Warning: You May Have to Pay Back Your Monthly Child Tax Credit Payments

Admin 15 Oct 2021

The IRS is now making monthly child tax credit payments to eligible families. Depending on the age of your child, those payments can be as much as $300-per-kid each month from July to December. That's an extra $1,800 per child in your pocket if you get the full amount for six months. But what if the IRS sends you too much money – do you have to pay it back? Maybe.

When the IRS was doling out stimulus check money, they occasionally overpaid someone. But there was nothing in the law requiring repayment of a stimulus check. So, if you got too much, you generally were allowed to keep it.


But that's not the case with the monthly child tax credit payments. The law authorizing these payments specifically says that any excess amounts must be paid back when you file your 2021 tax return if your income is above a certain amount. There are exceptions to this rule for middle- and lower-income families, but they're limited. Plus, the way the monthly payments are calculated, overpayments could be fairly common. So, this could be a big issue for a lot of families.

Before getting into how you might end up with an overpayment and the details of the payback rules, it's probably a good idea to go over some of the changes to the child tax credit that apply for the 2021 tax year (and, so far, only for 2021). Last year, the maximum child tax credit was $2,000 per child 16 years old or younger. It was also phased out if your income exceeded $400,000 for married couples filing a joint return or $200,000 for single and head-of-household filers. For some lower-income taxpayers, the credit was partially "refundable" (up to $1,400 per qualifying child) if they had earned income of at least $2,500 (i.e., you got a refund check for the refundable amount if the credit was more than the tax you owed).

The American Rescue Plan, which was enacted in March, made some major changes to the child tax credit for the 2021 tax year. For one thing, the credit amount was raised from $2,000 to $3,000 for children 6 to 17 years old and to $3,600 for kids 5 years old and younger. The $2,500 earned income requirement was also dropped, and the credit was made fully refundable (which means refund checks triggered by this year's credit can be greater than $1,400).


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