Putting A Price on the Priceless: The Cost of Adoption

by Susan Doktor

Adoption costs

I don’t recall much of what the preacher said the day I was married. It was pretty much an out-of-body experience—knowing I was turning the page and beginning an entirely new chapter of my life. One phrase has stuck with me all these years, though. “Marriage means no more loneliness,” he said.

Six years later, as my husband and I walked into our home with twin infants in our arms, I wondered, “If marriage meant no more loneliness, what does being a mom mean?” The answer came to me in a rush of emotion: parenthood means no more selfishness.

For adopting parents, selflessness begins before they even find a child to love. While it’s hard to overstate the immense worth of the parenting experience, we make financial sacrifices when we adopt. In many cases, very significant sacrifices. That’s why, before embarking on an adoption journey, it’s important to understand the costs involved with welcoming a new child into the family.

Which Route to Parenthood Will You Take?

The cost of adopting a child can vary widely, depending on how you pursue the experience. The two ways parents commonly adopt are through an adoption agency or by private arrangement with a birth mother.

In the US, adopting a baby through an agency costs an average of $50,000. International adoptions are comparable in cost, but may involve more complexity. The money you pay an adoption agency, whether domestic or foreign, goes toward supporting the birth mother during her pregnancy, legal and medical fees, and agency operating costs. A lot of labor goes into a successful adoption, in more ways than one.

Private adoptions can cost as much, more, or less than agency adoptions. Some states mandate that private adoptions must be supervised by licensed adoption agencies. That can make private adoptions more expensive. But depending on where you live, if you establish a relationship with a birth mother who has decided to surrender her child, you may be able to spend less. One note of caution: steer clear of adoption facilitators—private, unlicensed firms or individuals that advertise parent/child matchmaking services and promise a “cheap” adoption. Not only do they not provide the range of services you’ll need to complete a permanent legal adoption, they’re usually shady outfits. They’re outlawed entirely in some states.

Foster Care Adoption

Some parents choose to work within the foster care system and the amount they pay out-of-pocket to adopt may be nominal. Foster care agencies normally cover routine adoption expenses like attorney fees and the cost of a home study. Adopting through foster care can be risky though. A 2020 study by the Health and Human Services Department found that only about 25% of foster care placements resulted in adoption in 2018. While most states will not reinstate a birth parent’s parenting rights once they’ve been revoked, it has been known to happen. If you choose to adopt through the foster care system, be certain you understand the laws in your state. Finding a child to love then losing him or her due to legal circumstances is a heartbreaking experience no adoptive parent should have to suffer. But again, parenting is about selflessness. A child’s best interest comes first.

Financing Your Adoption

More than half of Americans have less than $5000 in savings. A third have less $1000. If the cost of adopting a child seems daunting to you, you’re not alone. Fortunately, adoption loans—and even a limited number of outright grants—can help you manage adoption expenses. Some organizations, many of them faith-based, also offer interest-free loans.

Traditional financial institutions, including your local credit union, may offer loans at interest rates of 5% or below. But keep in mind, lenders reserve their lowest interest rates for the most qualified buyers. It’s helpful to have your most recent credit report in hand before applying for a loan. If your credit history is a little bit spotty, it’s best to mount a credit repair campaign before you apply for an adoption loan. You can compare loan offers easily nowadays online. You’ll also find free calculators to help you understand your credit position. Your debt-to-income ratio, for example, is one factor lenders consider when deciding whether to offer you a loan and at what interest rate. Young parents-to-be especially may be carrying a heavy student loan burden, which may have an impact on their DTI ratio and their ability to qualify for an adoption loan. A conservative financial advisor might warn against taking on more debt if you already have, say, a mortgage, a car loan or student loans to pay. But he or she may not see the longing in your heart. Or your determination.

Budgeting for Parenthood

Nearly every parent who decides to adopt recognizes that raising a child is a long-term financial commitment. But beyond food, clothing, and shelter, fewer take the time to consider the full range of expenses they’re taking on.

Healthcare costs continue to skyrocket even when we’re protected by robust health insurance policies. Families that depend on two incomes and single parents should factor in childcare expenses as they budget. Life insurance, which may have seemed like a nice-to-have before, is absolutely imperative when you have children who depend on you. The average cost of a college education is over $35,000 per year. Then there’s the cost of enrichment activities for your kids, from piano lessons to summer camp. Yes, we will get beyond this pandemic. Team sports, swimming pools, and youth travel opportunities are just over the horizon. In the meantime, virtual enrichment activities are available—but they’re not free, either.

The Bottom Line: No More Selfishness

The day-to-day cost of raising a child is dynamic: the older your kids get, the more you’re going to spend taking care of them. Anyone who has ever given a gaggle of teenagers free reign of a refrigerator can attest to that! The USDA estimates that, on average, it costs over $233,000 to raise a kid to the age of 18. And your kid may not be average. Parents need to budget for the unexpected, too. That may mean forgoing well-earned vacations, giving up professional massages, and shopping the second-hand stores for fashion bargains.

Parents make a lot of sacrifices. They’re not all financial, of course. We give up a measure of freedom, for example, when we share our lives with children. But parenting is an immeasurably profound experience. About 140,000 parents in the US find a way to adopt each year. The financial and emotional obstacles are surmountable—particularly if you don’t try to go it alone. In addition to the many social welfare and financial resources available to adoptive parents, we have each other, our friends, and our family. Who’s on your adoption team? Your best friend? Your lawyer? Your therapist? Ask yourself—and tell them directly—how they can best support you. Asking for help is hard for a lot of folks. But truly, you deserve it. That’s a bit of wisdom you can pass along to your children. They’ll be more secure knowing that grown-ups stand tall in their corner. Especially mom and dad.