Child tax credit for $3,600: How and when the checks will arrive, 1 big thing to know

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.


Sarah Tew/CNET

There are a lot of question marks surrounding the redefined 2021 child tax credit (CTC), but one thing we do know is that families with kids up to 24 years old could see a significant boost in money from the federal government over the next 12 months. Along with the $1,400 stimulus checks the IRS is sending now to over 130 million qualified adults and families (calculate your stimulus total), President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan allows CTC payments to begin benefitting families this summer.

The IRS has already sketched out who counts as a qualified child and what the income limit is for parents to receive the CTC of up to $3,600 per child. But uncertainties over how you’ll be paid and how often those CTC checks arrive still remain. The different rules for dependent age groups can get confusing, fast (here’s what parents sharing custody should know). And there are still missing details about what happens if you’re overpaid and why payments are split between 2021 and 2022.

The precise details and timeline aren’t determined yet, with the IRS busy processing stimulus checks and tax returns at the same time. So we don’t expect the child tax credit rollout to be resolved until after the new May 17 tax deadline is behind us. However, here’s everything we know about CTC payments so far. If you’re waiting for your $1,400 check to arrive, you can track your payment here here’s the status of a potential fourth stimulus check. This story is frequently updated.

Important: CTC payments will be split between 2021 and 2022

The first thing to know is 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 will 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. Yes, it’s confusing. Hopefully, we answer some of your questions below.


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How will your child tax credit be divided, exactly?

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

If paid out monthly, the payments would be 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, for a total of $1,500. You 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 CTC payments arrive?

We know a general timeline, but the specifics haven’t yet been pinned down. The American Rescue Plan stipulates that CTC payments will start to arrive in July, but a specific date hasn’t been released. 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 child tax credit payments be sent 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, though.

Monthly delivery has been a goal and was in the initial language used in earlier drafts of the stimulus bill. But the language changed to “periodically,” maybe 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. 

“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.

How will the IRS send the CTC checks: Direct deposit, mail, some other way?

When the payments do start arriving, the Treasury and IRS could very well send out the payments the same way they do 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 get their third stimulus check.

How will you get your CTC money? What if you already filed your 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, non-filers will need to file a 2020 tax return to get the credit, even if they don’t usually submit tax returns. This will let the IRS know how many dependents are in the household who count toward the CTC benefits.


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

The IRS 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 may help you get a larger tax credit payout.

Will you have to return money to the IRS if you get more than you should have?

Yes. 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. One example of this happening is if you and the other parent of your child (who is not your spouse) are both paid for the child tax credit for the same dependent.

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 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.


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Could you get the whole child tax credit at once, rather than several smaller payments?

Yes, 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. That means you’d get a larger total in your tax refund or owe the IRS less money because the credit would be deducted from your total.

You’ll be able to use the online portal to opt out. Again, you wouldn’t receive any money until 2022.

What could happen after the 2021 CTC advance 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. But Biden 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 top things you should know about the $3,600 child tax credit for 2021. Plus, here’s how to track your tax refund and how to track your $1,400 stimulus check


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