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Child tax credit update portal: What you can -- and can't -- do with the IRS tools

You can register for payments, opt out of remaining checks and manage your child tax credit details using the IRS tools. We'll explain how they work.

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You can see if your child tax credit payments have been processed in the Update Portal.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With the next child tax credit payment going out at the end of this week, you can use the IRS portals to monitor your deposit and make changes to your account. Some things the IRS said you'd be able to change with its portals, however, won't come till later this fall, the tax agency said.

There are some things the Update Portal can help you with now. For instance, you can see your processed payments or modify your mailing address or bank information. But the online tool's features are still limited. The IRS hasn't given an exact date as to when parents will be able to update their marital status, income or the ages of dependents, but it says it'll be in the fall. Being able to inform the IRS of these changes in 2021 is supposed to help ensure that families are getting the right credit amount and avoid them having to owe the IRS money next year.

We'll explain what you need to know about the portals below. Remember that stopping your payments now just means you'll get more of the credit next year when you file your taxes. We'll also tell you about the IRS tool to verify your eligibility and another tool that helps low-income families register for the credit (that one's only available until Oct. 15). Here's what to do if you're missing the July, August or September checks. This story was updated recently.

When can I update my dependent or income details in the portal? 

You'll need to let the IRS know as soon as possible if your income or dependents change to avoid repaying money that you may not qualify for. The IRS said that sometime this fall you'll be able to indicate changes to any life circumstances since you last filed your taxes, such as a change in income, an addition to your family or a change in child custody status. For example, if you started making more or 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 payment for up to $3,600 for that child. The same applies if you've adopted a child or 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 made during an IRS oversight hearing by Nina Olson, executive director of the Center for Taxpayer Rights. The Child Tax Credit Update Portal later this year "should allow them to enter their change in marital status and also where the children are," Olson said.

Remember that collecting the money when ineligible may mean repaying the IRS during tax time in 2022. If you're not sure if you qualify, you can opt out of advance payments to be on the safe side. You'll collect the child tax credit money during tax time next year.

Which remaining child tax credit payments can I stop and how?

Most families who qualify for the expanded credit didn't need to take action to receive the advance payments in 2021. If you already filed a 2019 or 2020 federal income tax return (or used the nonfiler tool in 2020 to register for stimulus payments), you should have started getting the credit automatically in July. And the credit is nonrefundable, so you don't need income to get it, and families can pocket the extra cash if the amount of the credit is higher than their total tax bill. 

The Child Tax Credit Update Portal lets you opt out of receiving this year's monthly child tax credit payments. This means that instead of receiving monthly payments of, say, $300 for your 4-year-old, you can wait until filing a 2021 tax return in 2022 to receive the remainder of the $3,600. You can unenroll at any time, but you must opt out at least three days before the first Thursday of the month you're unenrolling from. (Here's a useful list of dates to know.) 

At this point, the IRS says unenrolling or opting out is a one-time action -- and it's unclear whether you'll be able to opt back in (the IRS originally said late September, but it's still unavailable). The next deadline to opt out is Nov. 1, by 9 p.m. PT (midnight ET). 

You may choose to unenroll from the advance monthly payment program because you're expecting 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 taxes may want to instead use the full credit next year. Or you might want a larger payout if your household is saving for a big expense. 

To unenroll, visit the Child Tax Credit Update Portal and tap Manage 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. The IRS says if you filed jointly on your most recent tax return, unenrolling will only affect your, and not your spouse's, advance payments. That means both parents need to opt out separately. 

What are the IRS child tax credit tools designed to do?

The online tools are useful for a variety of reasons. Here's how they help parents with eligible dependents: 

  • The Child Tax Credit Update Portal lets you verify that your family qualifies for the credit and opt out of receiving any payments in 2021. You can use it now to view your payment history (including if the money is coming by paper check or through direct deposit) and provide the IRS with your current mailing address and bank details. 
  • nonfiler 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 tool is intended to help low-income households register for the payments.
  • The Child Tax Credit Eligibility Assistant can help you determine whether you qualify for the advance child tax credit payments. The interactive tool is now available in Spanish and other languages. 

What other toolkits and resources are available? The IRS regularly updates its child tax credit FAQ page and has a PDF with details on the portals. The White House has launched a website for the child tax credit that provides information for families, details about eligibility and more downloadable information.

How can I verify that my family is eligible for the money?

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. The tool is now available in multiple languages, including Spanish.

How can I view my payment history in the Update Portal?

Using the Child Tax Credit Update Portal, you can view your payment history and add your direct deposit information if the IRS doesn't have it from a recent tax return. If the IRS has invalid bank account details, it will send the check in the mail. Families that receive their payments by snail mail should allow extra time for delivery. 

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Parents can still unenroll from monthly payments to get the remainder of the credit next year. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Do I qualify for checks if I don't file taxes?

It's not too late for low-income families to sign up for advance child tax credit payments. 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 who earn too little to have filed a 2020 tax return but who need to notify the IRS of qualifying children born before 2021. The tool is available until Oct. 15. 

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 had 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 IRS provides some 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 -- with the heading 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 Continue to Step 2 when ready.

3. On this page -- "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.

Can families without a permanent address register for payments?

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. 

Read more on income requirements and age qualifications for the expanded child tax credit.