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News from CNN on tax breaks for parents

As the countdown to a fiscal cliff reaches its final days, four key tax breaks for parents are hanging in the balance.

Lawmakers and President Obama continue to butt heads about which tax cuts should be extended. And unless a deal is inked by the end of the year, the Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit, Child and Dependent Care Credit and the American Opportunity Credit will revert to lower levels on Jan. 1.

If this happens, many families will be worse off by hundreds — or even thousands — of dollars, according to Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center.
Some families could take a hit on several fronts if they typically qualify for more than one tax break.
Related: Fiscal cliff — Years of self-made messes
For example, a low-income couple with three kids will lose as much as $1,500 from expiring provisions of the Child Tax Credit. If their income is low enough, they could also see a smaller refund from the Earned Income Tax Credit, and benefits from the Child and Dependent Care Credit could be reduced as well.
1. Child Tax Credit
The Child Tax Credit allows lower-income parents to claim as much as $1,000 for each child under age 17.
Under the Bush tax cuts,the maximum value of the credit was doubled to $1,000. Obama’s 2010 Tax Relief Act then extended the credit until the end of this year and made it so families whose income tax is lower than the credit’s value could receive more of the credit in a cash refund once any tax liability is zeroed out.The credit phases out for married couples whose income is $110,000 or for single people with income of $75,000 or more.
Should the Bush and Obama provisions expire, the tax break will drop back to a maximum of $500, and only working families with three or more children will be eligible to receive cash refunds.
A couple with two children could therefore end up paying an added $1,000 in taxes next year. Since they have fewer than three children, they will no longer be eligible for a cash refund. And if they don’t owe any taxes, they can’t apply the credit either, said Williams.
2. Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit
This credit allows working parents — or those looking for work — to report up to $3,000 of child care-related expenses per child, up to a maximum of $6,000 per family. Families can receive up to 35% of their expenses as a credit, with lower-income families receiving the highest percentages.
Prior to the Bush tax cuts, parents could only report up to $2,400 per child or $4,800 per family, and families received a maximum credit of just 30% of expenses.
Should the tax breaks expire, the credit will revert to these lower levels. That would mean the largest credit that parents with two children could receive next year would be $1,440, compared to $2,100 currently.