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Kids are expensive, and Uncle Sam knows that as well as any parent does. That’s why the federal government offers tax breaks for filers who have children — and one of them is the additional child tax credit.
When you file your federal income tax return, you could be eligible for the child tax credit for each qualifying child you have. The child tax credit is worth a maximum of $2,000 per qualifying child. And if the credit reduces your tax obligation to zero, you may also be able to get up to $1,400 of the credit refunded to you as the additional child tax credit.
- What is the additional child tax credit?
- How do I qualify for the additional child tax credit?
- How much is the additional child tax credit worth?
- How do I claim the additional child tax credit?
Like all tax credits, the additional child tax credit works by reducing the amount of tax you owe. The additional child credit is actually part of the child tax credit, which was temporarily increased under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
If you qualify for the child tax credit and the credit lowers the amount of federal income tax you owe to zero, you could qualify for the additional child tax credit, which allows you to get any excess credit — up to $1,400 per qualifying child — as a tax refund.
Of course, you must have qualifying kids to be eligible for a child tax credit. But not everyone who has kids will qualify for the child tax credit and additional child tax credit.
To receive the additional child tax credit, you first need to be eligible for the child tax credit by having (and claiming) at least one qualifying child. A qualifying child must be …
- Related to you. A qualifying relative can be a son, daughter, stepchild, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, half sister or a descendant of any of them. Eligible foster children may also be qualifying children.
- Younger than 17 at the end of the tax year.
- One who has not provided more than half their own support for the tax year.
- Living with you for more than half the tax year (with some exceptions).
- Claimed as a dependent on your federal income tax return.
- Not filing a joint return for the year. A child may still be a qualifying child if the only reason they file a joint return is to claim a refund of withheld income tax or estimated tax paid.
- A U.S. citizen, U.S. national or U.S. resident alien.
Additionally, tax reform added an important requirement for claiming the child tax credit or additional child tax credit: The child you’re claiming the credit for must have a Social Security number.Learn more about who's a qualifying child for tax purposes
For tax years between Jan. 1, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2025, filers can claim the child tax credit for all qualifying children. The maximum amount per qualifying child is $2,000. This credit starts to phase out at $200,000 modified adjusted gross income or $400,000 for married couples filing jointly.
If your child tax credit is more than the amount of federal income tax you owe, you may be eligible for the additional child tax credit. Up to $1,400 of the credit can be refundable for each qualifying child as the additional child tax credit. Even if you don’t owe any tax, you may receive this refund. Translation: The IRS may be cutting you a refund check.
An example of how the child tax credit works
Let’s say you and your partner owe $3,000 in federal income tax. You have three children and qualify for the full child tax credit for each, which means you get a $6,000 credit (3 x $2,000 = $6,000). You now have zero federal tax liability and $3,000 in unused credit ($3,000 total tax bill – $6,000 tax credit = $3,000 unused credit). This unused credit can be claimed as the additional child tax credit, which allows you a refund of up to $1,400 per qualifying child.
Now let’s change the scenario. You and your partner still have three qualifying children, so your credit amount is still $6,000. But now your federal income tax bill is just $1,000, leaving you with $5,000 in unused credit ($1,000 total tax bill – $6,000 total tax credit = $5,000 unused credit). But the refundable portion of the credit is just $1,400 per qualifying child. So the maximum amount you can get refunded would be $4,200 (3 x $1,400).Tax deductions vs. tax credits: Learn the difference
To determine if you’re eligible for the additional child tax credit, you can fill out the Child Tax Credit Worksheet, which is typically included in the instructions for the Form 1040. If you qualify for the credit, the worksheet may also direct you to use Schedule 8812 to determine if you’re eligible for the additional child tax credit.
Divorced or separated: Which parent can claim the credit?
While the rules are different for divorced or separated parents, the parent who claims the qualifying child as a dependent on their tax return is usually the parent who can also claim the child tax credit and additional child tax credit (if they meet all other qualifications for claiming the credit).
The additional child tax credit could affect your refund by up to $1,400 per qualifying child.
Being a parent may be the best “job” you’ve ever had — but it’s also one that comes with high overhead. The federal government offers parent- and family-oriented tax breaks like the child tax credit and additional child tax credit to help defray the costs of parenthood. These credits can help reduce your federal income tax obligation and potentially increase any refund you’re owed.
And that’s something that any parent can smile about.
Relevant sources: IRS: Child Tax Credit and Credit for Other Dependents at a Glance | IRS: Instructions for Schedule 8812, Additional Child Tax Credit | IRS Publication 972: Child Tax Credit | The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 | IRS: Credits and Deductions for Individuals
Christina Taylor is senior manager of tax operations for Credit Karma Tax®. She has more than a dozen years of experience in tax, accounting and business operations. Christina founded her own accounting consultancy and managed it for more than six years. She codeveloped an online DIY tax-preparation product, serving as chief operating officer for seven years. She is an Enrolled Agent and the current treasurer of the National Association of Computerized Tax Processors and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration/accounting from Baker College and an MBA from Meredith College. You can find her on LinkedIn.