5 Facts About the Child Tax Credit

The Child Tax Credit (CTC) is one that parents have been taking advantage of for years. It is a federal tax credit intended to offset some of the costs involved in raising children. As a tax credit, it directly reduces a parent’s tax liabilities for the year in which it is claimed.

You might already be aware that the GOP tax reform passed in 2017 altered the CTC to some degree. At any rate, here are five facts about the child tax credit you might not be aware of:

1. Not All Children Qualify

In order to claim the CTC, a taxpayer must have at least one qualifying child. By implication, this dictates that not all children qualify. There are a number of criteria established under the law that must be met in order for the credit to the claimed. They cover everything from a child’s age to his residence to his relationship with the taxpayer claiming him.

As an example, a qualifying child must have been under the age of 17 prior to December 31 of the tax year in question. He must also have lived with the claiming taxpayer for at least six months of the tax year.

2. The Credit is Limited

Although the 2017 tax reform law effectively doubled the value of the CTC, the credit is still limited. Parents can claim up to $2,000 per qualifying child per tax year. Also note that the credit is limited to U.S. citizens. It is not available to legal residents and non-citizens in the U.S. on special work visas.

3. It is Refundable

Prior to 2017’s tax overhaul, the CTC was not refundable. In other words, if a parent claiming the credit owed no income tax, the credit could not be applied as a refund. That has now changed. The CTC is now fully refundable as long as both children and parents qualify.

The one caveat here is that it is refundable only up to $1,400. Even though parents can claim a credit of up to $2,000 per qualifying child, they can only receive $1,400 per child in the event they owe no taxes. Despite the $600 difference, a $1400 refund is better than nothing.

4. Both Parents Cannot Claim a Child

The CTC can get a little messy when you are dealing with separated or divorced parents who file separate tax returns. For better or worse, both parents cannot claim the same child for the CTC. This is true even if the qualifying child spent time living with both parents during the tax year in question.

As a general rule, the parent who has primary custody applies for the credit. In cases of joint custody, parents must work out between themselves who will claim it. Many parents in this situation alternate years so that both receive the benefit.

5. The Credit is Intended for Low Income Families

Last but not least, the 2017 tax overhaul included a gradual phaseout of the CTC for high income families. The point of the credit has always been to assist low income families by defraying some of the costs of raising children. As such, families with incomes above the established threshold will no longer be able to claim the credit beginning in the 2020 tax year.

Note that if you receive a CTC credit that results in a refund even though you do not owe income taxes, you can receive your refund via direct deposit or a paper check. You can also apply the refund towards next year’s taxes – if you suspect that you might end up owing.