Child tax credit 2021 could bring more than stimulus checks. Calculating the total is a brain-buster


Calculate how much money you could get from the 2021 child tax credit.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the IRS continues to send out fresh batches of stimulus checks of up to $1,400 each, a perk in the new $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill is set to bring thousands of dollars to families with children. Along with savings for medical costs, and extra unemployment checks, households with dependent children can expect even more money from changes to the child tax credit. Over time, it could potentially bring in more than the stimulus checks, with CTC payments going out in 2021 and into 2022.

Calculating how much money you’ll get is a confusing jumble of variables, including how many children you have and their ages, with different amounts going to different child age groups. Your annual income, or AGI, also plays a big role, with a phase-out shrinking the size of your check. In addition, your CTC payment will be split into several deliveries in 2021 and the rest in 2022. 

Our child tax credit calculator can make sense of the jumble and tell you how much money to expect. We’ll also explain what happens if your child reaches one of the age cutoffs between 2021 and 2022. Here’s what parents sharing custody should know. While you’re here, here are nine unusual stimulus check facts, what we know about a fourth stimulus check and how to track down your third payment. This story is frequently updated.

Calculate the payment you could get from the new child tax credit in 2021 and 2022

Under the American Rescue Plan legislation, child tax credit payments for 2021 have significantly increased from a maximum of $2,000 per child under the age of 17 to up to $3,600 per child aged 5 and under, and $3,000 for kids between the ages of 6 and 17. If you have a dependent who is 18 years old, you can get a $500 total payment for them — this also includes dependents aged 19 to 24 who are currently full-time college students.

Your income matters, too. If your adjusted gross income, or AGI, is equal to or less than $75,000 as a single filer, $112,500 as a head of household or $150,000 filing jointly, you’ll receive the full amount. If your income is higher than that amount, your CTC payments will begin to phase out by $50 for every $1,000 of income over those threshold amounts, according to Joanna Powell, managing director and certified financial planner at CBIZ.

The calculator does not store any data you input. The results here are based on our current knowledge of the law and should be treated as broad estimates only; consult a financial planner for a more personalized estimate. The IRS will determine the final amount. 

Child tax credit calculator for 2021

Use details from your 2019 or 2020 tax return.

1. Choose your filing status below.

What if your CTC payments aren’t the same as the above estimate?

If the CTC payments you receive starting this summer don’t match the estimate, there could be several reasons why.

Taxes: You need to file your 2020 taxes to get the credit if you’re a nonfiler. The IRS will automatically make the payments for those who have their taxes filed by the May 17 tax due date, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig said. So if you don’t have your tax return submitted by this time, the IRS won’t know to send you a payment. Also, if you plan to file a tax extension, you’ll likely be able to use the IRS portal, where you can go to update your information in case you’ve gained dependents since the last tax filing.

Your child reaches a different age bracket this year: If you have a 5-year-old child turning 6 by the end of the year, 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 the year, you would receive $500 total for that dependent, instead of $3,000. Here’s more information about qualifications your child must meet for you to get the advance payments. Also, if you have a dependent who is a full-time college student and turns 25 this year, you won’t receive any payment for them.

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What if you start earning more money once the child tax credit payments begin?

If you start receiving advance payments this year for your 2020 taxes, but you get a new job making more money, you’ll likely be able to use an IRS CTC portal the agency will make available to update your information, according to Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst at Tax Foundation. Doing so would lower the payment amounts you’d receive if your new income reaches the phase-out level (see above).

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 would either have to return the excess credit on your 2021 tax return next spring, Watson says, or you’ll get a smaller amount on your refund next year.

So far, the IRS hasn’t released any further details about the portal, but Rettig said it will launch by July 1.

For more information, here’s when the 2021 child tax credits could be sent, who qualifies for the CTC and eligibility requirements kids must meet. Also, if you share custody of a child, here’s everything you need to know about getting the payments.

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