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More people without children now qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the federal government’s largest refundable tax credit for low- to moderate-income families.

In addition, families can use pre-pandemic income levels to qualify if it results in a larger credit. The Internal Revenue Service and partners across the nation highlight those changes today as they mark the 16th annual EITC Awareness Day.

Enacted in 1975, EITC is regarded as one of the government’s largest antipoverty programs helping millions of American families every year. The IRS and partners nationwide urge people to check to see if they qualify for this important credit, and also urge people who don’t normally file a tax return to review whether they qualify for EITC and other valuable credits like the Child Tax Credit or the Recovery Rebate Credit, also referred to as stimulus payments.

“There are important changes to EITC that will help this credit reach more hard-working families this year,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “We urge people potentially eligible for this valuable credit to review the guidelines; many people each year overlook this and leave money on the table. On this EITC Awareness Day, we want to make sure everyone who qualifies for the credit knows about it and has the information they need to get it.”

The IRS began accepting 2021 tax returns on January 24, 2022. Taxpayers can ensure they’re getting all the credits and deductions for which they qualify, including EITC, by filing their taxes electronically, using a trusted tax professional or using an IRS Free File partner’s name-brand software. Taxpayers whose adjusted gross income (or AGI) is $73,000 or less qualify for Free File partner offers.

The IRS also reminds taxpayers that the quickest way to get a tax refund is by filing an accurate tax return electronically and choosing direct deposit for their refund. Tax software, tax professionals and other free options can help people see if they qualify for the EITC.

What’s new?

Childless EITC expanded for 2021

For 2021 only, more childless workers and couples can qualify for the EITC, and the maximum credit is nearly tripled for these taxpayers. For the first time, the credit is now available to both younger workers and senior citizens.

For 2021, the EITC is generally available to filers without qualifying children who are at least 19 years old with earned income below $21,430; $27,380 for spouses filing a joint return. The maximum EITC for filers with no qualifying children is $1,502, up from $538 in 2020. There are also special exceptions for people who are 18 years old and were formerly in foster care or are experiencing homelessness. Full-time students under age 24 don’t qualify. There is no upper age limit for claiming the credit if taxpayers have earned income. In the past, the EITC for those with no dependents was only available to people ages 25 to 64.

Income from 2019

Another change for 2021 allows individuals to figure the EITC using their 2019 earned income if it was higher than their 2021 earned income. To qualify for the EITC, people must have earned income through employment or other sources, so this option may help workers get a larger credit if they earned less in 2021 or received unemployment income instead of their regular wages. See the instructions for Form 1040 PDF, line 27 c.

Phase out and credit limits

For 2021, the amount of the credit has been increased and the phaseout income limits at which taxpayers can claim the credit have been expanded. For instance, the maximum EITC for a married couple filing jointly with three or more children is $6,728 and the upper-income level for that same family is $57,414. In 2020, the maximum EITC for a family in that situation was $6,660 and the upper-income level was $56,844.

Taxpayers should also note that any Economic Impact Payments or Child Tax Credit payments received are not taxable or counted as income for purposes of claiming the EITC. Eligible individuals who did not receive the full amounts of their Economic Impact Payments may claim the Recovery Rebate Credit on their 2021 tax return. See IRS.gov/rrc for more information.

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