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What non-tax-filing parents need to know to get their child tax credit payments

You aren't required to file taxes. Can you still get the 2021 child tax credit payments? Yes, you can.

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Parents who didn't file taxes last year could still be eligible for the increased child tax credit payments.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you earn too little to have filed a tax return in 2019 or 2020, you could still qualify to receive monthly child tax credit payments, which begin tomorrow, July 15. To register for this year's advance monthly payments as a nonfiler, use the IRS nonfilers tool, one of the tools created by the IRS to assist with the child tax credit rollout.

The IRS' "Non-Filer Sign-up Tool" is an updated version of the portal that helped nonfilers register to receive their stimulus checks. A second tool, the Child Tax Credit Eligibility Assistant, lets you quickly see if you qualify for the expanded credit. And the Child Tax Credit Update Portal lets you provide your current direct deposit details and opt out of the advance monthly payments

The total amount that eligible families with qualifying children will receive for the expanded child tax credit depends on income, as well as the ages and number of dependents. We recommend calculating your total here using CNET's own tool, and reading up on income rules and age requirements. This story has been updated. 

Register for payments with the IRS sign-up tool 

The IRS launched its new online tool on June 14 to help families that don't normally file income tax returns to enroll in this year's child tax credit program. The tool isn't for families who already filed -- or plan to file -- their 2019 or 2020 income tax return. The IRS will use those tax returns to determine eligibility and disburse the coming payments to qualifying families.

The free "Non-filer Sign-up tool" is designed to allow the poorest families and those experiencing homelessness to register with their name, address and Social Security numbers. Individuals will be able to notify the IRS about any of their qualifying dependents and can provide their bank information for direct deposit of the payments once they start. 

The tool has come under fire by some advocacy groups for not being easy to use. The IRS recommends using the portal on a laptop or desktop computer, not on a phone (the platform on mobile devices is not as easy to read). Users will also need an email address, filing status and other tax-related information, which isn't typically available for nonfilers. For now, it's only accessible in English and not multiple languages. 

The IRS has guidance on how to fill out the form. The first step is to create an account with an email address. The next few steps require entering your information, including an address or bank account to receive payments. You'll also need to provide your adjusted gross income, or AGI, and sign the form electronically.

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The nonfiler tool isn't for everyone

The IRS says you shouldn't use the new nonfiler online tool if you already filed a 2020 income tax return or if your adjusted gross income, or AGI, exceeded $12,400 ($24,800 for a married couple). It also says you can't use the tool if your main home is outside the US, if you or your spouse can be claimed as dependents or if you are requesting an advance child tax credit for a child born in 2021. (However, you can use the tool if you need to claim a recovery rebate credit.) 

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The tax deadline has passed, but you can still file your taxes.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Unenroll from the monthly payments using the update portal

Families may unenroll from the child tax credit to defer the advance monthly checks and instead receive a lump sum of the money during tax time next year. You can unenroll at least three days before the first Thursday of each month. The sooner you unenroll, the better because it can take up to seven days for your request to process. In September, you'll be able to re-enroll if you change your mind.

Here are the deadlines for unenrolling from the advance monthly payment program. 

Child tax credit unenrollment deadlines

Unenrollment date Payment date
June 28 July 15
Aug. 2 Aug. 13
Aug. 30 Sept. 15
Oct. 4 Oct. 15
Nov. 1 Nov. 15
Nov. 29 Dec. 15

Consider next year's taxes

The child tax credit payments are advances on next year's tax refund for eligible parents. You'll get half of the money over the course of seven payments in 2021 and 2022. If for whatever reason you receive more money than you're eligible for, you'll need to pay the IRS the difference based on your tax return when you file in 2022. However, there is a repayment protection program to help low-income families that may not be able to repay the extra money. 

Other ways to use the IRS child tax credit tools

We expect changes to the IRS website throughout the summer. For example, the IRS plans to add a Spanish version of the online tools. You'll also be able to view tax credit payment history and update your tax status and mailing information through the update portal in coming months. 

For more information about the child tax credit, here's what you should know about the upcoming IRS letters