As the Build Back Better bill and the new government aid it promised stalls on Capitol Hill, millions of Americans who may have been expecting more help amid the pandemic are being left empty handed.
But there is good news: Families can still count on additional aid at tax time, due to more generous tax credits via the American Rescue Plan Act.
Many are eager for the extra help. A petition for stimulus checks of $2,000 per month for adults has attracted almost 3 million signatures. Separately, advocacy group The Senior Citizens League has called for $1,400 stimulus checks to help older Americans stave off the negative effects of inflation and other effects of the pandemic.
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In a March letter to President Joe Biden, some Democratic Senate leaders supported recurring stimulus checks.
However, there is no indication that fourth stimulus checks could be coming.
Still, many America have money coming to them if they still have not received all that was due them from the three stimulus checks, or if they are eligible for the enhanced child tax credit or earned income tax credit.
“It could be quite a bit of money for people who may be struggling in a rough economy,” said Amy Hanauer, executive director at the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, a nonpartisan think tank.
Stimulus check top-offs
More stimulus check money may be available to individuals and families through what’s known as the Recovery Rebate Credit.
Three stimulus checks were sent for up to $1,200, $600 and $1,400 per person. The first two checks were deployed in 2020, while the payments of up to $1,400 were sent earlier this year.
Each check came with its own set of requirements. Payments were based on certain income thresholds and gradually phased out. Moreover, rules for which dependents qualified and how much they could receive also varied.
People who qualify but did not receive their payments of up to $1,400 this year may file for that money at tax time. Some people may stand to receive additional money if their income has gone down in the past year or if they added another dependent to their families, for example.
Additionally, those who are still due the first checks for up to $1,200 or second payments of up to $600 can still claim that money. However, they will need to file a separate 2020 tax return to get those funds.
Additional child tax credit money
Many families have received monthly payments if they qualify for the higher child tax credit that was put in place for this year.
Those monthly checks only count toward half of the sums due to families, with the rest set to be credited at tax time.
For example, a family with a child under age 5 may receive a total of $3,600 — with $1,800 in advance payments and another $1,800 due when they file their 2021 tax returns, Hanauer noted.
For children ages 6 and over, families stand to receive $3,000 — with $1,500 in advance payments plus $1,500 at tax time.
Note that the enhanced child tax credit eligibility is based on income. So families with modified adjusted gross incomes of more than $150,000, if married and filing jointly; $112,500 for heads of household; or $75,000 for single filers are slated to receive just $2,000 per child.
If families did not know about the advance payments or never received them, they can claim the full sums when they file.
“It definitely makes a lot of sense for families to file their taxes and get that child tax credit, because it could be quite a bit of money if you have more than one child,” Hanauer said.
A more generous earned income tax credit
The earned income tax credit, which helps low- to moderate-income workers, has also been temporarily made more generous for 2021.
Individuals and families who were not previously eligible for this credit might qualify this year. The credit is now available to younger workers and has no age cap for older workers.
It has also been made better for filers who do not have qualifying children, with a maximum credit of $1,502, according to the IRS. Childless workers need to have earned income below $21,430, or $27,380 for spouses filing a joint return, and be at least 19 years old to qualify.
Families with children earning up to about $57,000 can still claim this credit, Hanauer said.
The largest amount they may see from this credit is around $6,700, which would apply to a family with three children at the peak income amount, she said.
“Most families will see less than that,” Hanauer said. “But obviously we’re talking about significant dollars, especially if you can combine that with the child tax credit.”