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Payment dates for 2021 child tax credit: When families will get automatic tax relief

Your advance check for up to $300 comes in less than a month. We'll explain payment schedule, amount, eligibility and more.

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The child tax credit will begin paying families in advance July 15 and through the end of this year. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

More resources are now available regarding the 2021 child tax credit, which is expected to benefit roughly 90% of US households with kids. Eligible families are receiving IRS notices with payment timelines and how much their automatic monthly checks will be starting in July. If your household didn't receive the IRS letter, you could still be eligible for this expanded tax relief if you take a couple extra steps in the next several weeks. 

The White House has launched a new website with useful details and also announced Child Tax Credit Awareness Day on Monday, June 21, to provide eligible families with information. Here's a recap: On July 15, families with qualifying children could get $300 monthly for each dependent under age 6 (or $250 monthly for older dependents). Half the total credit will arrive monthly between July and the end of 2021, and the rest will be part of tax refunds after filing next spring. 

If you still need to figure out your estimated amount, we can help with our child tax credit calculator. Also, more online tools are being made available as we speak, including a new nonfiler portal and an almost-released portal for opting out of monthly payments. We'll explain those and details and more, including how to claim up to $16,000 in child care expenses and how you will be receiving your payments. This story was updated recently.

What is payment schedule for the 2021 child tax credit?

The first child tax credit check will arrive July 15 and is automatic for households that qualify. The first six payments totaling half the credit will arrive monthly, targeting the same day of the month -- though you may not receive the payment on the exact same day every month, especially if you get a paper check instead of a direct deposit payment.

For Aug. 15, which is a Sunday, the IRS said the payment will go out Aug. 13. The checks will end in December, with the remainder of the credit coming next year after taxes. Here's a rough schedule: 

Timeline for the child tax credit payments

Monthly Maximum payment per child 5 and younger Maximum payment per child; 6 to 17
July 15: First 2021 check $300 $250
Aug. 13 $300 $250
Sept. 15 $300 $250
Oct. 15 $300 $250
Nov. 15 $300 $250
Dec. 15: Last 2021 check $300 $250
April 2022: Second half of payment $1,800 $1,500

What are the details for low-income families, or those considered 'nonfilers'?

Payments will be automatic for those who filed their 2020 tax returns by the May 17 deadline (or those who claimed all their dependents on a 2019 tax return). But what if that's not you? Non-tax filer parents should use the new IRS tool, called the "Non-filer Sign-up tool" to get their money, even if you're not usually required to file. This will let the IRS know your income and how many dependents are in your household who count toward the child tax credit benefits. Here's more information about the IRS portals, including for those who don't usually file taxes.

You could also file a tax return to get the full monthly child tax credit payment you're owed. The IRS is offering information about free tax days in major cities (PDF) to outreach to families who still need to file a 2020 return. 

How is the child tax credit different from before? 

The first thing to know is you won't get your child tax credit payments all at once in 2021. The credit part means the amount you owe on your 2021 taxes (which you file in 2022) will be reduced by the "credit" you gain from your eligible dependents. That could either decrease the amount you owe the IRS or else increase your tax refund. The idea is to bring you money sooner, which is why the checks will start coming in 2021 as "advance payments."

This logic also explains why your 2021 child tax credit is split into two parts. The first half in 2021 will come as advance monthly installments you can start using right away. The second half will apply to your 2021 taxes next year. 

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What are the age requirements for my dependents? 

How the payments will be divided between 2021 and 2022 might be confusing. For each qualifying child age 5 and younger, up to $1,800 (half the total) will come in six $300 monthly payments this year. For each kid between the ages of 6 and 17, up to $1,500 will come as $250 monthly payments six times this year. 

The IRS bases your child's eligibility on their age on Dec. 31, 2021, so 5-year-old children turning 6 in 2021 will qualify for a maximum of $250 per month. For both age groups, the rest of the payment will come with your 2021 tax refund when you claim the remainder of the tax credit in 2022. Here's how to calculate your family's total amount, including a monthly breakdown.

If your dependents are 18 years old, they can qualify for $500 each. Dependents between the ages of 19 and 24 may qualify as well, but they must be enrolled in college full-time. Here's more on the financial details for qualified dependents

2021 child tax credit maximum payments

Ages 5 and younger Up to $3,600, with half as $300 advance monthly payments
Ages 6 to 17 Up to $3,000, with half as $250 advance monthly payments
Age 18 $500 one-time check
Ages 19 and 24, full-time college students $500 one-time check

What if I have a new baby or plan to adopt this year?

If you have a baby in 2021, your newborn will count toward the child tax credit payment of $3,600. Children who are adopted can also qualify if they're US citizens.

What if I'm a parent with shared custody?

For the first two stimulus checks, some parents who shared custody of a child but weren't married to each other were entitled to each claim money for the same child. That was only if they alternated years for claiming the dependent -- in other words, if one parent claimed the child on their taxes in odd years and the other claimed the child on their taxes in even years.

This is no longer allowed for the third check, and we're told it won't work that way for the child tax credit payments either. Here's what we know so far about the child tax credit and shared custody situations.

What do I need to know about income limits? 

Income limits do determine how much you will receive and if you even qualify, though there is no limit on the number of children you can receive credit for as long as you're eligible. The amount you'll get will phase out for people with higher incomes: singles earning more than $75,000 per year, heads of household earning more than $112,500 per year and married couples earning more than $150,000 a year. Your child tax credit payments will begin to phase out by $50 for every $1,000 of income over those threshold amounts, according to Joanna Powell, managing director and certified financial planner at CBIZ.

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The larger child tax credit can help families that have faced financial hardship due to the pandemic. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Can I opt out of the advance partial monthly payments?

You aren't obligated to receive monthly child tax credit payments this year. Instead, you can choose to get one payment in 2022, and the upcoming Child Tax Credit Update Portal will allow you to do so. You may want to opt out if you'd rather have one large payment for a projected expense next year, or if you're concerned the IRS might overpay you this year and you don't want to be saddled later with an outstanding debt. 

When will I get access to the child tax credit portals?

The IRS will have the online tools and portals by the end of this month. One portal that's now open is for people not normally required to file an income tax return, including low-income families, as described above. An interactive Child Tax Credit eligibility assistant will soon be launched to help families determine whether they qualify.

The upcoming Child Tax Credit Update Portal will allow families to update their information if their circumstances have changed, for example, if a new child has arrived or will arrive in 2021 who isn't reflected on a 2020 tax return. That portal will also allow families to opt out of the monthly payments if they prefer to receive one big payout for the total amount when they file taxes in 2022. 

How will my child tax credit payments arrive?

The way your child tax credit money arrives could very well depend on how you receive your stimulus money. Most people will receive child tax payments by direct deposit, but the IRS will also send paper checks and funds on debit cards. If the IRS does not have your current bank information or mailing information, you should try to update that before payments come. 

For stimulus checks, people who received Social Security benefits like SSI or SSDI got $1,400 payments on a Direct Express card. Veterans who don't normally pay taxes might also have a different delivery method. We'll update this when we have more information about the kind of debit cards you may receive.

If the IRS pays me too much money, do I have to give it back?

Since the IRS uses your 2019 or 2020 tax return, your family may not qualify for the child tax credit payment when you file your 2021 tax return in 2022. In this case, you will have to repay some or all of the credit back to the IRS. The child tax credit rules aren't as flexible as the stimulus check rules regarding overpayment. One example of this happening is if you and the other parent of your child (who is not your spouse) are both paid for the child tax credit for the same dependent.

To avoid this tax inconvenience, make sure all your information is updated before the payments start arriving. The future portal will allow you to make adjustments.

What should I expect after payments this year? 

The last advance payment of the child tax credit is scheduled to go out by Dec. 31, with the rest coming in 2022 with tax season. But President Joe Biden stated that the higher payments may last until at least 2025. He presented his American Families Plan proposal to extend the payments, urging in an April 28 speech: "Together, let's extend the Child Tax Credit at least through the end of 2025." It's up to Congress to approve his request.

For more information, here are the top things to know about the $3,600 child tax credit. Plus, here's how to track your tax refund and how to track your stimulus check.