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Here's how to collect your expanded federal child tax credits early

Lee-Harvard resident Miles Hackney, left, pictured with his great grandson Dom Hudnall and his granddaughter Leah Hudnall. The child tax credit benefits many families with children across Ohio, including Hudnall’s. [Conor Morris]
Miles Hackney is pictured in a kitchen with his granddaughter Leah Hudnall and his great grandson Dom Hudnall

By Conor Morris, for the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative

Monday, Nov. 15  is the deadline for parents and caregivers in Northeast Ohio to apply for advance payments from the expanded child tax credit program. 

Most parents and caregivers are eligible for thousands of dollars, though the credit decreases for those making above $150,000 per year for married couples, above $112,500 per year as a head of household or above $75,000 per year for a single parent.

The advance child tax credit payments were created by the American Rescue Plan passed earlier this year. They allow parents to collect half of the money early, rather than waiting until they file their taxes. For those who applied early, monthly installments started going out in July and will continue through December. But those who were unaware they could collect advance payments were left out. The caregivers of an estimated 116,500 children in Ohio did not receive their advance payments, according to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities.

The  advance payments — half of the full child tax credit — are substantial, equaling $1,800 per-child for children under the age of six at the end of 2021, and $1,500 per-child for children ages six to 17 at the end of 2021. Those who did not yet apply for their advance payments can still apply and will receive them in lump sums of $1,800 or $1,500 per child, depending on the age of their children. Information on how to do that is below.

If parents do not apply for advance payments, they still will receive the full expanded credit ($3,600 or $3,000, depending on a child's age) when they file their 2021 tax forms.

If you’re a parent or caregiver, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the expanded child tax credit. Take our survey and get a chance to win a $75 Dave’s Markets gift card.

The IRS has a  helpful FAQ on its website, and we've compiled information below for parents interested in getting the advance payments.

Answers to common questions about the child tax credit

How do I sign up for the early payments if I didn’t get them automatically deposited?

There’s a number of reasons some people have not yet received the advance payments in their bank accounts automatically. Most often, it’s because these people didn’t file their taxes in 2020. In the government’s lingo, this makes you a “non-filer.”

But that’s okay, because there’s an online tool you can use to sign up for the advance payments.

There’s also a step-by-step guide in English and in Spanish available from the government that walks you through using this website.

Before you start, you’ll need Social Security numbers for your children and you and your spouse, if you have one. You’ll also want:

  • A reliable mailing address or P.O. Box           
  • Date of birth for each family member
  • Email address
  • Your bank account information (if you want to receive your payment by direct deposit)

Am I eligible for the payments if my child is adopted, or I’m caring for a child that isn’t mine?

In many cases, yes. As long as the child is: “your son, daughter, stepchild, eligible foster child, brother, sister, stepbrother, stepsister, half-brother, half-sister, or a descendant of any of them (for example, a grandchild, niece, or nephew),” according to the White House’s guide on filing for the tax credit. You don’t need legal guardianship of the child, but you do need to be able to claim them as a dependent on your taxes.

The child also must also be under 17 years old (they cannot turn 18 before 2021 ends) and be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national, or U.S. resident alien and must live with you for more than one half of 2021.

What if I’m not very good with computers, or don’t have an email?

Cleveland has an Ohio Taxpayer Assistance Center where you can call and make an appointment to get help with signing up for the child tax credit. It is likely very busy though, so call soon. Office information is available at (216) 415-3442, and you can make an appointment by calling (844) 545-5640.

I don’t have a bank account – can I still get the advance payments?

You can get the advance tax credit payments mailed to your address. There will be a section on the non-filer form where you can sign up for this.

I don’t have a current address – how can I get help?

When filling out the non-filer form, you can pick an address or P.O. Box that you trust and have the payments mailed there.

Will the advance payments count as income, pushing me into a higher income bracket?

No. The child tax credit does not count as income for any family, so you won’t lose any other government benefits (like SNAP or WIC) that you qualify for.

Will taking the advance payments hurt me come tax time next year?

For most families, as long as you fill out the forms accurately, the answer is no. Although everyone has their own unique circumstances when it comes to their taxes.

What happens if I miss the Nov. 15 deadline?

That’s alright, you’ll still be able to claim the child tax credit on your taxes when you file them in 2022.

What if I’m divorced and we take turns claiming the children as dependents from one year to the next?

According to the IRS, the government will base the advance child tax credit payments on the most recently filed tax return for your family (either 2019 or 2020). Therefore, any advance payments are scheduled to automatically go to the most recent parent to claim the child.

What if I’m an undocumented immigrant but I want to file to receive these benefits for my children? Can the government use this information to find me?

No. According to Alex Coccia, an expert on the child tax credit with the Center for Study of Social Policy, the IRS cannot share any information submitted to it with federal immigration enforcement authorities.

There’s also a great FAQ on the child tax credit for mixed immigration-status families here.

What if I do not have a Social Security number?

You can file for what’s called an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or ITIN, with the IRS, and you can instead use that on your application form for the child tax credit. You can apply for it here. This is also something you should try to do immediately – we do not know how quick the turnaround is on this.

However, in order for your children to be eligible for the tax credit, they will still need a Social Security number.

Can the child tax credit money I receive be garnished if I owe money, like for child support payments?

According to the IRS, yes, the advance payments can be garnished for debts owed to non-federal creditors. They cannot be immediately garnished for child support or back taxes. However, when tax time comes, any refund you receive due to the child tax credit will be reduced by however much you owe in child support, back taxes, and other debts to government or private creditors and debt collectors.

This story is sponsored by the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative , which is composed of 18-plus Northeast Ohio news outlets including Ideastream Public Media. Conor Morris is a corps member with  Report for America . Want to talk about the child tax credit? Email him at cmorris40@gmail.com