Child tax credits: what are they and how do they work? 

4 mins readLast updated October 4, 2023by Kate Morgan

Caring for a child is expensive, and in a time when many are already struggling financially, extra help can make a huge difference. Thankfully, monetary support is available to parents through child tax credits. Here’s what you need to do to get the financial help you might be entitled to.

What are child tax credits?

A child tax credit (sometimes abbreviated to CTC) is a payment given to parents to help them financially as they raise and care for their child/children.

A CTC can go a long way in helping a family close to the poverty line afford essentials for children (things like food, school supplies and clothing).

In 2021, as a part of the American Rescue Plan, most US families automatically received monthly payments without needing to apply for or request them.

Now, things are changing... 

How do child tax credits work?

In 2021, child tax credits were expanded and paid to taxpaying parents monthly.

If a parent’s tax returns had been filed for one of the previous two years, they would automatically get their tax relief (in the form of their CTC) without having to sign up for anything or fill anything in.

Changes were made, and these changes kept 3.7 million children out of poverty: 

  • Recipients got $3,600 for each child under age 6, instead of $2,000 

  • Recipients got $3,000 for each child aged 6 to 16, instead of $2,000 

  • In previous plans, low-income families did not get the same amount; however, under the 2021 American Rescue Plan, all families in need received the same  

  • For families to receive help quickly, the IRS began sending monthly payments  

  • Recipients received the remainder of the credit when filing their taxes for the following year 

Unfortunately for parents who saw the benefits of these changes, the expanded CTC from 2021 wasn’t carried over in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.

As it stands, the total CTC amount per child under the age of 17 is once again $2,000, but efforts are being made by expanded CTC campaigners to change the situation. 

How to qualify for child tax credits

New parents in the US often wonder, “Do we qualify for child tax credits?”

When looking at who’s eligible for child tax credits, you’ll find that nearly all families with kids qualify, though there are some limitations.

In fact, even when CTC was expanded in 2021, there were limitations. (The additional amounts were only available to couples making less than $150,000 annually and single parents making less than $112,500 annually.) 

To claim child tax credit in 2022, parents will need to have a child under the age of 17 at the end of the current year and an income of less than $200,000 for single-parent households or less than $400,000 for parents filing jointly.  

For every $1,000 earned over the above thresholds, the credit amount will be reduced by $50. (This also applies to excess amounts below $1,000. An excess of $100, for example, would cause a reduction of $5.) 

How can I apply for child tax credit?

If you’re researching how to apply for child tax credits, your first stop should be the IRS website.

Now that the 2021 expansion no longer applies to child tax credits and they aren’t automatically awarded, forms must be filled out to request a CTC.

These forms are Schedule 8812 and Form 1040 (U.S. Individual Income Tax Return), and both are available from the site mentioned above. 

You can apply online. When clicking on Form 1040, you will be directed to a page that offers a general guide on what schedules will need to be filed.

The schedule choices are Schedule 1, Schedule 2 and Schedule 3.  

Schedule 1 is for people with an additional income and any deductions to claim.

Schedule 2 is for people who owe other taxes or need to make an excess advance premium tax credit repayment.

Schedule 3 is for people who want to request any credit that wasn’t claimed on form 1040 or 1040-SR or for people who have other payments (an amount paid with a request for an extension to file, for example).  

How much is child tax credit?

The answer to this question will depend on your family’s financial circumstances, the number of children you have, and whether your household is single-parent or not.

The maximum monthly value of a CTC, excluding the expansions of 2021, which might be passed again and might not be, is $2,000.

Let’s answer some more commonly asked questions about child tax credits: 

  • What time are child tax credits deposited? – IRS child tax credits are usually deposited every four weeks, around the 15th of the month. 

  • How many child tax credits will I get? – You can claim a CTC for each child you care for, up to a value of $2,000 per child. Earning thresholds apply so that families with the most need can access the most financial support. Some families will be eligible for “Additional Child Tax Credit,” and others won’t. 

  • How long does child tax credit last? – For most people, child tax credits will come to an end when a child turns 17 years old. Individual cases might differ, so it’s always worth double-checking. 

If you found this article useful, you might also find our article on energy tax credits informative, too.

Content writer

Kate Morgan

Kate has written for leading publications and blue chip companies over the last 20 years.