Save up to $50,000 with new COVID credits and benefits for 2021. Here's how

Your family could be qualified for some of the new and expanded tax credits, health care plans and more benefits available this year. Here's everything you need to know.

Alison DeNisco Rayome Managing Editor
Managing Editor Alison DeNisco Rayome joined CNET in 2019, and is a member of the Home team. She is a co-lead of the CNET Tips and We Do the Math series, and manages the Home Tips series, testing out new hacks for cooking, cleaning and tinkering with all of the gadgets and appliances in your house. Alison was previously an editor at TechRepublic.
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Alison DeNisco Rayome
5 min read

These tax credits and health plan changes could save your family thousands of dollars in 2021.

Sarah Tew/CNET

This year, you could be one of the millions of people who will see extra savings due to new tax breaks, tax credits and expanded health benefits that lawmakers approved in the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill and other means as a way to help people get through the pandemic. These cash-back and money-saving benefits, which the IRS is still sending out now, arrive along with the third stimulus check for up to $1,400 per person and their dependents (you can track your stimulus check here). 

Whether you are eligible for these new benefits depends on several different things, including your adjusted gross income, if you have children or if you have COBRA health insurance -- which means not everyone will be able to claim every item listed here. But for many people, these changes could end up saving you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. 

Here are seven of the tax credits and health savings you can claim this year that could potentially bring your family a maximum of around $50,000, depending on your personal situation. 

Watch this: Stimulus plus-up payments: What you need to know

$20,576 maximum per family: Free COBRA insurance premium coverage runs through September

Typically, if you lose your job, you can buy insurance coverage through your former employer under the government Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act program. However, you usually have to pay the full price for that insurance, which can be very costly. While it's difficult to estimate COBRA costs, as plans vary depending on how much your insurance plan cost your former employer, the average annual premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance in 2019 were $7,188 for single coverage and $20,576 for family coverage, according to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Under the March law, the government will pay COBRA premiums for laid-off employees and family members from April 1 through Sept. 30. (However, you're not eligible if you have Medicare, if you left your job voluntarily or if you qualify for new, employer-provided health insurance before that date.) 

The stimulus law requires employers to send former workers who qualify for COBRA a notice of eligibility. But if you haven't gotten that, you can call your former employer to make sure you are signed up for coverage. In addition, some states may have their own version of reduced health care, including California

Read moreBest tax software for 2021


The latest stimulus law made COBRA health insurance plans far more affordable through December. 

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$1,800 maximum per person: Stimulus check recovery rebate credit

While most people got their first and second stimulus checks automatically, some did not due to IRS errors or their status as tax nonfilers (which often includes those who are retired, veterans or part of the SSI and SSDI programs). If you didn't receive the full amount that you were owed from the first check (up to $1,200) or the second check (up to $600), or were missing money for any of your dependents, you can claim that money on your 2020 tax return. This is called a recovery rebate credit -- here's how to file for it. You'll have to file a return to get this credit even if you don't usually file taxes

Watch this: Stimulus check 3: How much money you'll get

$6,660 maximum per family: Earned income tax credit

Designed to benefit people with lower incomes, the earned income tax credit can reduce your taxable income and wages. Under the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020, part of the December coronavirus relief package, you can use your 2019 or 2020 amount of earned income to calculate your tax credit for 2020 -- a potentially important provision for people who lost their jobs during the pandemic. 

Eligibility for EITC depends on your adjusted gross income, filing status (single, head of household, widowed or married) and number of dependents claimed. Here are the income requirements needed to qualify for the earned income tax credit this year, according to the IRS:

Tax year 2020 income requirements to claim the earned income tax credit

Children or Relatives ClaimedMaximum AGI (filing as Single, Head of Household or Widowed)Maximum AGI (filing as Married Filing Jointly)
0 $15,820$21,710
1 $41,756$47,646
2 $47,440$53,330
3 $50,594$56,844

If you meet those income requirements, here's how much money you can claim for the earned income tax credit on your 2020 tax return: 

  • No qualifying children: $538
  • One qualifying child: $3,584
  • Two qualifying children: $5,920
  • Three or more qualifying children: $6,660

Note that if you claim this credit the IRS may request additional information, which could result in your refund being delayed.

$3,600 maximum per dependent: Child tax credit 

The child tax credit is designed to benefit working families by allowing them to claim a refundable credit per qualifying child. Under the new stimulus law, the amount you can claim has gone up: Instead of the previous $2,000 per child, you can now claim $3,600 per child for kids 5 years old and under and $3,000 for children between 6 and 17. Older kids could bring you $500. There are certain income limitations -- find out if your children qualify here, and use our child tax credit calculator to estimate how much money your family might be eligible for.

Even parents of babies born or adopted in 2021 can take advantage of the credit this year. Money from the credit will be split, with half paid through your tax refund and the other half paid monthly from July to December. (Find out more about tax credits for parents here.)

As with the earned income tax credit, claiming this credit may trigger a request for additional information, which could delay your refund. Note that you likely don't need to file an amended tax form to take advantage of this credit.


Increases to the child tax credit could mean a lot more money for your family.

Sarah Tew/CNET

$8,000 maximum per family: Child care credit

To make child care more affordable, the new stimulus law provides a child care tax credit for kids under age 13 -- a total of up to $4,000 for one child, or $8,000 for two or more children. The credit is refundable and available to families making less than $125,000 a year. Those making between $125,000 and $400,000 may receive a partial credit. Find out more from the IRS here.

$1,000 maximum per person: Saver's credit

If you've made eligible contributions to an IRA or an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you might be able to claim a saver's credit. To do this, you need to be age 18 or older, not be claimed as a dependent on someone else's return and not be a student. The amount you can claim depends on your adjusted gross income, and will be a portion of the contributions you made. The maximum credit you can claim is $1,000 ($2,000 if you're married filing jointly). The IRS has a chart to help you calculate your credit. 

Watch this: Your tax questions answered in 3 minutes

$7,500 maximum per person: Credit for older adults and people with disabilities

Those age 65 and over or who are retired on permanent and total disability who received taxable disability income for the year, and fall under a certain income limit, may be eligible for this tax credit ranging from $3,750 to $7,500. Use this IRS tool to find out if you qualify for the credit for the elderly or people with disabilities.

If you're wondering about the different tax deductions you may be eligible for, check out our story on the 12 best tax deductions for 2021 and learn why you may not be able to claim the home office deduction even if you work remotely now. Plus, find out when you might get your third stimulus check, how much stimulus money you're eligible to receive and what we know so far about a potential fourth stimulus check.