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How long will child tax credit payments last? Could they be extended? What to know

Three advance monthly payments are left in 2021, with a larger payout in 2022. And the enhanced credit might be extended till 2025.

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Monthly payments continue through December and a payout comes during tax season next year. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

After millions of families were issued their third child tax credit check this month, they'll have three more monthly payments this year and one next year. Due to changes made in the American Rescue Plan to help families, households receive 50% of the total credit in six advance installments through 2021, and the rest with a tax refund in 2022. The amounts are larger than previous years -- up to $3,000 annually for each child between ages 6 and 17, and up to $3,600 annually for each child under age 6. What's more, the 2021 credit's fully refundable so low-income parents can qualify for the maximum amount.

A recent study published by the Urban Institute shows that if the child tax credit is extended beyond 2021, it could substantially reduce child poverty in the vast majority of US states. Other studies have estimated that this year's enhanced credit alone would cut the number of children in poverty by some 40%. There's a possibility that the revamped benefit could go to 2025, but that depends on the latest piece of Democratic legislation in the House, which proposes that it become part of a massive $3.5 trillion spending plan. This month, more than 400 economists signed a letter to Congress calling on legislators to make the enhanced credit permanent

Until it becomes final legislation, there are still several deadlines for the remainder of this year's credit that parents need to be aware of. For example, families that are choosing to opt out of the advance payment program need to do so before Oct. 4 -- here's why you might want to unenroll. It's also a good idea for families to update their banking details or mailing address through the IRS Update Portal sooner rather than later. And here's what to know if you received the wrong payment amount.

How many child tax credit payments remain?

After the September payment, the IRS has three more rounds of advance partial payments to send to those who qualify. Here are the payment dates to keep track of October through December 2021 and in 2022:

  • Oct. 15
  • Nov. 15
  • Dec. 15 (last payment of 2021)
  • Tax season 2022 (remainder of money)

After you receive whatever monthly payments the IRS sends you this year, the remainder of your money will come with your tax refund in 2022, after you file your 2021 tax return next spring. While the IRS did extend the 2020 and 2021 tax filing dates due to the pandemic, you typically have from the end of January to April 15 to file.

What are the deadlines to unenroll from advance checks?

If you decide to unenroll from the monthly payments this year, you still have time to have the remainder of your child tax credit money show up next tax season. You may decide to unenroll, for example, if you think you may need to pay back money when you file your taxes in 2022.

Note that the IRS opt-out deadlines are about two weeks ahead of the payment dates. If you miss one deadline for a round of checks, your changes will take effect with the next round. And these are the same deadlines you need to hit for making other changes to your account, such as adding your banking information or changing your mailing address. While the Update Portal doesn't yet allow you to make changes to your income, marital status and number of dependents, you should be able to do so before the October deadline. 

The IRS said if you unenroll and later change your mind, you'll be able to opt back in sometime in late September. Here are the remaining dates by which you would need to unenroll:

  • Oct. 4 (for October payment)
  • Nov. 1 (for November payment)
  • Nov. 29 (for December payment)

Could the child tax credit payments be extended?

Given the popularity of the program with millions of families, there's a chance the credit could be extended at least a few years. House Democrats have recently come up with a proposal to keep the increased benefit going until 2025. It would also allow low-income families who don't earn enough to owe taxes to get the benefit. Some are looking to approve its extension in the spending bill through a process known as budget reconciliation, which requires a simple majority vote in the Senate. 

But congressional Democrats are divided over the benefit. In a CNN interview, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has expressed reservations, saying he'd prefer that parents be eligible to receive the credit only if they work and file taxes. His vote is critical for the bill to pass the Senate. 

According to an Insider report, other Democrats are considering extending the current child tax credit payment program until 2024 instead, but the amount of money would be less than this year's payments, that is, reverting to the lower amounts from prior years. 

Meanwhile, a Washington-based think tank called the Bipartisan Policy Center has put out its own proposal for permanently expanding the child tax credit. And on Sept. 15, more than 400 leading economists sent an open letter urging Congress to make the enhanced credit permanent. The letter noted that the benefit would help families with immediate necessities, like food and utilities, and could drastically improve children's health and education.

Can I calculate my credit ahead of tax season?

To help you file your taxes next year and either claim whatever amount the IRS still owes you or -- much less likely -- repay money you received but didn't qualify for, the IRS will send you a letter in January 2022 with the total amount of child tax credit money you received in 2021. You'll use information from this letter, which the IRS is calling Letter 6419, when you file your tax return.

For more, here's everything you need to know about the 2021 child tax credit and what to do if you need to track down a missing payment. Here's also what we know about what the spending bills making their way through Congress could mean for you.