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Earned Income Tax Credit

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) reduces tax bills for low-to-moderate-income working families. It’s a tax credit that ranges from $529 to $6,557 for the 2019 tax year depending on your filing status, number of children and earned income. We’ll explain how to qualify and file for the EITC. We can also help you find a financial advisor who can guide you through claiming all the types of credits you can.

History of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)?

Tax credits reduce your tax burden dollar for dollar. Typically, these tax breaks are designed to benefit a particular group of people.

The EITC, was introduced in 1975 to provide temporary tax relief to the working poor who had to pay Social Security taxes amid increases in the cost of energy and food. Three years later, it became a permanent tax break under the Revenue Act of 1978. Over the years, the EITC has been expanded and altered in order to reduce poverty and encourage low-income individuals to find work.

It’s also refundable, so you can increase your refund even if the credit reduces your tax bill to zero.

Despite its benefits to low-income individuals – especially those with children – the tax credit remains a controversial incentive. Some who dislike the EITC argue that it’s costly. Due to tax filing errors and fraud, the government has mistakenly handed out billions of dollars to workers who didn’t actually qualify for the credit.

How the EITC Works

Earned Income Tax Credit

The EITC offers a subsidy to low- and moderate-income Americans and their families. The amount that each worker qualifies for depends on various factors, including their earned income, adjusted gross income, filing status and whether or not they have a qualifying child.

Under the EITC program, workers with qualifying children tend to receive bigger tax credits than those without kids.

For tax years 2019, the maximum credit amounts for individuals without qualifying children are $529. For working families with at least three qualifying children, the maximum credit amounts are $6,557 for tax years 2019. (Remember that you file your 2019 taxes by April 2020.)

Qualifying for the Earned Income Tax Credit

In order to qualify for the EITC, you’ll need to meet certain rules. For one thing, you’ll need to have earned income, or taxable income from working for a company, running a farm or owning a small business. You cannot claim the tax credit if you don’t have a Social Security number or you’re married and you’re filing a separate tax return.

You’re also ineligible for the EITC on your 2019 taxes if you have more than $3,600 in investment income and your adjusted gross income exceeds a certain threshold.

For tax year 2019, you cannot claim the tax credit if you’re single, you have no children and your adjusted gross income exceeds $15,570. The table below offers a more complete breakdown of the EITC income limits depending on your filing status and how many qualifying children you’re claiming.

  Earned Income Tax Credit Rules for Tax Year 2019 (Filed by April 2020)
Number of Children Maximum Earnings for Singles and Heads of Household Maximum Earnings for Joint Filers Maximum EITC
0 $15,570 $21,370  $529
1 $41,094 $46,884  $3,526
2 $46,703 $52,493  $5,828
3+ $50,162 $55,952  $6,557

While having more children can increase the size of the credit you’re eligible for, your kids will have to meet a series of benchmarks if you want to claim them under the EITC program. Unless your children are completely disabled, they can only be considered qualifying children if they’re under the age of 19 by the end of the tax year or they’re full-time students under the age of 24. Your children must live in your home for more than six months out of the year and must be related to you (i.e. the child is your son, nephew, grandchild or foster child).

Finally, if you have a child who’s married, he can only be a qualified child if he’s not filing a joint tax return (or he’s only filing a joint tax return in order to get a tax refund). If you don’t have any qualifying children, you may be eligible for the EITC if you’re between the ages of 25 and 64 and no one else can claim you as a dependent. Special rules apply for disabled individuals, ministers, clergy members and members of the military.

Those who qualify for the EITC may also be able to get additional savings from the Child Tax Credit.

Claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit

Earned Income Tax Credit

If a worker wants to take advantage of the EITC, he or she must file taxes. Even if your tax liability is equal to zero, you’ll need to submit a tax return if you want to claim the tax credit.

To estimate the amount of your credit, you can use the worksheets included with the instructions for Forms 1040. If you need assistance, you can use the EITC assistant provided by the IRS.

The Bottom Line

The earned income tax credit offers working individuals and families an incentive if their income falls below the thresholds set by the IRS. Before claiming the credit, it’s important to ensure that you meet all of the qualifications and double-check that the information you’re providing on your tax return is accurate. To help you claim all of the credits and deductions that you qualify for, it’s a good idea to choose a good tax filing service. A good service will walk you through the filing process and get you the maximum refund available to you.

Tips on Lowering Your Tax Liability 

  • There are plenty of tax credits and deductions you may not even be aware of. A financial advisor can help you find them to minimize your tax burden each year.  Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • You can also make filing taxes easier by using one of the many software options out there. To help you find the right one, we published a report on the best tax software available.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/mixetto, ©iStock.com/gradyreese, ©iStock.com/FatCamera

Amanda Dixon Amanda Dixon is a personal finance writer and editor with an expertise in taxes and banking. She studied journalism and sociology at the University of Georgia. Her work has been featured in Business Insider, AOL, Bankrate, The Huffington Post, Fox Business News, Mashable and CBS News. Born and raised in metro Atlanta, Amanda currently lives in Brooklyn.
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