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Is my family eligible for the new child tax credit? 3 ways to check

The first advance payment for the child tax credit goes out July 15. Here's how to know if you qualify.

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July 15 is approaching. Parents could receive a $250 or $300 advance monthly payment. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

The advance child tax credit program begins in less than a month, but do you know if your household is eligible for the relief? To check, you'll need to know your total income and the rules for kids of different age groups. If you're in a shared custody arrangement, be prepared to demonstrate where the child lives most of the year.

But how much will that initial check be on July 15? You can estimate that and calculate how much you'll get over the next year. In the next couple of weeks, there'll be more resources at your fingertips as the IRS rolls out payments and unveils new web portals to assist parents with things like updating their household details -- one online tool for nonfilers is already open. 

If you're looking for more information about the child tax credit, read this primer on payments and tips for how to use the child tax credit money. (Here are more details on stimulus check plus-up payments and what could be holding up your income tax refund.) We've updated this story. 

1. Watch for two IRS letters in the mail

If a letter arrives in your mailbox from the IRS, don't fret. Chances are, it's the tax agency letting you know you're one of 36 million families who may be eligible for a child tax credit payment. The IRS will send the letter if it has determined that you could qualify for child tax credit money, based on your 2019 or 2020 federal income tax return. If you don't typically file taxes, the IRS can use any information you submitted online using what's called the nonfilers tool, to flag you for eligibility if you have kids. 

That's just the first letter giving you a heads-up that you might qualify. The IRS plans to send a second letter to confirm that you're eligible, and to estimate how much child tax credit money you could get when payments start July 15. To recap, the tax credit is up to $3,600 per child under age 6, and up to $3,000 for each child ages 6 to 17. When broken down into the advance monthly payments you could choose to receive this year, that's $300 or $250 per child. 

You don't need to do anything if you receive this letter, except hold on to it in case you need to reference it later on. Nonfilers and other people who don't get the letter, don't worry quite yet. Here's more to know about the IRS letter, and read on for more qualification tips.

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2. Use the IRS child tax credit portals for help

By the end of June, the IRS intends to have both of its web portals open to help you get your child tax credit money. (One of the two portals is available now for nonfilers.) They're a little complicated, but the most important thing to know is that they'll tell you if you qualify for the child tax credit and help you monitor your payments.

The online portals will also let you add new information, correct or update outdated details -- like the number of kids you have -- and make a few other decisions about opting out of several smaller payments. 

$300 cash with calculator

Calculating your child tax credit payment in advance can help with budgeting expenses. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

3. Go over child tax credit rules and calculate your amount

Instead of waiting for the IRS to send you a letter, you can make an educated guess about your qualification status fairly easily. We think the fastest way is to use our child tax credit calculator. Just enter your yearly income and number of kids. Don't worry -- the calculator is private and anonymous and won't store or use any of your personal information.

For the most part, the calculator tool will tell you what you need to know. However, there are some outlier qualifications that could crop up. For example, in some cases it's possible your income will disqualify you

And while parents of new babies will generally qualify for the full amount, that could change if you share custody of a child. US citizenship also plays a role, so if any of your kids are adopted from another country, you'll want to make sure you know all the rules that apply just for kids

For more, here how to see if your state owes you money, how you could get money back for your child-care costs and if you could expect a refund for the unemployment tax break.