What Do I Need to Know About the Advance Child Tax Credit Payments?

Q: I’ve heard that the IRS will start making advance payments toward the Child Tax Credit of 2021 this summer. What do I need to know about these payments?

A: The advance payments of the Child Tax Credits of 2021 will be distributed monthly to eligible families, beginning on July 15, 2021. Here’s what you need to know about these payments.

What are the changes to the Child Tax Credits for 2021? 

As part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021, the Child Tax Credit (CTC) for tax year 2021 will be significantly expanded.

Here are the most important changes to the CTC for 2021:

  • Families claiming the CTC will receive up to $3,000 per qualifying child between the ages of 6 and 17 at the end of 2021. The credit will include children who turn 17 in 2021.
  • Families claiming the CTC will receive $3,600 per qualifying child under age 6 at the end of 2021.
  • The credit for qualifying children is fully refundable. This means taxpayers can benefit from the credit even if they don’t have earned income or don’t owe any income taxes.
  • Advance payments of up to 50% of the total CTC per family will be distributed once a month, from July 15 through Dec. 15, 2021.

For comparison’s sake, for 2020, the amount of the CTC was up to $2,000 per qualifying child under age 17 at the end of the year. Also, the credit was only refundable by up to $1,400 per child.

Who is eligible for the Child Tax Credits? 

Taxpayers who have a primary residence in the U.S., and reside in it for at least half of the year, are eligible to receive the child tax credits.

The payments will begin to be phased out for married taxpayers filing a joint return and earning more than $150,000 a year, for heads of household earning more than $112,500 a year and for all other taxpayers earning more than $75,000 a year. Income eligibility will be based on 2020’s tax return (more on this later).

Do I need to take any action to receive the monthly payments? 

Taxpayers need not take any steps to receive the advanced Child Tax Credits. Of course, taxpayers need to file their 2020 taxes, which were due on May 15, 2021. Filing electronically may speed up the receipt of the CTC payments.

How much money will I receive each month through the advanced Child Tax Credits?

The advance payments being sent to qualifying families from July through December will be equal to up to 50% of each family’s total Child Tax Credit. The payments will be based upon the income information found in taxpayers’ 2020 tax returns. If these were not filed yet, the 2019 tax returns will be used to determine each family’s eligibility.

Families eligible for the full CTC will receive half of the total across a six-month time span. This means eligible families will receive a total of $1,800 for children under age 6, or $300 a month per child from July through December, and a total of $1,500 for children ages 6-17, or $250 a month per child from July through December.

How will I receive my monthly payments? 

The IRS has announced that payments will be issued in the same way as the three stimulus payments distributed to all eligible taxpayers since the start of the pandemic. If you received your stimulus payments via paper check, you’ll likely receive the CTC payments the same way, and if you received them via direct deposit, expect the same now.

The one caveat here is for those who have not signed up to receive their Economic Impact Payments via direct deposit but have filed their 2020 tax returns electronically. These taxpayers will receive their CTC payments the same way they filed their taxes; either electronically or via direct deposit.

Can I decline the opportunity to receive the advance payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credits?  

Eligible taxpayers who do not want advance payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credit can choose not to receive them at this time. The IRS has not yet provided the public with instructions for how to officially decline the advance payments, but has promised to update its website when the instructions become available.

Is it a good idea to decline the advance payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credits? 

While it is generally better to receive money owed to you upfront, under certain circumstances it may be better to decline receiving the advanced Child Tax Credits.

If you have reason to believe you will not be eligible for the full CTC amount at the end of 2021, you may end up owing the IRS some or all of the money you received when you file your 2021 taxes. This can happen if your income level rises in 2021, or if you have primary custody of the child(ren) receiving the credit in 2020, but not in 2021. If either of these may apply to you, consider opting out of the advance CTC payments. You won’t miss out on these payments, as you’ll receive whatever is owed to you at the end of 2021.

The advance CTC payments will be a boon for families who are struggling with the financial fallout of the pandemic, but it may not be in every taxpayer’s best interest to accept these payments now. Use our guide to brush up on the details of these payments so you can make an informed decision.

Beware Child Tax Credit Scams

There are several variations of the Child Tax Credit scam, each ultimately designed to trick parents and guardians out of their rightful CTC funds.

In one variation of the scam, victims receive phone calls, emails or social media messages appearing to be from the IRS and asking them to authenticate their personal details or share sensitive information in order to receive their CTC funds. In lieu of pretending to represent the IRS, the scammer may also claim to be in the position of “helping” the victim receive their funds. Unfortunately, in either scenario, if the victim follows the instructions of the contact, they will be playing right into the hands of a scammer.

In another variation of the scam, victims land on a spoofed government website where they are prompted to input their personal information. This scam is especially common, as the IRS has announced that it will be launching two web-based portals for families who’d like to update their information for the CTC: one for taxpayers who file annual returns and would like to share their banking details or a change in the number of dependents they have in their household, and one for taxpayers whose income level falls below the threshold for filing returns. While the two separate sites will make the application process smoother for the IRS, they also open the door for more bogus sites to spring up and snag unsuspecting victims in their trap.

What you need to know about the Child Tax Credit

As always, knowledge is your best protection against potential scams. Here’s what you need to know about the CTC and the way the IRS operates:

  • The IRS does not make unsolicited calls or emails. All official communications from the IRS are sent via standard USPS mail. The IRS will never call, email, text, or DM you asking you to share sensitive information.
  • You do not need to take any action or share personal information to receive the Child Tax Credit. If you’ve filed taxes in 2020, or even in 2019, and you’re eligible to receive the CTC funds, they will arrive via paper check, debit card or direct deposit without any action on your part. You only need to update information on one of the upcoming IRS portals if you’ve had a change in income, the number of dependents in your household or you’d like to share your banking information with the IRS.
  • Only the IRS will be issuing the Child Tax Credits. Anyone else claiming to “help” you receive the payments is a scammer.

If you’ve been targeted

As the date of the first advanced CTC approaches, scams are exploding everywhere. If you believe you’ve been targeted by a CTC scam, follow the cardinal rule of personal safety by never sharing sensitive data with an unverified source. Triple-check the URL on any IRS webpage you visit, as these are easily spoofed. Note that all authentic government sites will end in .gov. Finally, report all suspicious activity to the IRS and the FTC immediately.

For additional information on the upcoming Child Tax Credits, to check if you qualify or to update your dependent or banking information, visit the IRS’s CTC webpage directly at IRS.gov.

The advanced Child Tax Credits will help millions of families struggling with the economic fallout of the pandemic, but scammers can ruin it all. Follow the tips outlined above and stay safe!

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