June 20, 2021

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Nonfilers can get child tax credit payments: What those who didn’t file taxes in 2021 should know

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Even families that don’t normally file taxes could be eligible for the advance child tax credit payments this year. 


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Are you what the IRS calls a “nonfiler,” someone who isn’t normally required to file an income tax return? If so, you can still get your first advance child tax credit payment on July 15. Although the IRS is using 2019 or 2020 tax returns to determine how how you could receive, the IRS has a way for nonfilers to update the tax agency on their status.

The amount that eligible families with qualifying children will receive for the expanded 2021 child tax credit depends on income, as well as the ages and number of dependents. We recommend calculating your total here. Households that filed a one-time tax return with the IRS before the May 17 tax deadline will start to receive their child tax credit payments automatically next month. However, if you’re a nonfiler and didn’t file this year, you’ll have to take a few extra steps to make sure you get the right amount for your family. 

The main thing to know is that taxpayers can get the child tax credit even if they don’t have earned income or don’t owe any income taxes. We can explain how to opt out of the advance monthly payments this year if you’d rather receive the full amount of the credit in one large payout next year. We can also share some ideas for how to spend your child tax credit money when it arrives. This story will be updated regularly. 

Use the upcoming IRS portal to update your personal details

The IRS will make a portal available before the first of July to help people who don’t normally file taxes. The portal is expected to allow tax nonfilers to submit a simplified electronic form to let the IRS know how many kids they have and their ages — including babies born in 2020 and 2021 — so they can get the correct payment amount. This would also help people who don’t have bank accounts, as well as people who experience homelessness.

A second portal will also be available to help families who need to inform the IRS of any life changes, such as an income change. It’ll also let families defer the monthly payments.

Since the IRS is basing the child tax credit payments off 2020 tax returns or 2019 tax returns — or if you used the Non-Filers tool to claim your stimulus check — you will need to file a simple one-time tax return to get your money, even if you’re not usually required to file. In fact, the IRS is urging people with children to file their taxes as soon as possible to make sure they get the right sum of money (more below).


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Child tax credit: Everything we know



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Review your information on the IRS payment portal

While you wait for the IRS portals to open, you can check to see if your information is updated on the stimulus payment portal, said Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst at Tax Foundation. The IRS website allows you to set up an account if you haven’t already. 

If you received a stimulus payment and you’re a nonfiler, your information should be on file with the IRS already. However, if you notice some details are off — maybe you got married or gained a new dependent — you’ll need to make sure the IRS has that information by using the portals when they open.

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The tax deadline has passed but you can still file your taxes.


Sarah Tew/CNET

It’s not too late to file your taxes

It’s not too late to file your taxes if you haven’t yet. The deadline was May 17, but as a nonfiler, you should be in the clear since you don’t owe taxes. But do note the IRS typically doesn’t accept direct deposit information if the filer doesn’t have a refund coming when submitting a tax return, Watson said.

If your adjusted gross income is $0, the IRS says “individuals generally are not able to file federal income tax returns electronically (PDF) due to tax return preparation software and return processing parameters that do not accept $0 AGI entries.”

For more information about the child tax credit, here’s what you should know if you share custody of a child



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