Personal Finance

Opting out of monthly child tax credit payments may make sense for some families

Marko Geber | DigitalVision | Getty Images

On July 15, more than 35 million American families received the first of six monthly child tax credit payments.

However, some families may want to opt out of the remaining payments, according to financial experts, and instead wait to claim the entire credit when they file their 2021 taxes next year.

Before the payments began, roughly 1 million families had already decided to forgo them, which can be hundreds of dollars per month, according to the IRS and U.S. Treasury Department.

“It’s important to allow that ability to opt out of these payments because we don’t know how people have budgeted their tax refunds,” said Elaine Maag, a principal research associate at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. “And so if it’s important to them that they receive this credit as one payment, we want to make sure people still have that option.”

Families can still pause the money through an IRS online portal. The last day to tell the agency not to send the next payment is Aug. 2.

A credit against money owed

The enhanced child tax credit is part of the American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden in March. For 2021, the credit increases to $3,000 from $2,000 per child under the age of 17 and gives an additional $600 benefit for children under the age of 6.

That can come in monthly payments — $250 per month for children between the ages of 6 and 17 and $300 per month for those under the age of 6 — or can be claimed as a lump sum on 2021 taxes.

The full credit is available to all children ages 17 and under in families with 2020 or 2019 adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 for single parents and $150,000 for a married couple filing jointly, and ends for individuals earning $95,000 and married couples filing jointly making $170,000, though they’d still be eligible for the regular child tax credit.

Families who tend to owe money to the IRS when they file their taxes, or self-employed parents that make quarterly estimated payments, may want to save the full credit until next year, as opposed to getting half of it in advance, because the benefit offsets what they ultimately have to pay.

“It’s protection from owing a surprise amount of money to the IRS,” Maag said.

A lump sum for spending

Other families may want to opt out because they’d rather get a large lump sum to spend at once instead of smaller amounts of money each month.

For many Americans, their tax refund is the largest windfall they see all year. These families may be planning to use the money for a big purchase, such as a car or a refrigerator or other household item.

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“We don’t want to take away that ability from people,” Maag said.

Of course, because the credit is larger than in previous years, it’s not a given that those who do claim the monthly payments will automatically see a smaller tax refund than they’re used to. Still, some families may prefer to get the extra cash at one time instead of having it spaced out.

Divorced or separated parents

Families where parents are separated or divorced and share custody of children may want to opt out of the advanced payments to make their tax filing easier. Many parents alternate who claims the children, and thus who would receive the credit, on a yearly basis.

Since the IRS is going off of mostly 2020 tax information, money would be sent to the parent who claimed the children in that year. But that might not be the parent whose turn it is to claim children in 2021.

“Children of divorced parents would probably do better to opt out, just to keep the peace,” said Trenda Hackett, a CPA and technical tax editor at Thomson Reuters Tax Accounting. It would also protect parents from potentially having to pay the credit back if it wasn’t their year to claim it.

Tax planning

For some families, likely those on the higher end of the income range eligible to receive the credit, receiving the monthly payments in advance may throw off tax planning they have in place.

This generally applies to families who not only have income from wages but might have capital gains or other money coming in and so have the IRS withhold more than the standard amounts taken out of paychecks by an employer.

“If they all of a sudden they get $2,000 or $1,000 delivered to them during the year, there may be a mismatch when they come to file their tax return,” Maag said.

Thus, they may also prefer to use the entire credit when they file to offset any taxes they may owe. If they don’t have any additional tax liability, they’d get the money back as a refund.

To see how much you could expect to receive, personal finance website Grow created a calculator that weighs your filing status, annual income and the number of dependents you have.

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