Child tax credit 2021: Calculating the total is a brain-buster, but it could bring more than stimulus checks

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

Sarah Tew/CNET

Figuring out how much you could expect from the third stimulus check is hard enough, with new income limits and more dependents counting toward the payment this time. (And plus-up payments, if you’re due more.) The new child tax credit is even more confusing, which will calculate the payments based on your income and the age of your kids and then dividing payments up over the second half of 2021 and into 2022.

But it’s worth getting your arms around, as the expanded child tax credit is one of the ways Congress is helping households either receive or hold on to their money, including savings for health care like cheaper insurance and extra unemployment checks along with the stimulus checks.

Our child tax credit calculator can help make sense of the confusion and tell you how much money to expect in total. 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, and what we know about a fourth stimulus check and student loan forgiveness. This story was recently updated.

Calculate the total 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 allot up to $3,600 per child aged 5 and under, and $3,000 for kids between the ages of 6 and 17. You can get a $500 total payment for dependents who are 18 and for full-time college students between 19 and 24 years old.

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, your CTC payments will begin to phase out by $50 for every $1,000 of income over the threshold, according to Joanna Powell, managing director and certified financial planner at CBIZ.

This calculator does not store your data. The results 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 don’t match 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 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 after you start receiving child tax credit payments?

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 phaseout 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 2021 refund.

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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