More Monthly Child Credit Payments, Higher Child Care Credit, and Other Tax Breaks in Biden's Latest Plan
President Biden's American Families Plan extends several popular tax credits that benefit low-income and middle-class families.
In March, the American Rescue Plan Act made several tax credits better. And, in one case, it requires the IRS to send monthly payments to families with children. However, the enhancements are only temporary – they only apply for the 2021 tax year.
The Biden administration sees those temporary improvements as simply a first step. So now President Biden wants to extend the expanded tax credits and continue supporting low- and middle-income families, as well as low-income workers without children, with tax reductions beyond this year.
That's the goal of the tax-cutting provisions in the president's American Families Plan. The $1.8 trillion package would also do many other things for ordinary Americans, such as providing universal pre-school, free community college, guaranteed family and medical leave, caps on child-care costs, and much more. All these – along with the extended tax credit enhancements – are designed to "build a stronger economy that does not leave anyone behind."
It's way too soon to tell if any of the tax credit extensions – or any other part of the American Families Plan – will make it through Congress and be signed into law. There will be stiff resistance from Republicans in Congress, and a few Democrats are likely to push back on some of the more costly items, too. Biden's plan is just the starting point for further negotiations, so we'll just have to wait and see how things progress from here. But in the meantime, we can take a look at the 4 tax credit enhancements that President Biden wants to extend. If you qualify, you're already going to save a lot of money in 2021. If the extensions become law, you could pocket even more cash in 2022 and for years to come.
Child Tax Credit
For tax years before 2021, the child tax credit is worth $2,000 per dependent child 16 years old or younger. It begins to phase out if your adjusted gross income (AGI) is above $400,000 on a joint return, or over $200,000 on a single or head-of-household return. Once your AGI surpasses $400,000 or $200,000, the credit amount is reduced by $50 for each $1,000 (or fraction thereof) of AGI over the applicable threshold amount. Up to $1,400 of the child credit is refundable for some lower-income individuals with children. But you must also have at least $2,500 of earned income to get a refund.
Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, the 2021 credit amount is increased to $3,000 per child ($3,600 per child under age 6) for many families. Children who are 17 years old qualify for the credit, too. The credit is also fully refundable for 2021, and the $2,500 earnings floor is eliminated. In addition, the IRS will pay half of this year's credit in advance by sending monthly payments to families from July to December 2021. (To see how much you'll get, use Kiplinger's 2021 Child Tax Credit Calculator.)
The new American Families Plan, if enacted, would generally extend the 2021 child tax credit enhancements through 2025 (including, presumably, the monthly payments). There would be one important difference, though. The new plan would make the credit full refundable on a permanent basis.
For more on the 2021 credit, see Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs.
Child and Dependent Care Credit
The American Rescue Plan also expanded the child and dependent care tax credit for 2021. This will boost tax refunds for many parents when they file their tax return next year.
For the 2020 tax year, if your children were younger than 13, you were eligible for a 20% to 35% non-refundable credit for up to $3,000 in childcare expenses for one kid or $6,000 for two or more. The percentage dropped as income exceeded $15,000.
The American Rescue Plan made several enhancements to the credit for the 2021 tax year. First, it made the credit refundable for the year. It also bumped the maximum credit percentage up from 35% to 50%. More childcare expenses are subject to the credit, too. Instead of up to $3,000 in childcare expenses for one child and $6,000 for two or more, the 2021 credit is allowed for up to $8,000 in expenses for one child and $16,000 for multiple children. When combined with the 50% maximum credit percentage, that puts the top credit for the 2021 tax year at $4,000 for families with just one child and $8,000 for families with more kids. The full credit will also be allowed for families making less than $125,000 a year (instead of $15,000 per year). After that, the credit starts to phase-out. However, all families making between $125,000 and $440,000 will receive at least a partial credit for 2021. (For more information, see Child Care Tax Credit Expanded for 2021.)
The American Families Plan would make these enhancements permanent. If it becomes law, parents paying for childcare will continue to see lower tax bills and/or higher refunds until their youngest kid turns 13.
Earned Income Tax Credit
The earned income tax credit (EITC) provides an incentive for people to work. And, under the American Rescue Plan, more workers without qualifying children will qualify for the credit on their 2021 tax return and the "childless EITC" amounts will be higher.
For 2020 tax returns, the maximum EITC ranges from $538 to $6,660 depending on your income and how many children you have. However, there are income limits for the credit. For example, if you have no children, your 2020 earned income and adjusted gross income (AGI) must each be less than $15,820 for singles and $21,710 for joint filers. If you have three or more children and are married, though, your 2020 earned income and AGI can be as high as $56,844. If you don't have a qualifying child, you must be between 25 and 64 years old at the end of the tax year to claim the EITC.
The American Rescue Plan expanded the 2021 EITC for childless workers in a few ways. First, it generally lowers the minimum age from 25 to 19 (except for certain full-time students). It also eliminates the maximum age limit (65), so older people without qualifying children can claim the 2021 credit, too. The maximum credit available for childless workers is also increased from $543 to $1,502 for the 2021 tax year. Expanded eligibility rules for former foster youth and homeless youth apply as well.
Under the just-released American Families Plan, the credit enhancements for childless workers will be made permanent. If enacted, the enhancements for workers without children would join other changes made by the American Rescue Plan that continue past 2021 to:
- Allow workers to claim the EITC even if their children can't satisfy the identification requirements;
- Permit certain married but separated couples to claim the EITC on separate tax returns; and
- Increase the limit on a worker's investment income from $3,650 (for 2020) to $10,000 (adjusted for inflation after 2021).
Premium Tax Credit
The premium tax credit helps eligible Americans cover the premiums for health insurance purchased through an Obamacare exchange (e.g., HealthCare.gov). The American Rescue Plan enhanced the credit for 2021 and 2022 to lower premiums for people who buy coverage on their own. First, it increases the credit amount for eligible taxpayers by reducing the percentage of annual income that households are required to contribute toward the premium. It also allows the credit to be claimed by people with an income above 400% of the federal poverty line. According to the White House, these changes will save about 9 million families an average of $50 per person per month.
The American Families Plan would make these changes permanent to lower health insurance costs beyond 2022.
However, it's not clear if the American Families Plan would extend the suspension of advance payment repayments. When you purchase insurance through the exchange, you can choose to have an estimated credit amount paid in advance to your insurance company so that less money comes out of your own pocket to pay your monthly premiums. Then, when you complete your tax return, you'll calculate your credit and compare it to the advance payments. If the advance payments are greater than your actual allowable credit, the difference (subject to certain repayment caps) is subtracted from your refund or added to the tax you owe. If your allowable credit is more than the advance payments, you'll get the difference back in the form of a larger refund or smaller tax bill. The American Rescue Plan suspended the repayment of excess advanced payments for the 2020 tax year. (If you already filed your 2020 tax return and repaid any excess advance payments, the IRS will automatically adjust your return and send you a refund if necessary.)
We suspect that the American Families Plan wouldn't extend the repayment suspension. This, we believe, was and is intended to be a one-year-only rule to help people struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.