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Adjusted gross income for taxes, child tax credit, stimulus checks: How to find it

Your AGI determines more than your tax refund or payment this year. Make sure you understand what it is and where to find it. You may need this number more than you expect.

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Your AGI makes all the difference when it comes to your stimulus check, child tax credit and your taxes too. We'll show you where to find it.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Your adjusted gross income was always important, but this year it does 5x duty. As with every year around tax time (remember, Tax Day is now May 17), your AGI determines either how much money you'll get back as a refund or how much you owe in taxes. Did you also know it's critical in calculating the size of your stimulus check and all other tax breaks?

Your AGI will set:

But it isn't enough to add up your salary or paystubs for the year. That's the adjusted part of your AGI. There are many conditions that could offset your gross, or total, income for the year, including major tax write-offs or deductions and investment income. We'll explain what you need to know, including what to do if you don't usually file taxes, receive SSI, SSDI or veterans benefits and are over age 65 or retired.

Your AGI: What it is and how it affects your stimulus check, tax refund and child tax credit 

Your adjusted gross income is an amount calculated from your total income, and the IRS uses it to determine how much the government can tax you. Gross income is the sum of all the money you earn in a year -- including wages, dividends, alimony, capital gains, interest income, royalties, rental income and retirement distributions. 

After you subtract allowable deductions from your gross income (such as student loan interest, alimony payments or retirement contributions), the result is your AGI, or taxable income, which is used to calculate your income tax. Your AGI is reported on IRS Form 1040, and you can find it on Line 11 of this year's version (PDF).

Since it's a rough estimate of how much money you're bringing in after deductions from all your streams of income, the IRS uses your AGI to calculate how much you get in a stimulus check, the amount of your tax refund (or how much you might owe), and your upcoming 2021 child tax credit (if applicable).

For tax credits, as your AGI goes up, the amount you can get generally decreases. Here's and example: The third check is more targeted than the first two rounds. Single taxpayers with an AGI over $80,000 will not be eligible for any stimulus money, down from a $99,000 cutoff for the first check, and $87,000 for the second check. 

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How to find your AGI on your 2020 and 2019 tax returns 

When you file your 2020 tax return, you'll enter your AGI on line 11 on Form 1040 and 1040-SR. 

If you filed your 2019 federal tax return, pull out your printed records or PDF. If you used tax-filing software like TurboTax or H&R Block, you should be able to log in to those accounts to find a copy of your return. 

You'll find your AGI on Line 8b of the 2019 Form 1040. Read more below on what to do if you an't find your previous tax return forms.

How to get your AGI if you didn't file taxes in 2019

If you didn't file federal taxes in 2019, you can find your AGI on your 2018 federal tax return. For the 2018 Form 1040, it's on Line 7. It's on Line 11 of the 2020 form. 

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Check the AGI qualifications needed for stimulus payments, the child tax credit and your 2020 taxes

Here's where to find specific information about AGI eligibility for the following programs:

Stimulus checks 1, 2 and 3

Child tax credit 2021

Tax return 2020

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Your AGI is critical to how much money you get for the child tax credit.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Your AGI changed on your 2020 taxes. What that means

Since your AGI is calculated from all your sources of income for the year, it can fluctuate based on a wide range of factors, including if you got a raise or lost a job; if you sold a house, got a bonus or received an inheritance; or if you lost or gained money in the stock market. 

Your income eligibility for a third stimulus check is based on either your 2019 or 2020 taxes -- whichever the IRS has on file more recently. If the IRS owes you more, you'll receive a "plus-up" payment. If you earned more in 2020 than in 2019, but the IRS uses your 2019 return (and gives you more stimulus money than you might be eligible for), you won't have to return that money.

For the 2021 child tax credit, how much money you get depends on the ages of your child dependents and your AGI -- you'll get less money per child if you made a certain amount in 2020.

How your AGI impacts your dependents

With the third stimulus check, your AGI is the main qualification for getting the money or not, due to a change in the rules and formula the IRS uses to calculate your payment total. If your AGI exceeds the limit, you won't get a check. If it falls under $80,000 for single taxpayers (this just one example), you'll receive a full or partial check that includes up to $1,400 per dependent of any age you claim. 

Your AGI is also critical in your eligibility for the child tax credit. As with stimulus checks, your total will become lower on a sliding scale if you make a certain amount of money in 2021.

What if you can't find your previous federal tax returns?

If you just can't find your tax return, you can find your AGI in two ways:

Method 1: Go to the IRS' Get Transcript portal and choose Get Transcript Online. You'll need your Social Security number, date of birth, filing status and mailing address from your latest tax return. You'll also need access to your email; your personal account number from a credit card, mortgage, home equity loan, home equity line of credit or car loan; and a mobile phone with your name on the account. Once your identity is verified, select the Tax Return Transcript and use only the Adjusted Gross Income line entry. You'll be able to view or print your information here. 

Method 2: If you don't have internet access or the necessary identity verification documents, you can use the Get Transcript portal and choose Get Transcript by Mail, or call 1-800-908-9946 to request a Tax Return Transcript. It takes about five to 10 days to be delivered to you. 

For more information, find out the most important stimulus check facts to know now and when a third stimulus check could arrive.