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Did your kid qualify for the full $300 a month in child tax credit money? We'll explain

The extra child tax credit money is not just for children 17 and younger. Older dependents and college students can qualify too, but there's a catch.

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Parents with children under the age of 6 could each qualify for up to $300 per month.

Angela Lang/CNET

Eligible parents got the first advance child tax credit payment on July 15, with more partial installments being sent out through the end of 2021. Each child under age 6 could qualify for a maximum of $300 a month, and each child ages 6 to 17 could qualify for a maximum of $250 a month. The remaining portion of the child tax credit is paid out in the 2022 tax season. So does the child tax credit only apply to younger children then? What about dependents older than 17? 

Parents with children 18 and older are not eligible for the recurring monthly advance payments this year. But they could be eligible for a single annual payment of $500 in 2022. Children who are 18 must be claimed as a dependent to qualify for the one-time credit, and dependents age 19-24 must be attending college full-time to qualify. 

Read on for more rules for dependents. If you got your first check but you're not sure what the rest of the payments will amount to, you can calculate the estimated total. We can also help you check your eligibility, explain how to use the IRS portals and give you some clues about income requirements. And we explain how to unenroll from the advance payments if you want to claim the bulk of the remaining credit in 2022 instead. This story was recently updated.

How much child tax credit do children under 17 yield?

If you have dependents who are 17 years of age or younger, they can each count toward the new child tax credit. However, the amount they're eligible for depends on their age. Kids between the ages of 6 and 17 will count for up to $3,000 each. Kids who are under the age of 6 can count for up to $3,600 each. There is no limit to how many dependents can be claimed. 

Families won't receive the full amount of the credit each month, but a partial one of either $250 or $300, depending on the age of each child (see chart below). The total of the 2021 monthly installments will equal half the amount of the credit, with the other half of the credit coming next year during tax time. You can see a timeline of the payments and more information here

2021 child tax credit age brackets

Ages 5 and younger Up to $3,600 each child, with half of credit as $300 monthly payments
Ages 6 to 17 Up to $3,000 each child, with half of credit as $250 monthly payments
Age 18 $500 one-time check in 2022
Ages 19 to 24, full-time college students $500 one-time check in 2022
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How can dependents between ages 18 and 24 qualify?

If you have 18-year-old dependents, they can qualify for up to $500 each toward the child tax credit amount you'll receive. If you have a dependent between the ages of 19 and 24 who is attending college full-time, they can also qualify for up to $500 each toward your total payment. That payment will come when you file your taxes in 2022. 

Will a 2021 newborn qualify?

If you're expecting a baby before the end of 2021, the newborn will also qualify for payments. This includes children who are adopted if they're US citizens (more below). You'll be able to use the IRS Update Portal once that specific feature is available later in the summer -- or you can claim the tax credit when you file your 2021 tax return next year. 

What are the rules for parents with shared custody?

"Double-dipping" benefits for the same child worked for the first two stimulus checks, where a loophole entitled unmarried parents who share custody to both claim the child as a dependent in a specific situation. That isn't the case with the 2021 child tax credit. In fact, overpayment could result in you being asked to return the money to the IRS.

Do dependents have to live with you half the year? 

If you're claiming the new child tax credit for your child, note that the child must live with you at least six months out of the year. There are exceptions to this rule, though, including temporary absences. According to the IRS, "A person is considered to have lived with you during periods of time when one of you, or both, are temporarily absent due to special circumstances," including illness, education, business, vacation and military service.

Also, a newborn child born later in 2021 is included in the exception and will be considered as living with you for the entire year. However, the IRS will be working off the 2020 tax return, which will not have children born in 2021 listed, so remember to update your information in the IRS' Update Portal when you're able to later in the summer.

Are there requirements for dependents with disabilities?

Children with disabilities can qualify for the child and dependent care credit separately from the child tax credit. You may be able to claim this credit if you paid expenses for the care of a qualifying dependent to enable you to work, per the IRS. The child tax credit would apply similarly to children with disabilities.

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Are there other requirements for dependents?

If your child isn't a US citizen and doesn't have a Social Security number, there's no way around this one: They don't qualify. When you file your individual income tax return (Form 1040), you're required to list your dependents and their Social Security numbers when you're claiming them for the child tax credit. 

This includes adopted children. An adopted child who isn't a US citizen and has an ATIN or ITIN (adopted/individual taxpayer identification number) won't qualify for the child tax credit, per the IRS. "The child must have an SSN to be a qualifying child eligible for the child tax credit."

This is unlike the third stimulus check, where mixed-status households could receive a check and only one member of the household needed to have a Social Security number.

Here's more information about the 2021 child tax credit and details on qualifications for parents to receive the payments.