget for camp, determine what's included in the enrollment fee. Day camps will typically include transportation as part of their fee. Resident camps may offer limited transportation, such as a van ride from a major local train station. Other fees to ask about are ones for special programs and trips, special equipment that is required, organization memberships, and amenities such as laundry service and the camp canteen.
Day camp can be tax-free. The Internal Revenue Service allows an income tax credit of dependent care expenses, which may apply to qualifying day camp expenses as well. The amount of the credit is based on adjusted gross income and applies only to federal taxes. Parents can visit the IRS's Web site for more information about the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit.
A Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account allows parents to be reimbursed on a pre-tax basis for child care or adult dependent care expenses that are necessary to allow parents to work, look for work, or attend school full time while they are caring for qualified dependents. In certain circumstances, day camp expenses, including transportation by a care provider, may be considered dependent care services.
See the FSA Feds Web site for more information.
With so many options to choose from, and with careful planning, a camp experience for virtually every child is possible, no matter what a family’s budget may be.
Contact Jane Rulon at 765.349.3317 or pr@ACAcamps.org to interview an ACA spokesperson for more information on different types of camps and how to select a camp.

Check out the advertisers inside the March issue of Bay State Parent magazine in this month's camp guide at www.baystateparent.com or visit http://www.baystateparent.com/public/marketplace.php?publisher=BayStateParent&filter=Camps

About ACA: The American Camp Association® (ACA) works to preserve, promote, and enhance the camp experience for children and adults. ACA-Accredited® camp programs ensure that children are provided with a diversity of educational and developmentally challenging learning opportunities. There are over 2,400 ACA-accredited camps that meet up to 300 health and safety standards. For more information, visit www.ACAcamps.org.

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