The new rules around the child tax credit determines who does — and doesn’t — get the money.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Parents with kids under 18 may see a dramatic boost in the amount of money they could receive for their families this year and next, because of the American Rescue Plan. Of all the financial aid the new stimulus package will send out to those suffering through the economic impact of the pandemic — from $1,400 stimulus checks to federal unemployment checks — the expansion of the child tax credit could be the piece of the new relief bill that helps the most families. 

With the new rules around the child tax creditmore than 9 out of 10 families with children will receive payments, starting this summer. And just as important, families that pay little or no federal tax will receive the full portion they qualify for, a change from how the CTC had worked in the past, where lower income families were excluded from the entire amount they were due.

So what is the CTC, who is eligible for a payment, and can parents who share joint custody of a child each get money this year? We have answers, below. Plus here is more on the third stimulus check and who qualifies for that payment.

Can parents sharing joint custody of a child each get a payment?

With the first two stimulus checks, parents who aren’t married but share joint custody of a child could each receive a payment for the same child if they alternate years claiming the child on their taxes. With the new bill, Congress worked to close off that loophole for the third checks that are now going out. 

Can parents who share custody of a child take advantage of a similar loophole with the new temporary tax credit? No, said Elaine Maag, a principal research associate with the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Only one person can claim the credit for a given child, Maag told CNET. And if you incorrectly claim a child this year, you may have to repay all or part of the payment next year.

Repaying any CTC overpayment is a departure from the stimulus checks. Typically, if you received an overpayment, you don’t need to send it back. (Here are situations where you’d need to return a stimulus check payment to the IRS.)

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Can your CTC payment be garnished to cover past-due child support?

According to the Congressional Research Service — Congress’ public policy research institute — the new law exempts the periodic child tax credit payments going out this year from offset for past-due child support. However, the amount you claim as a credit on your 2021 tax returns in 2022 could be subject to offset, the Congressional service said, similar to how stimulus payments claimed as a Recovery Rebate Credit could be redirected to cover an overdue debt.

How does the CTC expansion work?

Before the changes this year with the American Rescue Plan, eligible families could claim a tax credit for their qualified children when they filed their taxes. The credit would reduce the amount of taxes they owed. That payment rule, however, excluded lower-income families who didn’t owe federal taxes and wouldn’t benefit from a tax saving with the credit. 

With the new law, the credit is “fully refundable,” so qualifying families will receive the full dollar amount, even if they don’t owe income taxes. Families will receive half the credit this year through period payments starting as soon as July and the second half of the credit in 2022 when they file their 2021 taxes during next year’s tax season. If, instead, you’d rather get one check, the IRS will let you choose to receive the full payment next year when you file. Here’s more details on how the child tax credit payments will work.


More than 9 out of 10 families with children will qualify for the expanded child tax credit.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Who is eligible for the child tax credit? 

The American Rescue Plan temporarily expands the CTC from $2,000 per child 16 years old and younger to $3,600 for children age 5 and younger and to $3,000 for children age 17 and younger. 

The temporary expansion also makes the credit available to families in all US territories. Previously, the refundable credit was available to families in Guam, the Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and Puerto Rico.

How much could you receive in 2021 and 2022?

Over 90 percent of all families with children — from lowest to highest qualifying incomes — will receive an average benefit of $4,380, according to the Tax Policy Center, with half the amount going out this year periodically, starting this summer in roughly equivalent payments, and the second half next year when you file your taxes.

For more information on other funding, here’s how to estimate your third stimulus check, how to track your payment and what we know about a fourth stimulus check so far.

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