October 22, 2021

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3 ways to see if you qualify for the 2021 child tax credit

July 15 is approaching. Do you know if your family will receive a $250 or $300 advance monthly payment?


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Not sure whether you qualify for the advance child tax credit payments starting in July? Eligibility depends on the ages of your dependents, your total income and other factors, like shared custody and where the child lives. Also, the 2021 child tax credit has different rules and requirements than previous years. 

We can give you a quick way to see if you’ll be receiving a check next month and tell you how to calculate the estimated amount. There will also be more information at your fingertips as the IRS rolls out payments, including the unveiling of an online IRS portal to assist parents with updating their household details and checking their status. 

We’ll explain you the ins and outs of eligibility below. If you’re looking for more information about the child tax credit, read this primer on payments and tips for how to use the child tax credit money. (Here are more details on stimulus check plus-up payments and what could be holding up your income tax refund.) We update this story regularly. 

1. Watch for two child tax credit letters from the IRS

If a letter arrives in your mailbox from the IRS, don’t fret. Chances are, it’s the tax agency letting you know you’re one of 36 million families who may be eligible for a payment. The IRS will send the letter if it has determined that you could qualify for child tax credit money, based on your 2019 or 2020 federal income tax return. If you don’t typically file taxes, the IRS can use any information you submitted online using what’s called the nonfilers tool, to flag you for eligibility if you have kids. 

That’s just the first letter giving you a heads up that you might qualify. The IRS plans to send a second letter to confirm that you’re eligible, and to estimate how much child tax credit money you could get when payments start July 15. To recap, the tax credit is up to $3,600 per child under age 6, and up to $3,000 for each child ages 6 to 17. When broken down into the advance monthly payments you could choose to receive this year, that’s $300 or $250 per child. 

You don’t need to do anything if you receive this letter, except hold on to it in case you need to reference it later on. Nonfilers and other people who don’t get the letter, don’t worry quite yet. Here’s more to know about the IRS letter, and read on for more qualification tips.


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2. Check the IRS child tax credit portals 

By the end of June, the IRS intends to open two web portals to help you get your child tax credit money. They’re a little complicated, but the most important thing to know is that they’ll tell you if you qualify for the child tax credit and help you monitor your payments.

The online portals will also let you add new information, correct or update outdated details — like the number of kids you have — and let you make a few other decisions about opting out of several smaller payments. 

$300 cash with calculator

Calculating your child tax credit payment in advance can help with budgeting expenses. 


Sarah Tew/CNET

3. Review the child tax credit rules and calculate your amount

Instead of waiting for the IRS to send you a letter, you can make an educated guess about your qualification status fairly easily. We think the fastest way is to use our child tax credit calculator. Just enter your yearly income and number of kids. Don’t worry — the calculator is private and anonymous and won’t store or use any of your personal information.

For the most part, the calculator tool will tell you what you need to know. However, there are some outlier qualifications that could crop up for some. For example, in some cases it’s possible your income will disqualify you

And while parents of new babies will generally qualify for the full amount, that could change if you share custody of a child. US citizenship also plays a role, so if any of your kids are adopted from another country, you’ll want to make sure you know all the rules that apply just for kids

For more, here how to see if your state owes you money, how you could get money back for your child-care costs and what if you could expect a refund for the unemployment tax break.