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Child tax credit calculator: Here's how big your first check will be July 15

Get a quick estimate of how much money you'll receive in monthly payments with the child tax credit in 2021. We can help.

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CNET's child tax credit calculator will tell you the amounts you can expect. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The advance child tax credit payments will begin arriving July 15, the IRS announced Monday -- but you don't have to wait until then to see how much money you and your dependents qualify for. Using CNET's child tax credit calculator, you can get an estimate now, both of your monthly payments and your total amount over 2021 and 2022. We can also give you suggestions on how to spend or save the money when it comes. 

The child tax credit payments work differently than in previous years -- half of the amount will arrive in monthly payments from July through December, with the rest arriving when you file your 2021 tax return next year. If you prefer to opt out of monthly payments and receive just one payment in 2022, you should be able to do so via one of two IRS portals that'll be available by July 1. If you filed your taxes filed before the American Rescue Plan was passed in March, you shouldn't need to file an amended tax form.

It's possible President Joe Biden will push for the payments to be extended to 2025 in his next two stimulus proposals. The IRS continues to send stimulus checks and "plus-up" payments, but will soon be able to expand on the child tax credit payment details. The tax agency is also sending tax refunds to as many as 10 million people who received unemployment benefits last year. While you're here, find out how you might save up to $50,000 on your taxes this year and how you can get up to $16,000 back for child care expenses. Here's what we know about a possible fourth check and what is happening with student loan forgiveness. This story is updated frequently.

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Calculate your advance child tax credit payment amount in 2021 and 2022

The expanded child tax credit raises the 2020 limits from up to $2,000 per child to a maximum of $3,600 -- but the math gets complicated fast. Qualified children age 5 and under count for $3,600. Kids between 6 and 17 years old count for $3,000 maximum per child; 18-year-olds and full-time college students 24 and under can bring parents a one-time $500 payment. 

Enter your details below, including your adjusted gross income, or AGI, to see your payment breakdown. This calculator does not store or use your data. The results are based on our current knowledge of the law and should be treated as broad estimates only (the IRS will determine the final amount). We suggest consulting a financial professional for a more personalized estimate.

Child tax credit calculator for 2021

Use details from your 2019 or 2020 tax return.

1. Choose your filing status below.

2. What was your adjusted gross income (AGI)?

3. Number of children age 5 and under by December 31, 2021.

4. Number of children age 6 to 17 by December 31, 2021.

Calculate

Note: If your AGI is less than or equal to $75,000 as a single filer, $112,500 as a head of household or $150,000 filing jointly, you'll receive the full amount. For incomes higher than $150,000, your child tax credit payments will begin to phase out by $50 for every $1,000 of income over the threshold.

How the IRS payment schedule works

Here's how the child tax credit payments will arrive, starting in July through 2022.

Timeline for the child tax credit payments

Monthly Payment ages 5 and younger Payment ages 6 to 17
July 15, 2021: First payment of the year $300 $250
Aug. 16, 2021 $300 $250
Sept. 15, 2021 $300 $250
Oct. 15, 2021 $300 $250
Nov. 15, 2021 $300 $250
Dec. 15, 2021: Last payment of the year $300 $250
April 2022: Second half of payment $1,800 $1,500

How to opt out of smaller monthly payments for one large payment

If you'd rather get your 2021 child tax credit money as one large payment, you'll be able to opt out of monthly payments once the IRS opens its online portals to help you make that decision and input other information, like if your AGI or other changed circumstances. It'll be the second, separate portal that will allow families to tell the IRS they want to receive the benefit in full at tax time at the end of the year rather than on a monthly basis.

The IRS is expected to open its child tax credit website by July 1. 

Opting out would mean that instead of receiving $300 per month for your 3-year-old, and the remainder of your money in 2022 for example, you can wait until you file your taxes next year to claim the full $3,600 amount.

Parents with newborn babies or a newly adopted child are eligible for the larger amount

Children born in 2021 make you eligible for the 2021 tax credit of $3,600 per child (that's up to $7,200 for twins). That's on top of payments for any other qualified child dependents you claim. Here's our guide for parents of 2021 babies, including what parents of adopted infants should know.

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If you had a new baby in 2021, you'll be able to claim up to $3,600.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Eligibility rules for your dependents

There are some specific rules regarding qualifications not just for parents and caregivers, but for the children, too. Here's what to know about dependent qualifications for the child tax credit. You should also see if you're eligible for a child care tax credit if you paid for a day care, after-school program or babysitter. 

What to do if your kids age out of a payment bracket before the end of 2021

If you have a 5-year-old turning 6 by the end of the year, the total payment amount you could get for that child is $3,000. If you have a 17-year-old who turns 18 before the end of the year, you would receive $500 total for that dependent instead of $3,000. If you have a dependent who is a full-time college student and turns 25 this year, you won't receive any payment for them.

Your 2020 taxes determines the amount of your child tax credit payment for this year and next

You need to file your 2020 taxes to get the credit if you're a nonfiler. The IRS will automatically make the payments for those who have their taxes filed by the May 17 tax deadline, the IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said. So if you don't have your tax return submitted by this time, the IRS won't know to send you a payment. Also, if you plan to file a tax extension, you'll likely be able to use the IRS portal, where you can update your information in case you've gained dependents since the last tax filing.

IRS overpayment: Know these important details

Your family's eligibility is determined in large part by your adjusted gross income. So what happens if you get a new job or start making more money in 2021? What happens if the payments have already gone out and you spent the money?

The IRS has a plan for this, a child tax credit portal the agency will make available by July 1 so you can update your information. If you need to make an adjustment, it will lower the payment amounts you'd receive if your new income reaches the phaseout level, according to Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst at Tax Foundation.

If you wait until 2022 to update your information when you file your taxes and you continue to receive the full amount based on your lower income, you would either have to return the excess money on your 2021 tax return next spring, according to Watson, accept a smaller 2021 refund or owe more in taxes.