Child tax credit for $3,600: When and how the payments will arrive, 1 big thing to know – CNET

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Details on the child tax credit payments still aren’t set, but they’re expected to start in July. Here’s what we know right now.


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For parents and guardians of children and young adults, more money from the government could come your way, besides the $1,400 stimulus checks that are going out now to over 150 million qualified adults and families (calculate your stimulus total). In addition to stimulus payments, the $1.9 trillion bill passed in March also authorizes additional unemployment benefits through September, and — as a huge windfall for parents — an expanded 2021 child tax credit (CTC) that could start bringing you money this summer.

And this is where the details get confusing. For example, the most you could get is $3,600 for each qualified child rather than a maximum $2,000 per kid for 2020. But the older your kids are, or the more money you make, the less you might receive. You could still get some money even for a college-age dependent under 24. And how will you be paid? Will the child tax credit checks arrive monthly or what? What’s with payments being split between 2021 and 2022? Will the new child tax credits become permanent?

We don’t have every answer yet, because the timeline isn’t set. With the IRS busy processing stimulus checks and tax returns at the same time, the child tax credit details is on the agency’s radar, but likely won’t be solved until after the new May 17 tax deadline passes. Here’s everything you’ll need to think about now. If you’re waiting on your $1,400 check to arrive, you can track your payment here, and here’s the story on a fourth stimulus check. This article was recently updated.

Important: CTC payments will be split between 2021 and 2022

The first thing to know is that you won’t get your CTC payments all at once this year. As with your taxes, the child tax credit in the stimulus bill is for 2021. The “credit” part means the amount you owe in your taxes would be reduced by the “credit” you gain from your eligible dependents. That could either reduce your payment to the IRS for your 2021 taxes (filed in 2022) or else increase your tax refund for 2021. Normally, you’d receive that “credit” as a tax refund in 2022. But the plan is to bring you money sooner, which is why the checks will start coming in 2021 as “advance payments.”

This logic also explains why your 2021 child tax credit is split into two parts. The first part, in 2021, is the advance payment you can start using right away. The second part, will apply to your 2021 taxes — which are filed in 2022. We know, it’s confusing. Hopefully, we’ll be able to answer lingering questions below.


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So how will exactly my child tax credit be divided?

The amount you’d receive would be half of what you’re owed for the year, under the new stimulus bill, and you’ll receive the other half of the payment with your 2021 tax refund, filed in 2022.

If paid out monthly, the payments would break down to up to $300 per month for each qualifying child age 5 and under, and up to $250 per month for each child between the ages of 6 and 17. Note that this amount phases out for those with higher incomes — for single people earning more than $75,000 per year, heads of household earning more than $112,500 per year and married couples earning more than $150,000 a year.

So if you qualify for $3,000 and you have one dependent, you’d get an estimated $250 per month from July to December, totaling $1,500. You’d then need to claim the rest of your child tax credit amount when you file your 2021 taxes next year (2022). Here’s more on the financial breakdown for qualified dependents.

2021 child tax credit amount

Age Amount you could get per child
Age 5 and under Up to $3,600, or $300 a month if monthly payouts occur
Ages 6-17 Up to $3,000, or $250 a month if monthly payouts occur

When will the first child tax credit payments arrive?

We know a general timeline, but the specifics are yet to be pinned down. The American Rescue Plan stipulates that the CTC payments will start to arrive in July. A specific date hasn’t been released, however, for when the payments will come. The IRS will make additional information about the expanded child tax credit available “as soon as possible,” the agency said in a statement March 12

Will the CTC payments arrive on a schedule? 

The child tax credit will be paid out “periodically,” according to the text of the stimulus bill, from July through December. The IRS hasn’t shared how often it will be able to get the checks out, however.

Monthly delivery has been a goal, and the initial language used in earlier drafts of the stimulus bill. However, the language changed to “periodically,” perhaps in part because of the extra burden placed on the IRS to also distribute tax returns and stimulus checks. In other words, some may have felt a monthly delivery cycle was too ambitious or unrealistic. 

“I think it might be a challenge to get into the monthly right out of the box,” IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said when asked about the timeline.

Which payment method will the IRS use to send the CTC payments: Direct deposit, mail or another way?

When the payments do start arriving, the Treasury and IRS could very well send out the payments the same way they do the stimulus checks, Joanna Powell, managing director and certified financial planner at CBIZ, told CNET. 

It hasn’t been confirmed by the IRS yet, but if the agency does use the same method as stimulus checks, here’s how it would work: If you have direct deposit on file with the IRS, that’s how you’ll get your payment. If not, you’ll receive your money as a paper check. It isn’t clear if Social Security beneficiaries, like people in SSI, SSDI and veterans programs, would receive their CTC through their Direct Express card, the same way millions could get their third stimulus check.

What do I do to get the CTC payments? What if I already filed my 2020 taxes?

Taxpayers shouldn’t file an amended return related to the new legislation and shouldn’t take any other “unnecessary steps,” the IRS said March 12. Rettig said payments will be automatic for those who file their 2020 tax returns by May 17, the new tax deadline.

However, nonfilers will need to file a 2020 tax return to get the credit, even if they don’t usually submit tax returns. This will inform the IRS of how many dependents are in the household who would count toward the CTC benefits.


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When will the IRS portal open to make adjustments and correct errors?

The IRS said it will launch an online portal by July 1, Rettig said, but the IRS won’t have the resources to build this until after tax filing season ends. Once the CTC portal is available, recipients can log in to update their information if their circumstances have changed. For example, if you have a child in 2021, the IRS wouldn’t have that information on file yet, so updating those details could help you get a larger tax credit payout.

Will I have to return money to the IRS if I accidentally get more than I was supposed to?

The CTC isn’t as flexible as the stimulus check rules. If you receive more money than you should have, you will have to pay it back. Powell explained that when you file your 2021 tax return (in 2022), if your tax situation isn’t what the IRS has in its system, and you weren’t entitled to as much as you received, you’ll have to give the overpayment back. 

To avoid this tax inconvenience, make sure all of your information is updated before the payments start arriving. Powell estimates the portal will be open ahead of time so you can make any necessary adjustments.

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It’s unclear if the payments will become permanent.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Could I opt to receive all my CTC money at once, rather than several smaller payments?

Absolutely, but not this year. If you thought you could cash in on all the CTC money in July, that’s not the case. Instead, you can opt out of getting the periodic advance payments and receive a lump sum in spring 2022 as a credit when you file your taxes. You’ll be able to use the online portal to opt out. Again, you wouldn’t receive any money until 2022.

What’s the plan after the 2021 CTC payments end in December?

The final advance payment of the child tax credit is scheduled to end by Dec. 31, 2021, with the rest coming in 2022 with tax season. President Joe Biden, however, wants to make the higher payments permanent, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said March 16: “We’re having those discussions with Congress.”

For more information, here are five things you should know about the $3,600 child tax credit for 2021. Plus, here’s how to track your tax refund and your $1,400 stimulus check