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New child tax credit portal is now open: Here's what it does

The new websites out today will help families find out if they're eligible for the child tax credit payments and opt out if they'd like. We'll tell you how to use the just-released IRS tools.

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The IRS is providing more tools for managing the child tax credit payments this summer. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Both child tax credit portals are now officially open, the IRS said Tuesday, along with a new eligibility tool. One portal -- called the Child Tax Credit Update Portal -- will let you verify if your family qualifies for the tax credit and opt out of receiving any payments this year. A Spanish version will be available soon, the agency said. The new eligibility tool -- named the Child Tax Credit Eligibility Assistant -- will quickly show you whether you qualify for the payments. Today's tools join a non-tax-filers portal to help those who aren't required to file tax returns sign up for the monthly payments.

The first child tax credit payment is coming July 15, and to help families get ready for the payments, the IRS sent a letter this month to 36 million households, notifying them they may qualify for a payment. The letter is part of outreach from the IRS and White House that includes the childtaxcredit.gov website with more information on the money.

You can get prepared using our child tax credit calculator to see how much money your household may be eligible for. We can also suggest some ways to use your child tax credit checks, give you details on how you might receive your payment and tell you how to claim thousands of dollars back for child care expenses. We will update this story with new information. 

IRS portals are key to signing up for and managing the child tax credit payments in 2021 and 2022

Here's how the online tools will help parents with eligible dependents, according to the IRS:

  • The Child Tax Credit Update Portal lets you verify that your family qualifies for the credit and opt out of receiving any payments this year.
  • nonfilers portal lets you provide the IRS with basic information about yourself and your dependents if you normally aren't required to file a tax return.
  • The Child Tax Credit Eligibility Assistant, also now open, can help you determine whether you qualify for the advance child tax credit payments.

Later this year, the IRS said, you'll be able to view your payment history and add your bank account information or mailing addresses using the Child Tax Credit Update Portal.

In addition to the Child Tax Credit Awareness Day, which was Monday, the White House has launched a new website for the child tax credit. The website provides an FAQ for families, details about eligibility and more downloadable information.

The IRS has also provided a list of free tax days in 12 select cities (PDF), including Los Angeles and New York. In the coming weeks, the tax days will provide eligible families with help to prepare and file their 2020 tax returns so that they can receive the advance child tax credit payments.

How to use the IRS portal to opt out of the advance monthly payments

The Child Tax Credit Update Portal now lets you opt out of receiving the monthly child tax credit payments. That means that instead of receiving monthly payments of, say, $300 for your 4-year-old, you can wait until filing 2021 tax return in 2022 to receive the $3,600 lump sum. 

To do so, visit the Child Tax Credit Update Portal and tap Unenroll from Advance Payments. You'll then need to sign in with your IRS username or ID.me account. (You can create one on the page if you don't have one.)

After you sign in, if you're eligible, you'll see an option to opt out of the payments.

You can opt out at any time, but note that you must opt out at least three days before the first Thursday of the month you're opting out of. For the July 15 payment, you'd need to opt out by June 28. Once you opt out, you can't opt back in until September.

You may want to unenroll in the advance monthly payment program because you're expecting your circumstances to change or if the partial monthly payments will interfere in tax planning. Families that usually owe money to the IRS when they file their taxes may want to instead use the full credit next year. Or you might choose a larger payout if your household is saving for a big expense next year. 

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There is no limit on the number of children that parents can receive the credit for as long as both they and their dependents qualify.

Sarah Tew/CNET

How to use the 'Non-filer Sign-up Tool' (and the portal's limitations)

Also available now, the child tax credit "Non-filer Sign-up Tool" is a way for those who aren't required to file a tax return to give the tax agency basic information on their dependents. This tool can be used by low-income families that earn too little to have filed a 2020 tax return but that need to notify the IRS of qualifying children born before 2021.

With the nonfiler tool, you'll be able to electronically file a simple tax form with the IRS with enough information for the agency to determine your family's eligibility for the advance child tax credit payments. You shouldn't use this tool if you are required to file a tax return but just haven't yet. Also, don't use this tool if you actually filed a 2020 tax return or if you claimed all your dependents on a 2019 return.

To use the tool, families must have a primary residence in the US for more than half the year. To register, parents should have their personal details on hand, including an email address, Social Security numbers for dependents and a bank account routing number. 

Heads-up: The IRS recommends using the portal on a laptop or desktop computer, not on a phone. While the tool is not mobile-friendly, according to The Washington Post, you can access it from a browser on your smartphone. In addition to requiring an email address, you need to know your filing status and other tax-related information, which as a nonfiler, you may not have readily available. The tool is also not available in Spanish. (We've contacted the IRS about the tool being available in languages other than English.)

The IRS has guidance on how to fill out the form as a nonfiler. Note that it can take up to 48 hours for the IRS to confirm your email address -- and another 48 hours after submitting your information for the IRS to accept it.

1. To get started, create an account if you don't yet have one. You'll need an email address to confirm your information.

2. On the next page -- named "Fill Out Your Tax Forms" -- enter your information, including your filing status and details about dependents. Because this portal is an update to the tool nonfilers used to claim stimulus checks, you can add information about those payments, called "Recovery Rebate Credit" on the form. Add your banking information to receive your payments electronically instead of in the mail. Tap the Continue to Step 2 button when ready.

3. On this page -- named "E-File Your Tax Forms" -- you'll provide your adjusted gross income, or AGI, and sign the form electronically. (Here's more on how to do that.) When done, tap the Continue to E-File button to submit your information.

What does the Child Tax Credit Eligibility Assistant do?

The new Child Tax Credit Eligibility Assistant allows families to answer a series of questions to quickly determine whether they qualify for the advance credit. This can be helpful for families who haven't received a letter from the IRS confirming their eligibility. 

Make sure the IRS has your information before July 15

Through the portals this summer, taxpayer families will be able to indicate changes to any life circumstances since they last filed their taxes, such as a change in income or child custody status. For example, if you started making less money this year, you'll want to update the IRS about those changes so you can get the correct child tax credit amount.

If you had or will have a new baby this year, it's important to let the IRS know, so you can receive your payment for up to $3,600 for that child. The same applies if you adopted a child or if you gained a new child dependent since you last filed your taxes. 

Also, if you've gained full custody of your child, you'll be the parent who receives the money for your kid. Note that parents who have shared custody will not each get a payment. This is important for domestic violence survivors, according to comments during an IRS oversight hearing by Nina Olson, executive director of the Center for Taxpayer Rights. The "change of circumstances portal should allow them to enter their change in marital status and also where the children are," Olson said.

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How to qualify without a permanent address

The IRS is urging people to share information about the child tax credit with others who don't have permanent addresses. By doing this, you're helping make sure families receive the payments they're eligible for. You can share information about the online portals and resources with them so they know about the programs to help them file a tax return.

For more child tax credit 2021 details, here's how much money you can expect. Also, here's what it takes for you and your dependents to qualify for the payments.