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Child tax credit 2021 checks: When to expect your 7 payments, other details to know

How soon can you expect your child tax credit checks to come? What makes the final payment different? We'll explain.

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Child tax credit payments will start in July, but the details aren't so simple.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In about a month and a half, the first checks for the 2021 child tax credit are expected to arrive. The first of six monthly payments is slated for July. While our child tax credit calculator can tell you about how much money your family can expect per child aged newborn to 24 (in some cases), we still don't know if the IRS is aiming to send that first payment early in July or later, and if the checks will come the same time each month. We also don't know if delivery could vary by state or even county, like the $300 unemployment bonus checks

However, we do know quite a lot about your family's eligibility requirements, opting out of the monthly payments if you want them in one lump sum and how your adjusted gross income for 2021 factors in. If you share custody over a child, you'll need to know certain rules. The same applies to parents of babies born in 2021.

We've got some ideas on ways to use your child tax credit money when it arrives. While you're here, did you know you can claim up to $16,000 in child care expenses? If your $1,400 stimulus check or plus-up payment is missing, you can track your check and learn how to report a problem. Also, here's the latest on a fourth stimulus check, and every way the next stimulus plan could benefit you. We recommend seeing if your state owes you money as well. Here's how some could get up to $50,000 back in 2021 and what's going on with student debt forgiveness. This story has been recently updated.

When will my first check arrive?

We know the child tax credit payments will begin arriving in July, but the IRS hasn't announced a specific start date yet. We don't know if the payments will be released in batches for different groups like how the stimulus check money is divvied up, or all at once for everyone who qualifies. We also don't know if they'll come earlier in the month, say the first day, or later, for example, July 15. 

What we do know is that the checks are on track to arrive monthly through December. Here's a breakdown of what to expect. We'll update this chart when we learn more about the payment delivery dates.

Timeline for the child tax credit payments

Monthly Payment ages 5 and younger Payment ages 6 to 17
July 2021: First payment of the year $300 $250
August 2021 $300 $250
September 2021 $300 $250
October 2021 $300 $250
November 2021 $300 $250
December 2021: Last payment of the year $300 $250
April 2022: Second half of payment $1,800 $1,500
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Why won't I get a check if I don't file taxes by May 17?

Payments will be automatic for those who file their 2020 tax returns by May 17, the new tax deadline. Yes, nonfilers will need to file a 2020 tax return to get the credit, even if they don't usually submit tax returns. This will let the IRS know how many dependents are in the household who count toward the child tax credit benefits.

Taxpayers shouldn't file an amended return related to the new legislation and shouldn't take any other "unnecessary steps," the IRS said March 12.

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How will my child tax credit payments be made?

The way your child tax credit money arrives could very well depend on how you receive your stimulus check money, Powell told CNET. The IRS has changed this in the past, so we'll need to hear official guidance from the agency. 

For example, if you got all three stimulus checks by direct deposit, it's quite possible your child tax credit could arrive that way, too. If you receive Social Security benefits like SSI or SSDI, it's possible you might get your payment on a Direct Express card. Veterans who don't normally pay taxes might also have a different delivery method. 

Paper checks and EIP debit cards are other delivery methods used for stimulus checks. We'll keep our ear to the ground for emerging details and will provide updates as we learn more.

What happens when the child tax credit checks end in December?

The final advance payment of the child tax credit is scheduled to go out by Dec. 31, with the rest coming in 2022 with tax season. But President Joe Biden wants to make the higher payments last until at least 2025. He presented his American Families Plan proposal April 28 asking to extend the payments. "Together, let's extend the Child Tax Credit at least through the end of 2025," he said during his speech. It's up to Congress to approve his request.

What is the IRS portal and why might I need it?

The IRS plans to launch an online portal by July 1, but the IRS won't have the resources to build this until after tax filing season ends. Once the child tax credit portal is available, recipients can log in to update their information if their circumstances have changed. For example, if you have a child in 2021, the IRS wouldn't have that information on file yet, so updating those details may help you get a larger tax credit payout.

If the IRS sends too much money, do I have to send it back?

Yes. The child tax credit isn't as flexible as the stimulus check rules. If you receive more money than you should have, you will have to pay it back. One example of this happening is if you and the other parent of your child (who is not your spouse) are both paid for the child tax credit for the same dependent.

When you file your 2021 tax return (in 2022), if your tax situation isn't what the IRS has in its system and you weren't entitled to as much as you received, you'll have to give the overpayment back. To avoid this tax inconvenience, make sure all your information is updated before the payments start arriving. The portal will open by July 1 for you to make adjustments.

If I have a new baby this year, do I qualify for the child tax credit?

If you have a baby in 2021, your newborn will count toward the child tax credit payment of $3,600, if you and they qualify. Children who are adopted can also qualify if they're US citizens.

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Good news for new parents: Babies born in 2021 will count toward a $3,600 check.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If I share custody of a child, will both parents get a check?

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 the child tax credit and shared custody situations.

How can I opt out of the monthly child tax credit checks and get one big payment instead?

You won't have to receive monthly child tax credit payments this year. Instead, you can choose to get one payment in 2022. The IRS intends to open a portal by July 1 that will let you opt out of the monthly payments. You may want to opt out if you'd rather have one large payment next year, for example, or if you're concerned the IRS might overpay you this year and you don't want to pay back money next year. That means you'd get a larger total in your tax refund or owe the IRS less money because the credit would be deducted from your total.

What are the income requirements and other eligibility rules for the child tax credit?

You may be confused about how your payments will be divided between 2021 and 2022. For each qualifying child age 5 and younger, up to $1,800 will come in six $300 monthly payments this year. For each child between the ages of 6 and 17, up to $1,500 will come as $250 monthly payments six times in 2021. For both age groups, the rest of the payment will come with your 2021 tax refund, when you claim the remainder of the tax credit in 2022. Here's how to calculate your family's total child tax credit amount, including a monthly breakdown.

Qualifying dependents between ages 18 and 24 count toward a one-time $500 payment.

2021 child tax credit maximum payments

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

Note that the amount you'll get will phase out for people with higher incomes: singles earning more than $75,000 per year, heads of household earning more than $112,500 per year and married couples earning more than $150,000 a year. Your child tax credit payments will begin to 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.

Here's more on the financial breakdown for qualified dependents. Remember, CNET's child tax credit calculator will help you pinpoint how much to expect each month.

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The child tax credit enhancements were authorized as part of the March stimulus law.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What if my kids are older?

If your older dependents are between the ages of 18 and 24 they can qualify for $500 each -- but note that if your kids are between the ages of 19 and 24 they must be enrolled in college full-time.

How is the 2021 child tax credit different this year?

The first thing to know is you won't get your child tax credit payments all at once this year. The "credit" part means the amount you owe in your 2021 taxes will be reduced by the "credit" you gain from your eligible dependents. That could either reduce your payment to the IRS for your 2021 taxes (filed in 2022) or else increase your tax refund for 2021. Normally, you'd receive that credit as a tax refund in 2022. But the plan is to bring you money sooner, which is why the checks will start coming in 2021 as "advance payments."

This logic also explains why your 2021 child tax credit is split into two parts. The first part, in 2021, is the advance payment you can start using right away. The second part will apply to your 2021 taxes -- which you file in 2022. 

For more information, here are the top things to know about the $3,600 child tax credit. Plus, here's how to track your tax refund and how to track your stimulus check.