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Am I Eligible for the Child Tax Credit?

In 2021, there were significant changes to the Child Tax Credit (CTC). This article only applies to the CTC for the 2021 tax year.

If you have a child, you may be eligible for the CTC. The CTC is money that is taken out of what you owe in taxes based on the number of dependent children you have. Unlike in other years, you could have received some of your 2021 CTC payments in advance, in monthly payments. If you received advanced monthly payments in 2021, you should receive the second half of your 2021 CTC when you file your 2021 tax return (in early 2022). If you did not receive advance monthly payments in 2021, you can still receive the full CTC amount you are owed when you file your 2021 tax return.

I Got Monthly CTC Payments in 2021. How Do I Get the Rest of My CTC Payments?

If you received monthly CTC payments in 2021, you need to file a 2021 tax return in order to claim the rest of your CTC payment.

I Did Not Receive Monthly CTC Payments in 2021. Can I Still Get My Full CTC Payment?

Yes. Even if you did not get advance monthly CTC payments in 2021, you can still claim the whole CTC amount you are owed. In order to do that, you need to file a 2021 tax return.

How Much Will I Get?

For 2021, the maximum CTC amount is $3,600 for each child under 6 years old and $3,000 for each child 6-17 years old. The amount you get depends on your income in 2021. The income used to determine these levels is Modified Adjusted Gross Income. To learn more about how the Modified Adjusted Gross Income is calculated, you can read “What is my Modified AGI?” in the 2021 Child Tax Credit and Advance Child Tax Credit Payments article on the IRS website.

If your income in 2021 is more than the following amounts, you will get less than the maximum CTC amount:

  • $150,000 if you are married filing jointly or if filing as a qualifying widow or widower
  • $112,500 if you are filing as head of household
  • $75,000 if you are a single filer or are married and filing separate

For every $1,000 your income is over these amounts, your CTC amount is reduced by $50. The CTC will not be reduced below $2,000 per child until your income exceeds:

  • $400,000 if you are married and filing jointly; or
  • $200,000 for all other taxpayers

Who Is a Qualifying Child?

The CTC is available to tax filers who have a qualifying child. A qualifying child is a child who meets all of these factors:

  • Is your son, daughter, stepchild, eligible foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, half-brother, half-sister, or a descendant of any of them (like a grandchild, niece, or nephew)
  • Was under age 18 at the end of the tax year (December 31)
  • The child does not provide more than half of their own support in 2021
  • Lived with you for more than half of the tax year
  • Is claimed as a dependent on your tax return
  • Did not file a joint tax return for the year (or files it only to claim a refund)
  • Is a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or U.S. resident alien

A child is considered to have lived with you for more than half of a tax year if the child was born or died during that year, and your home was this child’s home for more than half the time they were alive. For example, if your child was born in November and lived with you for the remainder of the year, you would meet this requirement.
You and the child are allowed certain temporary absences. The absences can be for:

  • School
  • Vacation
  • Business
  • Medical care
  • Military service
  • Detention in a juvenile facility (for child—your incarceration is not an allowed absence)

There are also exceptions for kidnapped children and children of divorced or separated parents. To learn more, you can review the tax return instructions in column 4 of the section on Dependents.
You can use a tool provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to help determine if your child is a qualifying child for CTC purposes.

How Can I Claim the Credit When I File My Taxes?

In most circumstances, in order to claim the CTC, you must file your taxes using Form 1040 or Form 1040NR. 

Before tax year 2018, the IRS had Form 1040A that people could use to claim the CTC. That form is no longer available.

You will need to list the name and identification number (Social Security Number) for each qualifying child on the form.

Claiming the CTC When You Share Custody of Your Child

If you and someone else could claim your child on their taxes, the IRS will apply some tie breaker rules to decide who has the right to claim your child. The first rule looks at whether a parent and a non-parent are claiming the child. In this case, the parent will be able to claim the child.

If it is a case between two parents, the parent who had the child physically in their home for more nights during the year gets to claim the child. If the numbers of nights are the same, then the parent with the highest Adjusted Gross Income will be able to claim the child.

If the parents agree that the parent not entitled to claim a child under these rules will get to do so, the entitled parent needs to sign Form 8332 Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent. This can be done for one or multiple years. Every year the other parent claims the child, they must attach Form 8332 to their tax return. Form 8332 allows the other parent to claim the child for purposes of the personal exemption and the CTC. It does not allow the other parent to use that same child to do any of the following:

  • Qualify for Head of Household filing status

  • Get the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit

  • Get any additional Earned Income Tax Credit (for that child)

What Happens When the Wrong Person Claims the Child?

If you and someone else claim your child when you file your tax return, the IRS will accept the first return it gets and reject the second one. If your return is the second return the IRS gets, you will need to file a paper version of your tax return along with a cover letter explaining the situation. You need to include evidence that shows you should be the person claiming your child, like medical and school records showing that the child lived with you. You can learn more about the type of evidence the IRS looks for by reading What to Do if We Audit Your Claim on the IRS website.

After reviewing the documents you provide, the IRS will make a decision about who should be claiming your child. This process can be complex. You may want to speak with a lawyer before sending your documents. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you are low-income, a local tax clinic may be able to help you for free. The Guide will screen you to see if you qualify for free help from a local tax clinic.

If you want to learn more about changing a custody order, read Changing a Custody Order. You may want to speak with a lawyer who can answer questions and give you advice about custody and taxes. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers and legal services in your area.

Can I Use My 2021 Tax Return to Get Missing Stimulus Payments?

In addition to claiming the CTC, you can use your 2021 tax return to claim a missing or incomplete Third Stimulus Payment. To do that, you can try to claim a 2021 Recovery Rebate Credit. To learn more, read the Recovery Rebate Credit article on the IRS website.

You cannot try to claim a 2021 Recovery Rebate Credit for any missing First or Second Stimulus Payments. To do that, you would need to file a 2020 tax return if you never filed one, or an amended 2020 tax return. To learn more, read the Recovery Rebate Credit article on the IRS website.

Getting Your Taxes Done

If you need help getting your taxes done but can’t afford to pay someone, there are organizations that can help you. To learn more about these organizations, read Getting Your Taxes Done for Free.