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Child tax credit: Missing a payment? Here's how to track it

If you're looking for your November child tax credit check or one from the previous months, we'll tell you how to trace it.

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If you haven't received your child tax credit check, it could be late. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Five child tax credit payments have been disbursed this year, with one left to go. However, if you haven't received any checks yet or if you're missing money from one of the other months, know that several glitches have caused child tax credit problems for parents each month. Don't fret -- we'll help you figure out what's going on.

We found that if only one parent in a married household made a correction to banking info or a mailing address, it could have reduced the amount of the payment. Also, parents might have received more money than they qualify for due to outdated tax information from old returns, and inaccurate payment amounts could affect their taxes in 2022

We're here to help you figure out how to review your payment history online using the IRS Update Portal and file a payment trace if a few weeks have passed and there's no sign of your money. Here's what you need to know if you plan to opt out of the final monthly check before the next deadline, Nov. 29 (which means you'll get a slightly bigger check in 2022). Also, here's the latest on the child tax credit extension. We've updated this story. 

What should I do if I haven't gotten any child tax credit payments?

The 2021 advance monthly child tax credit payments started automatically in July. Even though child tax credit payments are scheduled to arrive on certain dates, you may not have gotten the money as expected for a few reasons. The IRS may not have an up-to-date mailing address or banking information for you. The mailed check may be held up by the US Postal Service or, if it was a recent payment, the direct deposit payment may still be being processed. 

It's also important to note that if you've been a victim of tax-related identity theft, you won't receive child tax credit payments until those issues have been resolved with the IRS. If the issues aren't cleared up this year, you'll get the full amount when you file taxes in 2022. And keep in mind that even if you have unpaid state or federal debt, you should still receive child tax credit payments if you're eligible. 

In September, roughly 700,000 families did not receive a payment due to an IRS technical error. Problems with missing payments were also reported in previous months among "mixed-status" families, where one parent is a US citizen and the other is an immigrant, though that issue should have been corrected for later payments. 

Another possible reason your check may be delayed is if your 2020 return is still being processed; the IRS is still working through a backlog of returns. If your information has changed or you had a baby recently, the IRS may not know that it owes you the credit, especially if the tax agency is basing the credit on your 2019 tax return while the latest one is processing. 

How do I get an update on my child tax credit check status? 

You can expect recurring monthly payments to hit your bank account on the 15th through December. According to the IRS, you can use the Child Tax Credit Update Portal to see your processed monthly payment history. It'll be a good way to watch for pending payments that haven't gone through your bank account yet. 

If you still haven't received the money you're owed, see if the Processed Payments section of the update portal has any information. If the payment was delivered, make sure your address and banking information are correct -- especially if you've moved or changed banks.

To check on your payments online, you'll need to register with your IRS username and ID.me account information. First-time users will need to have a photo ID (it's one of the ways the IRS is trying to protect your information from identity theft). 

If you're checking your bank account, look for the deposit labeled CHILDCTC. If your bank has not received the deposit from the IRS, it won't have any processing information for you if you're trying to locate your check. If you think there's an error, start by using the update portal to double-check the bank details the IRS has on file, including your account information and routing numbers. 

Child tax credit payment schedule

Monthly  Maximum payment per child 5 and younger  Maximum payment per child age 6 to 17
July 15 $300 $250
Aug. 13 $300 $250
Sept. 15 $300 $250
Oct. 15 $300 $250
Nov. 15 $300 $250
Dec. 15 $300 $250
April 2022: Second half of payment  $1,800 $1,500
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When should I file a payment trace for my missing money?

The IRS also offers a payment trace as a way to find your funds, including from missing stimulus checks. You can request a trace -- which means filing an inquiry into the location of your IRS money -- by mailing or faxing Form 3911 (PDF) to the tax agency. Even if the IRS says you're ineligible for advance payments, it's best to submit a payment trace in case there's a portal error. 

Your payment will be traceable if it has been at least five days since the deposit date and the bank hasn't received the money, four weeks since the check was mailed or six weeks if it was mailed to a forwarded address listed by USPS. If the check was mailed to a foreign address, you can ask for a payment trace after nine weeks.

When to request a payment trace

Method of payment Time passed since IRS sent your payment
Direct deposit 5 days
Check mailed to standard address 4 weeks
Check mailed to a forwarded address 6 weeks
Check mailed to a foreign address 9 weeks

At first glance, the steps to request a payment trace can look daunting. You'll need to print and mail the completed Form 3911 from the IRS (PDF) to start tracing your child tax credit payment. If you need help completing the form, contact your local tax consultant. Before you do, there are a few pointers to keep in mind. 

  • An IRS representative told CNET that there isn't an abbreviation or code to include in the "Inquiry" field. You'll need to be as specific as possible about what payment you'd like to track. Make sure to specify that you're looking to trace a child tax credit check and the month the payment was disbursed. 
  • If you filed taxes jointly, both parents will need to sign the form to start the payment trace process. 
  • Be sure to check whether or not your money was sent via direct deposit or check. If your banking information is listed on the Child Tax Credit Update Portal, we recommend choosing the direct deposit box. 
  • You'll need to mail the form where you would usually send a paper tax return in your area. The IRS has a list of addresses and fax numbers to help. 
  • You should not request a payment trace to determine your eligibility or to confirm your child tax credit amount. 
  • It could take up to 60 days to receive a response.

What if I don't get the amount I expected?

Your child tax credit checks may have been less or more than you expected. If you meet all of the child tax credit requirements and find that you're receiving less or more money than expected, there are a few steps you can take. Start by checking your eligibility based on your most recent tax return using the IRS Eligibility Assistant

According to a Sept. 24 IRS statement: "There are multiple reasons why people may be seeing a different amount than they expected. If only one spouse changed an address or bank account, the other spouse's half could be going to the old address or bank account. In these instances, the full payment will still be distributed. Monthly payment amounts can also change depending on recently processed tax returns."

The IRS could have used your 2019 tax return to determine your eligibility for this year's credit. Once the IRS processes your 2020 tax return, it will automatically adjust your advance monthly payments.

If you didn't get one of your checks, you may still get it with the next scheduled payment date after the IRS makes an adjustment. Parents with missing payments this year should expect their remaining checks to be larger, as they will be spread out over fewer payments.

One reason a parent may get less money is if they fall out of the income bracket for the maximum amount for monthly payments. Married couples filing jointly earning up to $150,000 and single filers earning up to $75,000 can qualify for the full amount. If you make more, the monthly check is reduced by $50 for every $1,000 over the income bracket. So, if you earn $80,000 as a single filer, you may only be eligible for up to $200 per month -- depending on other eligibility factors. 

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Some parents haven't received any child tax credit checks yet. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

How do I contact the IRS about my child tax credit questions? 

You may have questions about your child tax credit eligibility, a missing check or changes to your information. Your first thought may be to contact the IRS, but there's limited live assistance due to the tax return backlog, delayed stimulus checks and unemployment tax refunds. The IRS has not announced a separate phone number for child tax credit questions, but the main number for tax-related questions is 800-829-1040. 

Instead of calling, it may be faster to check the IRS website for answers to your questions. And remember that the Update Portal can help with eligibility, payment history and updating your personal information online. 

Is it possible to stop the last payment this year?

You still have some time to unenroll from the December payment. The unenrollment deadline is Nov. 29. You may choose to opt out of the last check to get a slightly larger payment during tax time in 2022. It also may be the safest option to avoid repaying the IRS if you're ineligible for the monthly payments, especially if your income changes this year. 

The child tax credit requirements are different from previous years. If you ultimately receive more money than you're eligible for, you might have to pay the IRS back. That's why it's important to use the Child Tax Credit Update Portal to inform the IRS of changes to your household circumstances so adjustments can be made. 

If you or your spouse unenrolled from the child tax credit program but still got the money, it's possible you didn't opt out in time. Note that if you file taxes jointly, both parents need to unenroll. Otherwise, the spouse who doesn't opt out will receive half of the joint payment. 

The IRS will send a notice (Letter 6419) closer to tax time in 2022 with the adjusted credit amount based on the advance payments already disbursed to you. Hold on to this letter because you'll need it when you file your 2021 income tax return if you need to return part of your payment

How do I update my mailing address or direct deposit information before the next check arrives? 

You can still update your banking and mailing information ahead of December's check. The IRS recommends using direct deposit to get future payments more quickly. Eligible parents who have banking information on file from stimulus checks or tax refunds with the IRS should have received money via direct deposit. If the IRS doesn't have your account information, you can submit it using the Child Tax Credit Update Portal for December's payment. 

If you don't add your banking information in time, look out for a check mailed to the address that the IRS has on file for you -- just like a mailed tax refund. And the good news is that you can now use the Update Portal to update your mailing address. The IRS plans to continue expanding the functionality of that portal so you'll be able to update your income and number of kids in the near future. 

If you're waiting on your payment and the portal says it's "Pending," keep holding on. A check should be coming your way soon via direct deposit or mail. After a week, you can try to contact the IRS, or eventually do a payment trace.

We'll continue to update this story with new information about tool updates, the child tax credit program and tracking your payments. Take a look at how joint child custody affects the child tax credit as well.