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Earned Income Tax Credit: What It Is, How to Qualify

In general, the less you earn, the larger the credit. Families with children often qualify for the largest credits.
Tina Orem
Sabrina Parys
By Sabrina Parys and  Tina Orem 
Updated
Reviewed by Lei Han

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Nerdy takeaways
  • The earned income credit is a refundable tax credit for low- to middle-income workers.

  • For tax returns filed in 2024, the tax credit ranges from $600 to $7,430, depending on tax filing status, income and number of children.

  • Taxpayers without children can qualify for a lower credit amount.

What is the earned income tax credit?

The earned income tax credit (EITC) — sometimes shortened to "earned income credit" — is a tax break for low- and moderate-income workers. To qualify, you have to have worked in the year for which you're claiming the credit, earned at least $1, and your income must be below a certain threshold.

The earned income credit is a refundable tax credit. This means that taxpayers who qualify for the credit can lower their taxes owed by the corresponding credit amount. In cases where the credit amount is more than the taxes owed to the government, it can also result in a refund of the extra amount.

Jump below to learn about income qualifications:

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How does the earned income credit work?

To claim the EITC, you have to meet income qualifications and cannot make over a certain amount of investment income. You don't have to have a child to claim the credit, but generally, the more children you have, the higher the credit amount will be

Internal Revenue Service. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Accessed Oct 20, 2022.
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If you claim the earned income credit on your tax return, the IRS cannot issue your refund until mid-February by law. If you were an early filer who was due an EITC refund in 2024, the earliest you could have received those funds was Feb. 27 if you chose direct deposit as your refund method, e-filed and your return had no errors.

» MORE: See if you also qualify for the child tax credit or the child and dependent care credit

Earned income tax credit 2023

The 2023 earned income tax credit is claimed on taxes filed by April 15, 2024. The credit amounts are $600, $3,995, $6,604 and $7,430, depending on your on your filing status and the number of children you have. Both your adjusted gross income and earned income must be below the threshold to qualify

Internal Revenue Service. Publication 596: Earned Income Credit (EIC). Accessed Mar 20, 2024.
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Your earned income usually includes job wages, salary, tips and other taxable pay you get from your employer, and income you earned from self-employment or side gig work. Your adjusted gross income is your earned income minus certain deductions.

EITC 2023

Below are the maximum earned income tax credit amounts for the 2023 tax year, plus the most you can earn before losing the benefit altogether. Your earned income and your adjusted gross income (AGI) have to be below the levels in the table.

Number of children

Maximum earned income tax credit

Max income: Single or head of household filers)

Max income: Married joint filers

0

$600

$17,640

$24,210

1

$3,995

$46,560

$53,120

2

$6,604

$52,918

$59,478

3 or more

$7,430

$56,838

$63,398

Earned income tax credit 2024

For the 2024 tax year (taxes filed in 2025), the earned income credit will range from $632 to $7,830, depending on your filing status and the number of children you have. If you're curious about how the income you earn in 2024 might shape your eligibility to claim the EIC on your 2025 tax return, here's a look at the basics.

EITC 2024

Below are the maximum earned income tax credit amounts for the 2024 tax year, plus the most you can earn before losing the benefit altogether. Your earned income and your adjusted gross income (AGI) have to be below the levels in the table.

Number of children

Maximum earned income tax credit

Max income: Single or head of household filers

Max income: Married joint filers

0

$632

$18,591

$25,511

1

$4,213

$49,084

$56,004

2

$6,960

$55,768

$62,688

3 or more

$7,830

$59,899

$66,819

How to qualify for the earned income credit

To qualify for the EIC, you must have made at least $1 of earned income. There are also other rules. Here are the big ones:

  • Investment income cap: Your investment income must be $11,000 or less in 2023. In 2024, that figure rises to $11,600.

  • Age: If you're claiming the EITC without any qualifying children, you must be at least 25 years old, but not older than 65. If you're claiming jointly without a child, only one spouse needs to meet the age requirement.

  • Special rules for separated couples: You can qualify for the EITC if you’re separated but still married. To do so, you can’t file a joint tax return and your child must live with you for more than half the year. You also must not have lived with your spouse during the last six months, or you must have a separation agreement or decree.

There are special earned income credit rules for members of the military and the clergy, as well as for people who have disability income or who have children with disabilities

.

Who counts as a qualifying child for the earned income credit?

If you claim one child or more as part of your earned income credit, each must pass certain tests to qualify:

  • The child can be your biological child, adopted child, stepchild, foster child or grandchild. The child also can be your sibling, half sibling, stepsibling, or any of their children.

  • The child must be under 19 at the end of the year and younger than you or your spouse if you're filing jointly, OR, the child must be under 24 if they were a full-time student. There's no age limit for children who are permanently and totally disabled.

  • The child must have lived with you or your spouse in the United States for more than half the year.

Can I claim the EITC without a child?

You may be able to get the EITC if you don’t have a qualifying child but meet the income requirements for your filing status. To qualify, you typically must meet three more conditions:

  1. You must have resided in the United States for more than half the year.

  2. No one can claim you as a dependent or qualifying child on their tax return.

  3. You must be at least 25 years old, but not older than 64. If married filing jointly, at least one spouse must meet the age requirement.

How to claim the earned income tax credit

You can claim the earned income credit on your annual tax return (Form 1040 or Form 1040-SR). Taxpayers who have dependent qualifying children also have to fill out Schedule EIC, which asks for information about their child, including their Social Security number, birth year and more.

Quality tax software will often help you fill out these forms, and possibly even for free. If you qualify for the earned income tax credit and have a relatively simple tax situation, you may be able to take advantage of free tax-prep programs, such as the IRS Free File program.

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Consequences of an EIC-related error

Not only does an error on your tax form delay the EIC part of your refund — sometimes for several months — but it also means the IRS could deny the entire earned income credit.

If the IRS denies your whole EIC claim:

  • You must pay back any EIC amount you’ve been paid in error, plus interest.

  • You might need to file Form 8862, "Information To Claim Certain Credits After Disallowance" before you can claim the EIC again.

  • You could be banned from claiming EITC for the next two years if the IRS finds you filed your return with “reckless or intentional disregard of the rules.”

  • You could be banned from claiming EITC for the next 10 years if the IRS finds you filed your return fraudulently.

Again, most tax software walks you through the EITC with a series of interview questions, greatly simplifying the process. But remember: Even if someone else prepares your return for you, the IRS holds you responsible for all information on any return you submit.

Can I still get a past year's earned income tax credit?

If you didn’t claim the earned income credit when you filed your taxes in the last three years but think you qualified for it, the IRS encourages you to file an amended tax return so you can get that money back

Internal Revenue Service. How to Claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Accessed Oct 20, 2022.
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If you need the income thresholds and credit amounts from past years, take a look back.

2020-2022 earned income credit amounts

Number of children

Maximum earned income tax credit

Max AGI, single or head of household filers

Max AGI, married joint filers

0

$560

$16,480

$22,610

1

$3,733

$43,492

$49,622

2

$6,164

$49,399

$55,529

3 or more

$6,935

$53,057

$59,187

Number of children

Maximum earned income tax credit

Max AGI, single or head of household filers

Max AGI, married joint filers

0

$1,502

$21,430

$27,380

1

$3,618

$42,158

$48,108

2

$5,980

$47,915

$53,865

3 or more

$6,728

$51,464

$57,414

Number of children

Maximum earned income tax credit

Max AGI, single or head of household filers

Max AGI, married joint filers

0

$538

$15,820

$21,710

1

$3,584

$41,756

$47,646

2

$5,920

$47,440

$53,330

3 or more

$6,660

$50,954

$56,844

You can use either your 2019 income or 2020 income to calculate your EITC — you might opt to use whichever number gets you the bigger EITC.

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