Advance child tax credit 2021: Here are quick ways to see if you qualify – CNET

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The IRS uses existing tax returns to send families monthly prepayments for their 2021 child tax credit this year.


Sarah Tew/CNET

The IRS has now made the first of six monthly child tax credit payments in 2021 to more than 35 million families with nearly 60 million children, but that doesn’t mean all is done and dusted. Even if you received a check or one is on the way, it’s best to see if you qualify sooner rather than later. If you’re not eligible for the full amount of the credit but still collect it, you may have an unpleasant surprise during tax time next year

The 2021 expanded credit could make a huge impact — for example, an eligible household with a young child and a newborn could collect up to $600 a month through December plus an additional $3,600 for the two dependents next year. It all comes down to income and age requirements: Parents with an income of less than $150,000 (married and filing jointly) will get the maximum: $3,600 for each child under age 6 and $3,000 for each child ages six through 17 — use our calculator to get a quick estimate. 

Half of each family’s total comes in monthly installments this year, and the other half in a payout next year. But before you spend those extra dollars, make sure to review the qualifications. Also, remember that the IRS uses existing tax records to work out your personalized amount, which might be outdated by now. We’ll tell you what the IRS letters mean, how to use ID.me to manage your payments and why you might want to opt out of advance checks this year. This story is updated frequently. 

1. Look for IRS letters about the child tax credit 

About 97% of working families are eligible for a child tax credit payment, and qualified families should have received at least one letter from the IRS. That means the agency determined that you qualify for child tax credit money based on your 2019 or 2020 federal income tax return. In that case, you would have automatically received the first July payment unless you already opted out. 

If you don’t typically file taxes, the IRS can use any information you submitted online using the nonfilers tool. The White House also launched ChildTaxCredit.gov, which includes a step-by-step guide in multiple languages to help parents use the tool. So yes, even if you didn’t file your taxes you may still get advance monthly payments this month. 

The first IRS letter (see sample PDFs 6416 or 6416-A) told families they may be eligible. The second letter (see sample PDF 6417) gave families a customized estimate of what their monthly advance payments will be throughout the remainder of this year. You don’t need to do anything if you received these letters, except hold on to them in case you need to reference it later on. If you didn’t get a letter, don’t worry quite yet; there are other ways to check your eligibility. 


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2. Use the Eligibility Assistant tool

The IRS has new portals and tools to help you get your child tax credit money. The interactive eligibility assistant is the quickest way for families to see if they qualify by answering just a few brief questions. You’ll need your latest tax return to check eligibility. But if any information has changed since then, you’ll need to use another tool to make sure the IRS has the most up-to-date information.

Another online tool, the Child Tax Credit Update Portal, also lets you check to see if you’re eligible and your payment history. You can use it to make decisions about opting out of the advance monthly payments and to add your direct deposit information. It will soon let you add new information and correct or update outdated details like the number of kids you have or your income. 

There’s also a nonfiler tool for those who did not file a 2020 tax return and don’t plan to. While there has been some criticism about it not being user-friendly, lacking a Spanish version and not working well on smartphones, the nonfiler tool is one of the ways that low-income families can give information to the IRS to make sure they get a payment. 

If the IRS says your eligibility is pending, you won’t start receiving payments until you’ve been approved. You can check the status of your eligibility using the Child Tax Credit Update Portal. If the IRS cannot confirm eligibility this year you’ll receive the full child tax credit amount when you file your taxes next year. 

On the other hand, if you find out that you’re not eligible or you’re unsure, there’s still time to opt out before the next payment. You’ll need to opt out ahead of the upcoming check to avoid getting the next payment, but it’s a one-time action. The IRS plans to add a re-enrolling option in September. Here are the unenrolling deadlines to keep in mind. 

Child tax credit opt out deadlines

Payment date Unenrollment deadline 
July 15 June 28 
Aug. 13 Aug. 2
Sept. 15 Aug. 30 
Oct. 15 Oct. 4 
Nov. 15 Nov. 1
Dec. 15 Nov. 29

3. Calculate your total amount for 2021-2022

Even if your first child tax credit check is on the way via mail, you can make an educated guess about your qualification status fairly easily. We think the fastest way is to use our child tax credit calculator. Just enter your yearly income and number of kids. Don’t worry — the calculator is private and anonymous and won’t store or use any of your personal information.

For the most part, the calculator tool will tell you what you need to know. However, there are some outlier qualifications that could crop up. For example, in some cases, it’s possible your income will disqualify you

And while parents of new babies will generally qualify for the full amount, that could change if you have shared custody of a child. US citizenship also plays a role, so if any of your kids are adopted from another country, you’ll want to make sure you know all the rules that apply to kids

For more, check here to see if your state owes you money, how you could get money back for your child care costs and if you could get a refund for the unemployment tax break.

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