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July child tax credit payment: Did you get less than expected? See how much you qualify for

If you thought your child tax credit check would be more than it was last week, use our calculator to compare the numbers.

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By adding up monthly payments this year and a partial payment next year, eligible households could get up to $3,600 per kid. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Last week, millions of child tax credit payments were sent out to eligible families through direct deposit and mail. If you qualify, you'll continue receiving payments for up to $300 for each kid under 6 years old and $250 for each kid between ages 6 and 17 through December. But did you get less money than you expected with the first payment? 

You can find out how much money you should get by answering a few quick questions with our child tax credit calculator below. We'll explain how it works and what's used to determine your family's amount. The payments you get this year are based on the latest tax return processed -- so it could be 2019 or 2020. If a family has different circumstances in 2021, like income or kids, the payments could turn out to be too much or too little.

Remember for 2021, the IRS is sending half of each family's total estimated credits in six monthly installments that began on July 15. The remaining half of the credit will be calculated as part of your 2022 tax refund. We'll tell you what to do if you prefer to decline the monthly payments this year and get your full credit next year. We can also tell you how to sign up with the IRS to manage your payments and what to expect during tax season next year. This story gets regular updates. 

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Calculate your family's estimated child tax credit total 

Start here by entering your adjusted gross income and number of kids. (Our calculator will not store or use your data.) The results are based on our current knowledge of the law and should be treated only as broad estimates; the IRS will determine the final amount. We suggest consulting a financial professional if you want a more personalized estimate.

Child tax credit calculator for 2021

Use details from your 2020 tax return.

1. Choose your filing status below.

2. What was your adjusted gross income (AGI)?

3. Number of children age 5 and under by December 31, 2021.

4. Number of children age 6 to 17 by December 31, 2021.

Calculate

The child tax credit math is somewhat involved this time around. Let's say the above calculator says that you will receive $3,500 in monthly payments from July through December 2021. That means you should take that total and divide by six to see how much the IRS will send you each month in advance this year. 

Here are the basic rules. For parents of eligible children up to age 5, the IRS will pay up to $3,600 for each kid, half as six advance monthly payments and half as a 2021 tax credit. For each child aged 6 through 17, the IRS will pay up to $3,000, divided in the same way this year and next. For dependents aged 18 or full-time college students up through age 24, the IRS will make a one-time payment of $500 in 2022. 

If your AGI is $75,000 or less as a single filer, $112,500 or less as a head of household, or $150,000 or less filing jointly, you'll get the maximum amount. If your income is above the threshold for your filing status, your child tax credit payments will begin to phase out by $50 for every $1,000 of income over it. If the calculator above gives you a figure much less than $3,600 total for your 3-year-old, that probably means your household income is too high for the full payment. 

Advance child tax credit payment timeline through 2022

The first child tax credit payment recently went out on July 15 and continues each month through the end of the year. Look for a payment on the 15th of each month, except for August's payment -- which will be on Aug. 13. Here's a breakdown of when payments will be deposited and the maximum amount to expect based on the age brackets. Keep in mind that if you have dependents aged 18-24 you will have to wait until tax time next year to claim the full amount. 

Timeline for child tax credit payments

Monthly Maximum payment (newborn to 5) Maximum payment (6 to 17) Maximum payment (18 to 24)
July 15, 2021: First payment of the year $300 $250 -
Aug. 13, 2021 $300 $250 -
Sept. 15, 2021 $300 $250 -
Oct. 15, 2021 $300 $250 -
Nov. 15, 2021 $300 $250 -
Dec. 15, 2021: Last payment of the year $300 $250 -
April 2022: Second half of payment $1,800 $1,500 $500

Eligibility requirements for your dependents

There are some specific rules regarding qualifications not just for parents and caregivers, but for the children, too. Here's what to know about dependent qualifications for the child tax credit. 

As for your child aging out of a payment bracket, the amount of the credit depends on the age of a child on Dec. 31 this year. So if you have a 5-year-old turning 6 before the end of 2021, the total payment amount you could get for that child is $3,000. If you have a 17-year-old who turns 18 before the end of 2021, you would receive $500 total for that dependent instead of $3,000. If you have a dependent who's a full-time college student and turns 25 this year, you won't receive any payment for that dependent.

Newborn babies can qualify you for a payment

Children born in 2021 make you eligible for the 2021 tax credit of $3,600 per child. (That's up to $7,200 for twins.) This is on top of payments for any other qualified child dependents you claim. Here's our guide for parents of 2021 babies, including what parents of adopted infants should know.

Nonfilers may also be eligible for payments

The IRS will automatically make the payments for those who filed their 2020 tax return or claimed dependents on their 2019 tax return. If you didn't submit your tax return, the IRS won't know to send you a payment (and also won't know if you've gained dependents since the last tax filing).

If you're a nonfiler and didn't file a tax return this year and don't plan to, the IRS has come up with an alternative. A new "Non-filer Sign-up tool" allows families who don't file taxes to submit an electronic form to let the IRS know how many kids they have and their ages -- including babies born in 2020 and 2021 -- so they can get the correct payment amount. 

While the tool is intended to help low-income families enroll in the program, it has been criticized for not being entirely user-friendly. For example, it works better on a computer than a mobile device, and requires that you have access to an email address and understand English. 

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The next deadline to opt out of advance monthly child tax credit payments is Aug. 2. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Parents can defer monthly payments for one check in 2022

If you'd rather get your 2021 child tax credit money as one large payment, you can unenroll from the monthly payments now that the IRS has opened its online portal. That means that instead of receiving $300 per month for your 3-year-old (and the remainder of your money in 2022, for example), you'd wait until you filed your taxes in 2022 to claim the full $3,600.

To stop the advance payments, you need to unenroll three days before the first Thursday of the month. So if you want to opt out of that second payment on Aug. 13, you'll need to do so before the Aug. 2 deadline. 

Later on, that same IRS portal will allow people to check on the status of their payments and make updates to their information. Here's the monthly schedule to unenroll. 

Child tax credit unenrollment deadline schedule

Payment month Unenrollment deadline Payment date
July June 28, 2021 July 15, 2021
August Aug. 2, 2021 Aug. 13, 2021
September Aug. 30, 2021 Sept. 15, 2021
October Oct. 4, 2021 Oct. 15, 2021
November Nov. 1, 2021 Nov. 15, 2021
December Nov. 29, 2021 Dec. 15, 2021

Only one parent can get a payment in shared-custody situations

If you share custody, only one parent can claim the monthly advance child tax credit payments. This may be a surprise for parents that were separated, but both received one stimulus payment each for their child. Parents should also be careful when claiming the child tax credit money because if the child is filed incorrectly, parents may have to repay some or all of the money. 

Update your details now to avoid owing money to the IRS next year

Your family's eligibility is determined in large part by your adjusted gross income. So what happens if you get a new job or start making more money in 2021? What happens if the payments have already gone out and you spent the money?

The IRS has a plan for this: You'll use the new Child Tax Credit Update Portal to update your information when that happens. If you need to make an adjustment, the IRS will lower the payment amounts you'd receive if your new income reaches the phaseout level, according to Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation.

If you wait until 2022 to update your information when you file your taxes and you continue to receive the full amount based on your lower income, you will have to return the excess money on your 2021 tax return next spring, or else accept a smaller 2021 refund or owe more in taxes. Here's more information on how the child tax credit affects your taxes.