Evaluating Agency Fee Schedules

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**Please skip to the revised version of this blog post which has information from twice as many agencies.**

Although I have already written about evaluating the amount of fees a potential agency charges, I have recently run into a few situations that made me think I should take a closer look at the aspect of *when* the fees are charged. Here some situations I have discussed with people within the past few weeks:

  • A family which had paid all of the agency fees before their homestudy was completed. The agency was barred from international adoptions and the family has lost the money they paid.
  • A family which applied to a particular agency because the agency was going to receive the file of a child they wanted to adopt. The agency was upfront about the fact that the family was not guaranteed to receive the child’s file. Another family ended up with that child’s referral, but because the first family had already paid several thousand dollars in fees, they ended up staying with the agency.
  • A family which used the same agency they had used for previous adoptions. This agency requires several thousand dollars upfront. After realizing that wait times for matching had increased significantly since their previous adoptions, the family would have preferred to switch agencies but now felt tied to the agency because of financial commitment.
  • A family found a child profile they were interested in on the “shared list” section of an agency advocacy site. The agency informed them that if they applied to the agency, they would help them find the file. The file was with another agency which refused to transfer, but now that the family had committed to the first agency by paying fees they didn’t have the freedom to switch to the agency which actually held the file.

The common theme here is that adoption is expensive. Families are prepared to pay the cost of the adoption, but they usually don’t have the funds to lose $3000-$6000 if they start over with another agency. The timing of WHEN you pay the fees can give you flexibility if the first agency you work with does not turn out to be the best fit for whatever reason. I looked up the fee schedules (or tried to) for 16 different adoption agencies with China programs. Let’s look at what I learned so you can make an informed decision when choosing an agency.

IMG_0179Fee Schedules– When I gave agency red flags, not posting a fee schedule on the agency website was one of the items I listed. It was no surprise to me that 3 agencies I consider unethical did not have fee schedules listed on their websites. Two additional agencies only gave a general estimate for the costs of the China program without listing individual fees. The other 11 agencies had at least a general breakdown of fees and when to expect to pay them. I’m sticking with my suggestion that if you don’t find a fee schedule on an agency website, don’t use them.

Application fees– Application fees ranged from $200 to $800. Application fees are not refundable. If you are considering an agency because of a waiting child, very few agencies will require an application fee to view a file. Most agencies can and will locate specific files for you free of charge because they hope to gain you as a client.

Homestudy– It came as a surprise to me to find that some agencies are expecting fee payment before the homestudy is complete. Remember that the purpose of a homestudy is to determine that you are eligible to adopt. Certainly most families pass the homestudy, but I would be hesitant to work with an agency which expects payment before you have been determined eligible to adopt.

Application approval/Contract signing– Of the agencies which had a payment that could be due before the homestudy was approved, most had the first payment tied to when the application was accepted or when the agency contract was signed. This fee was around $3000 with most of the agencies.  If this is the case with the agency you want to work with, consider not formally applying or signing the contract until after your homestudy is complete. The agency can review the homestudy and make changes once they have accepted you into the program. This is probably not going to work if the placing agency is also doing your homestudy, but it would give you the freedom to switch if you find a child at a different agency during the homestudy process.

Number of agency fees– Agencies had between 1 and 3 agency fees.

  • Two agencies had a single fee which was due after homestudy completion.
  • Five agencies had two fees. Three had the first fee due at contract/application and the other two did not have a clear timeline on their website.
  • Four agencies had a three fee structure. The first fee was due at contract/application with two agencies while the other two charged the first fee at homestudy completion.
  • Besides homestudy completion, the most common times agency fees were due were at dossier submission and/or at child match.
  • Some agencies indicated that payments were flexible, so you could continue to make payments throughout the process. It is a good idea to ask a potential agency if the fee payment dates are times that payment is required in full or if you can make payments on it.

Conclusion– If you are not looking at an agency because you are pursuing a particular waiting child, it is beneficial to look closely at the fee schedule of potential agencies. Especially if you are anticipating submitting your dossier first to be matched with a LID child, choosing an agency which has multiple fees spaced out throughout the process will give you maximum flexibility if you end up switching agencies later. It is very common for families to begin the process intending to adopt a LID child but to find a waiting child through an advocacy group or site during the process. You might feel sure you will stay with an agency, but giving yourself flexibility is still a good idea.

My data– I am sharing my fee schedule tally below without agency names.

  1. 3 fees, 1st with application approval
  2. 3 fees, 1st with application approval and second due within 45 days (I had to submit personal information to download the fee schedule)
  3. 3 fees, 1st at homestudy approval
  4. 3 fees, 1st at homestudy approval
  5. 2 fees, time of 1st fee is unclear
  6. 2 fees, 1st at agency contract but only needs to be paid by dossier submission
  7. 2 fees, 1st at agency contract
  8. 2 fees, timeline unclear
  9. 2 fees, 1st at application acceptance and 2nd at homestudy acceptance
  10. 1 fee, timing unclear but probably at homestudy acceptance
  11. 1 fee, after homestudy acceptance
  12. Only total amount estimate for China adoption listed
  13. Only total amount estimate for China adoption listed
  14. No fee schedule
  15. No fee schedule
  16. No fee schedule

If you are just beginning your adoption journey and found this post helpful, you might consider buying my book which has all of this information and more, including several chapters on travel.

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