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Waiting for your child tax credit payment? Here's who isn't eligible for the $300 check

Up to 96% of US households with children qualify for at least some of the 2021 child tax credit. But age and income requirements could make families completely ineligible.

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The new child tax credit program will start on Thursday. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Did you not get the first child tax credit payment last week? You might be in the same boat as some members of Reddit, who are reporting that although they qualify for the payments, they're still waiting for their first check. (If this is your situation, here's what to do.) However, you may be in the group of familes that isn't eligible for a payment. Here's how to check.

Up to 96% of famlies will qualify for the credit, but figuring out if you do and for how much can take some work. Qualifying families will get the entire amount of the credit if their incomes are below a set threshold. Then above the threshold, the amount of the credit will begin to phase out until it reaches its cap -- we'll explain below. To get the benefits for the 2021 tax year, dependents have to be 17 or younger by the end of December. Adopted children and babies born in 2021 may qualify too. 

Parents who are eligible will automatically get 50% of their 2021 child tax credit amount through six advance monthly installments and can claim the other 50% on their taxes later. Or they get the option of claiming 100% of the credit in 2022 if they unenroll from the monthly payment program. We'll break it all down for you below. Here's how to sign up for the IRS tools to manage your checks and how the child tax credit could affect your taxes next year. We have updated this story recently. 

What are the income and age caps for the 2021 child tax credit?

The IRS looks at your family's adjusted gross income, or AGI, the ages of your dependents and a handful of other things to determine if you meet the requirements for the child tax credit payments. Here's a quick look at family income and dependent age limits.

Income and age caps for the child tax credit

Family upper income qualification limit Dependent age qualifications
Single filer -- AGI below $240,000 Ages 5 and younger -- up to $3,600
Head of household -- AGI below $240,000 Ages 6 to 17 -- up to $3,000
Couple filing jointly -- AGI below $440,000 Age 18 -- $500
Ages 19 to 24, full-time college students -- $500

What are the child tax credit age requirements for kids?

If your dependents are below the age of 6 on Dec. 31, you can claim up to $3,600 per child as long as you meet the income requirements, which are listed below. That's $1,600 more than the $2,000 that parents were able to claim on their 2020 tax returns. 

This includes newborns, even if they're born later in 2021. Later this year, parents will be able to update the IRS with their new dependent information via an online portal to receive the correct advance payments this year. Otherwise, parents can file a claim as part of their 2021 tax return next year.

If your dependents are age 6 or older on Dec. 31, you'll qualify for up to $3,000 per child over the next year, assuming again that you meet the income requirements. This includes dependents who are 17 years old on Dec. 31. In prior years, parents could only claim up to $2,000 for each dependent age 16 and younger.

You can also get money for your older kids, although it's not nearly as much. You can claim up to $500 for an 18-year-old, as well as for full-time college students ages 19 to 24. 

2021 child tax credit age brackets

Ages 5 and younger Up to $3,600 per child, with half of credit as $300 monthly payments
Ages 6 to 17 Up to $3,000 per child, with half of credit as $250 monthly payments
Age 18 $500 one-time check in 2022
Ages 19 to 24, full-time college students $500 one-time check in 2022

What are the income requirements for families?

As long as your adjusted gross income, or AGI, is $75,000 or less, single-taxpayer households will qualify for the full child tax credit amount. Above $75,000, the amount begins phasing out. At $240,000, single filers phase out of the tax credit entirely.

If you're married and filing jointly with your spouse, your AGI needs to be $150,000 or less to qualify for the full child tax credit amount. At $440,000, couples will phase out of the tax credit entirely.

The credit phases out by $50 for every $1,000 of income over the threshold amounts for all filers, according to Joanna Powell, managing director at CBIZ

As a head of household, your AGI will need to be $112,500 or less to qualify for the full child tax credit amount. The amount you could get begins phasing out if your income is over that amount, and by $240,000 you phase out of the tax credit entirely.

2021 child tax credit income limits

Who qualifies What the law says
Single filer An AGI of $75,000 or less to qualify for the full amount
Head of household An AGI of $112,500 or less to qualify for the full amount
Couple filing jointly An AGI of $150,000 or less to qualify for the full amount
Nonfiler Will need to file a 2020 tax return to get the payment
Now playing: Watch this: Child tax credit: Everything we know
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Is the IRS letter only for families who qualify? 

The IRS this summer is sending letters to 36 million families notifying them they may be eligible to receive monthly child tax credit payments, based on their federal income tax return from either 2019 or 2020.

Can families who don't file taxes still get the payments?

Child tax credit payments will be automatic for those who filed their 2020 tax returns or claimed all their dependents on their 2019 tax return. If you don't normally file taxes, because your income is too low or you don't have a bank account or a permanent address, the IRS won't know to send you a payment.

That means if you're considered a nonfiler, you'll need to act now to be able to receive the first round of payments this year. The IRS opened a new online portal for households that don't traditionally file income taxes, so they can register their information -- it's also available in Spanish. You'll need a number of things on hand before starting the process, including a mailing address, an email address, tax information on your dependents and bank account information. 

If you were planning on filing a 2019 or 2020 return but just haven't gotten around to it yet, the IRS said to do so as soon as possible so your most recent information is on file for determining your payments.

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Changes to the child tax credit this year increase the amount for low-income families. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

More child tax credit eligibility requirements you'll need to know 

  • The child you're claiming must live with you for at least six months out of the year.
  • You and your child must both be US citizens, unlike mixed-status households. 
  • For married couples filing jointly, at least one spouse needs to have a Social Security number or an ITIN. 
  • The child must also have a Social Security number -- a child with only an ATIN won't qualify. (This includes adopted children.)
  • Parents who share custody of a child cannot both receive the tax credit.

Here's what else to know about the 2021 child tax credit.

Important: The results here are based on our current knowledge of the law, but should be treated as broad estimates only. Consult a financial planner for a more personalized estimate.