Am I Eligible for the Child Tax Credit?

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If you have a child, you may be eligible for the Child Tax Credit (CTC). The CTC is money that is taken out of what you owe in taxes based on the number of dependent children you have. Part of the credit is refundable, meaning that you might get money back in some situations. Some people can claim the credit even if they do not normally file a tax return.

How Much Will I Get?

For the 2023 tax year (the taxes you file in early 2024), the CTC is $2,000 per qualifying child if your income is $200,000 or below ($400,000 or below if married filing jointly). If you earn more than this, your CTC will be lower.

Who Is a Qualifying Child?

The CTC is available to tax filers who have a qualifying child. A qualifying child is a child who meets all of these factors:

  • Is your son, daughter, stepchild, eligible foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, half-brother, half-sister, or a descendant of any of them (like a grandchild, niece, or nephew)
  • Was under age 18 at the end of the tax year (December 31)
  • The child did not provide more than half of their own support in during the tax year
  • Lived with you for more than half of the tax year
  • Is claimed as a dependent on your tax return
  • Did not file a joint tax return for the year (or files it only to claim a refund)
  • Is a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or U.S. resident alien

A child is considered to have lived with you for more than half of a tax year if the child was born or died during that year, and your home was this child’s home for more than half the time they were alive. For example, if your child was born in November and lived with you for the remainder of the year, you would meet this requirement.
You and the child are allowed some temporary absences. The absences can be for:

  • School
  • Vacation
  • Business
  • Medical care
  • Military service
  • Detention in a juvenile facility (for the child—your incarceration is not an allowed absence)

There are also exceptions for kidnapped children and children of divorced or separated parents. To learn more, you can review the tax return instructions in column 4 of the section on Dependents.
You can use a tool provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to help determine if your child is a qualifying child for CTC purposes.

How Can I Claim the Credit When I File My Taxes?

In most circumstances, to claim the CTC, you must file your taxes using Form 1040 or Form 1040NR. You also need to attach a completed Schedule 8812 (Credits for Qualifying Children and Other Dependents). For help finding free tax preparers, read the section Getting Your Taxes Done at the bottom of this article

Claiming the CTC When You Share Custody of Your Child

If you and someone else could claim your child on their taxes, the IRS will apply some tie breaker rules to decide who has the right to claim your child. The first rule looks at whether a parent and a non-parent are claiming the child. In this case, the parent will be able to claim the child.

If it is a case between two parents, the parent who had the child physically in their home for more nights during the year gets to claim the child. If the numbers of nights are the same, then the parent with the highest Adjusted Gross Income will be able to claim the child.

If the parents agree that the parent not entitled to claim a child under these rules will get to do so, the entitled parent needs to sign Form 8332 Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent. This can be done for one or multiple years. Every year the other parent claims the child, they must attach Form 8332 to their tax return. Form 8332 allows the other parent to claim the child for purposes of the personal exemption and the CTC. It does not allow the other parent to use that same child to do any of the following:

  • Qualify for Head of Household filing status
  • Get the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit
  • Get any additional Earned Income Tax Credit (for that child)

What Happens When the Wrong Person Claims the Child?

If you and someone else claim your child when you file your tax return, the IRS will accept the first return it gets and reject the second one. If your return is the second return the IRS gets, you will need to file a paper version of your tax return along with a cover letter explaining the situation. You need to include evidence that shows you should be the person claiming your child, like medical and school records showing that the child lived with you. You can learn more about the type of evidence the IRS looks for by reading What to Do if We Audit Your Claim on the IRS website.

After reviewing the documents you provide, the IRS will make a decision about who should be claiming your child. This process can be complex. You may want to speak with a lawyer before sending your documents. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers in your area. If you are low-income, a local tax clinic may be able to help you for free. The Guide will screen you to see if you qualify for free help from a local tax clinic.

If you want to learn more about changing a custody order, read Changing a Custody Order. You may want to speak with a lawyer who can answer questions and give you advice about custody and taxes. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find lawyers and legal services in your area.

Getting Your Taxes Done

If you need help getting your taxes done but can’t afford to pay someone, there are organizations that can help you. To learn more about these organizations, read Getting Your Taxes Done for Free.