You probably didn’t see this coming at this stage of your life.
You already raised children of your own. You’re in your 50s or 60s, and you may not have the energy levels you used to have. And now, possibly due to a plethora of heartbreaking reasons beyond your control, your grandchildren have come to live with you full time.
More than 2.4 million grandparents across the country have stepped up when needed, taking their grandchildren into their homes and raising them as their own. If you’re among the grandparents in this situation, it’s quite likely that you’re consumed by seemingly relentless money worries. The following tips can help.
1. Seek out support and information. Even if support groups aren’t normally your cup of tea, it’s more important than you may realize for you to connect with other people who understand what you’re experiencing. You can find out about online and in-person support groups for grandparents in your area by tapping into these resources: AARP and the National Committee of Grandparents for Children’s Rights. This U.S. government site also provides links to numerous resources for grandparents across the country.
2. Don’t blow through all your savings. Many dedicated grandparents end up impoverishing themselves paying for their grandchildren’s food, clothing, medical care and other needs. Instead of plunging head-long in this direction, find out whether your grandchild or your family qualifies for Social Security, your state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program or food stamps.
3. Determine your eligibility for help. An easy way to see what kind of government support might exist for you is to fill out a confidential questionnaire at BenefitsCheckUp.org. The Web site will highlight programs that could be available to you.
4. Consider your legal status. Ask a family law attorney to help you determine whether or not it would be beneficial for you to become your grandchild’s legal guardian. Such status would allow you to make key decisions about the child’s education and medical treatment.
5. Pursue tax credits. Adults who are raising children and living on low or fixed incomes can apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit. If you make too much money to qualify for the EITC, you may be able to apply for the Child Tax Credit. And if you’re raising three or more kids, you can try for the Additional Child Tax Credit.
6. If you’re a renter, be prudent. Some grandparents who live in senior or public housing try to hide their grandchildren’s presence so they don’t get booted out. Instead of taking such a risky approach, contact your local grandparents’ support group and your city’s or county’s housing office about rental options for grandparents raising grandkids.
7. If you’re a homeowner, consider a reverse mortgage. Such loans are an alternative to selling your home or borrowing against your home if you need money. They allow you to convert your home equity into cash without having to move or assume extra debt. You typically must be at least 62 and must live in the home as a principal residence. You can learn more about reverse mortgages here.
8. Remember safety. How child-friendly is your home? Pay special attention to electrical outlets and power cords, tub surfaces, handrails on staircases (or the lack thereof) and areas that might benefit from installation of a ramp.
9. Protect your grandchildren’s health. You can apply for free or low-cost health insurance for your grandchildren through your state government. (Click here to find the link to the health program offered in your state.) You also may be able to get help through Medicaid.
10. Take care of your own health. Do what you can to relieve stress and take breaks from round-the-clock caregiving. Accept help from relatives and friends, and line up day-care sessions. Recognize that depression is common among grandparents raising their grandkids. Talk to your doctor if you’re feeling depressed.