Personal Finance

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2021 child tax credit FAQ: Remaining payments, unenroll deadlines, IRS portals

Another batch of advance checks went out to millions of families this week. Here's everything you need to know.

Update your direct deposit info or mailing address through the IRS portal. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Some 35 million households received their third child tax credit payment this week, with the majority of the payments directly deposited into bank accounts of qualified families. If you're waiting for your money to arrive in the mail, your check may not come until the end of the month, the IRS said. Future monthly payments are scheduled for Oct. 15, Nov. 15 and Dec. 15 -- each is up to $300 per child under age 6 and up to $250 per child ages 6 through 17.

Yet families that missed a payment in July and August should have had their September amount adjusted and spread out over four months instead of six, resulting in a larger check of $450 or $375 for each child through the remainder of the year. These advance payments are intended to help households get the cash immediately to use in 2021, with the rest of the credit arriving during tax season next spring. And if you're worried about your taxes next year, we'll explain what to do. 

The key thing is to use the IRS Update Portal to manage your child tax credit account. If your previous payment has been delayed or you got less than expected, you can see what's happening with your money (in case it's time to file an IRS payment trace). You can also use CNET's calculator to see how much money your family should be receiving. And here's the latest on remaining child tax credit deadlines, including what we know about its possible extension until 2025. This story is updated frequently.

What are the next child tax credit payment dates?

The following payment goes out on Oct. 15 through direct deposit and in the mail. Remember, you'll get half of the money in monthly payments this year, and the rest in 2022 when you file your taxes, unless you tell the IRS you want to unenroll from the advance payments to get them as part of your credit next year.

So in other words, your single largest payment arrives next year -- up to $1,800 per child. Until then, you get a total of six smaller payments this year to start using right away. The idea is to bring you money sooner, which is why the checks are "advance payments," to meet expenses like rent, food and daycare.

Child tax credit payment schedule

Monthly Maximum payment per child aged 5 and younger Maximum payment per child aged 6 to 17
July 15: First 2021 check $300 $250
Aug. 13 $300 $250
Sept. 15 $300 $250
Oct. 15 $300 $250
Nov. 15 $300 $250
Dec. 15: Last 2021 check $300 $250
April 2022: Second half of payment $1,800 $1,500

Is it too late to unenroll from the rest of the advance payments?

Advance payments are optional, and even though the majority of US families are eligible there are still families that don't qualify. If you know your household situation is changing significantly this year, you may prefer to opt out to avoid needing to repay the IRS. The next deadline to opt out of monthly payments is Oct. 4 at 9 p.m. PT. You can use the IRS Child Tax Credit Update Portal online anytime between now and December to unenroll. You may want to unenroll if you don't meet income or other eligibility requirements.

To stop advance checks, the IRS says you must unenroll three days before the first Thursday of the following month. See the chart below for deadlines. Once you unenroll in this year's advance payments, you can't yet reenroll, though the IRS says it will make that option available later. Also note that for couples who are married and filing jointly, each parent must unenroll separately.

Remaining child tax credit payment unenrollment dates

Payment month Unenrollment deadline Payment date
October Oct. 4 Oct. 15
November Nov. 1 Nov. 15
December Nov. 29 Dec. 15

How much money should my family be getting?

The way the child tax credit payments will be divided between 2021 and 2022 might be confusing. For each qualifying child age 5 and younger, up to $1,800 (half the total) will come in six $300 monthly payments this year. For each kid between the ages of 6 and 17, up to $1,500 will come as $250 monthly payments six times this year.

The IRS bases your child's eligibility on their age on Dec. 31, 2021, so a 5-year-old turning 6 in 2021 will qualify for a maximum of $250 per month. For both age groups, the rest of the payment will come with your 2021 tax refund when you claim the remainder of the credit in 2022.

If you have a dependent who is 18 years old, they can qualify for $500 each. Dependents between the ages of 19 and 24 may qualify as well, but they must be enrolled in college full time. Here's more on the financial details for qualified dependents.

Note that some parents who did not get paid in July might have adjustments made on their August and subsequent monthly payments, which could translate to higher amounts.

What are the income limits for the child tax credit this year?

Income limits determine how much you will receive and if you even qualify, though there is no limit on the number of children you can receive tax credits for as long as you're eligible.

Single filers earning less than $75,000 per year, heads of household earning less than $112,500 per year and married couples earning less than $150,000 a year will be eligible for the full amount.

The amount you'll get will then phase out for higher incomes. Your child tax credit payments will phase out by $50 for every $1,000 of income over those threshold amounts, according to Joanna Powell, managing director and certified financial planner at CBIZ. In other words, your family could still receive some money above those income limits, but it won't be for the maximum payment.

2021 child tax credit maximum payments

Age 5 and younger Up to $3,600, with half as $300 advance monthly payments
Age 6 to 17 Up to $3,000, with half as $250 advance monthly payments
Age 18 $500 one-time check
Age 19 to 24, full-time college students $500 one-time check

What if one of my checks is delayed or missing?

One thing to keep in mind is that the IRS is targeting specific payment dates (see above). If you have direct deposit set up with the IRS, you might see a pending payment before the actual closing date. That means you might not be able to access the money right away, but that it's in process. Unfortunately, the advance credit isn't without the usual hiccups. Around 15% of families that received July's payment by direct deposit were mailed paper checks in August because of a technical issue.

It could take longer for your payment to arrive if you're receiving the check by mail. If enough time has passed and you're concerned there may be a problem, you can use the IRS Update Portal to correct your banking information or address. You can also file an IRS payment trace if you're worried. Check here for more information about missing payments.

How will advance payments affect my taxes next year?

If you're eligible for advance payments and choose to get the extra cash this year, you'll receive the second half of your total on your taxes next year. You'll need to know the total amount of child tax credit money received in 2021 to compare it with how much you can claim. The IRS will send a letter with your personalized estimate that you can use for your 2021 tax return.

Since the IRS uses your 2019 or 2020 tax return, your family may not qualify for the child tax credit payment when you file your 2021 tax return in 2022, or it could have issued an "overpayment." In this case, you may have to repay the IRS some or all of the credit. The child tax credit rules aren't as flexible as the stimulus check rules regarding overpayment. One example of when this would happen is if you and the other parent (who's not your spouse) of your child both received the child tax credit for the same dependent.

To avoid this tax inconvenience, make sure all your information is updated as soon as possible. The Update Portal will soon let you make adjustments to verify your new income and number of children. Another option is to unenroll from early child tax credit payments and get the money in 2022. Here's what to know about how the payments impact your tax refund next year.

Video: Child tax credit: Everything we know

How can I update my household information in the IRS portal?

This summer, the IRS opened its child tax credit online portals. The first portal is for people not normally required to file an income tax return, including low-income families. And the Child Tax Credit Eligibility Assistant tool -- available in English and now in Spanish -- helps families quickly determine whether they qualify.

The Child Tax Credit Update Portal currently lets families see their eligibility, manage their payments and unenroll from the advance monthly payments. Parents can also update their direct deposit information and mailing address using the portal. Later this fall, it will allow families to update other information if their circumstances changed -- for example, if a new child has arrived or will arrive in 2021 and isn't reflected on your 2020 tax return. You'll also be able to update your marital status, income or dependents to have the most up-to-date eligibility information.

This handy PDF also describes what the portals do.

If I don't usually file taxes, can I still get child tax credit checks?

Payments will be automatic for those who filed their 2020 tax returns (or those who claimed all dependents on a 2019 tax return). Parents who didn't file taxes should use the new IRS tool, called the "Non-filer Sign-up tool," to get their money, even if you're not usually required to file. This will let the IRS know your income level and how many dependents are in your household who count toward the child tax credit benefits. You could also file a tax return to get the full monthly child tax credit payment you're owed.

Parents who get too much child tax credit money this year may have to repay the IRS. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Can I get a payment for a baby born in 2021?

If you have a baby in 2021, your newborn will count toward the child tax credit payment of $3,600. Children who are adopted can also qualify if they're US citizens. You'll be able to update the IRS on a new dependent once that aspect of the Update Portal is available.

What if I share custody of my dependents?

For the first two stimulus checks, some parents who shared custody of a child but weren't married to each other were entitled to each claim money for the same child. That was only if they alternated years for claiming the dependent -- in other words, if one parent claimed the child on their taxes in odd years and the other claimed the child on their taxes in even years.

This is no longer allowed for the third check, and we're told it won't work that way for the child tax credit payments either. Here's what we know so far about child tax credit and shared custody situations.

If the child switches homes this year, the parents will need to agree on who will claim the child on their taxes this year. The parent that claims the child and receives the child tax credit payments will need to fill out Form 8332 and include it with the tax return. If you don't qualify or want to get the money in one lump sum, you can also opt out of early payments. Remember, if you're not eligible but receive the money, you may have to pay the IRS back during tax time.

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