Child tax credit 2021: Are you eligible for the extra cash? 3 ways to check

Parents can check their child tax credit eligibility with the Eligibility Assistant tool. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Check your bank account because the first child tax credit payment was sent to millions of parents that fall within the age and income brackets. Some families will get up to $3,600 per kid that will be disbursed between this year and next — but it all comes down to income and age requirements that determine how much you’ll get. Even if you received a check this morning, it’s best to see if you qualify for the money sooner, rather than later. If you’re not eligible for the money but still collect it, you may have to pay it back during tax time. 

Here’s how it works. Parents with an income of less than $150,000 (married and filing jointly) will get a max of $300 for each child under the age of 6 and $250 for each child ages 6 to 17 in monthly advance payments through the end of the year. The other half of the money will be a part of your tax refund in 2022. Families with higher incomes or with older dependents will get smaller payments. All in all, the extra money is a big relief for parents. President Biden spoke to the child tax credit in remarks this morning. “This can be life-changing for so many families,”  Biden said. “This would be the largest ever one-year decrease in child poverty in the history of the United States of America.”

Keep reading to see if you qualify for the enhanced credit. We can also show you how to use to manage your payments, and explain how they might affect your taxes next year. We’ve also put together details on the third stimulus payment and the latest update on a fourth stimulus check. This story is updated frequently. 

1. Eligible parents received an IRS letter about the child tax credit 

About 97% of working families are eligible for a child tax credit payment. Qualified families received a letter from the IRS. That means it has determined that you could qualify for child tax credit money based on your 2019 or 2020 federal income tax return. 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, and it includes a step-by-step guide in multiple languages to help parents use the nonfiler portal. So yes, even if you didn’t file your taxes you may still get advance monthly payments this month. 

But that’s just the first letter giving you a heads-up that you might qualify. The IRS plans to send a second letter to confirm eligibility and estimate how much child tax credit money you could receive (or use our calculator to get a quick estimate). To recap, the tax credit is up to $3,600 per child under age 6, and up to $3,000 for each child ages 6 to 17. You’ll get half of the amount through monthly installments this year and the other half when you file your taxes next year. 

You don’t need to do anything if you receive this letter, except hold on to it in case you need to reference it later on. Those who didn’t get the letter, don’t worry quite yet. Read on for more qualification tips.

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2. Use the IRS online portals and 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 best 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.

One online portal, the Child Tax Credit Update Portal, will soon let you add new information and correct or update outdated details like the number of kids you have or your income. Right now, you can use it to make decisions about opting out of the advance monthly payments and to add your direct deposit information.

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 way 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 Eligibility 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. 

3. Review the child tax credit rules and calculate your total amount

Even if you received the first child tax credit check this morning, 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.