Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): What It Is & How to Qualify in 2021

In general, the less you earn, the larger the credit. Families with children often qualify for the largest credits.
Can You Take the Earned Income Tax Credit

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

What is the earned income tax credit (EITC)?

The earned income tax credit, also known as the EITC or EIC, is a refundable tax credit for low- and moderate-income workers.

For the 2021 tax year, the earned income credit ranges from $1,502 to $6,728 depending on tax-filing status, income and number of children. People without kids can qualify.

If you fall within the guidelines for the credit, be sure to claim it on your return when you do your taxes  And if you didn’t claim the earned income credit when you filed your taxes in the last three years but you think you qualified for it, the IRS encourages you to let it know so you can get that money back.

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act changed some of the rules around the EITC. These changes are noted below.

How does the earned income tax credit work?

Here are some quick facts about the earned income tax credit:

  • For the 2021 tax year (the tax return you'll file in 2022), the earned income credit ranges from $1,502 to $6,728 depending on your filing status and how many children you have.

  • You can use either your 2019 income or 2021 income to calculate your EITC — you might opt to use whichever number gets you the bigger EITC. Be sure to ask your tax preparer to run the numbers both ways.

  • You don't have to have a child in order to claim the earned income credit.

  • The earned income tax credit doesn't just cut the amount of tax you owe — the EITC could also score you a refund, and in some cases, a refund that's more than what you actually paid in taxes.

  • If you claim the EITC, the IRS cannot issue your refund until mid-February by law.

Income limit for the earned income credit (EIC)

Below are the maximum earned income tax credit amounts, plus the max you can earn before losing the benefit altogether.

2021 Earned Income Tax Credit

(for taxes due in April 2022)

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

$27,830

1

$3,618

$42,158

$48,108

2

$5,980

$47,915

$53,865

3 or more

$6,728

$51,464

$57,414

2022 Earned Income Tax Credit

(for taxes due in April 2023)

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

  • Both your earned income and your adjusted gross income each have to be below the levels in the table.

  • In general, the less you earn, the larger the earned income credit.

  • Your earned income usually includes job wages, salary, tips and other taxable pay you get from your employer. Your adjusted gross income is your earned income minus certain deductions.

  • An important note for 2022: You may notice that the credit available to persons with no children has significantly decreased in 2022. This is because the American Rescue Plan Act temporarily boosted it from $543 to $1,502 in 2021; this expansion has not been carried over to the 2022 tax year.

Who qualifies for the earned income tax credit?

Besides staying below the income thresholds noted above, there are other qualification rules and requirements. Here are the big eligibility rules, but you can also check out our quiz below for a quick read on whether you might qualify for the earned income tax credit.

  • You must have at least $1 of earned income (pensions and unemployment don't count).

  • Your investment income must be $10,000 or less.

  • For the 2021 tax year, 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 have not lived with your spouse during the last six months or you must have a separation agreement or decree.

  • You must not have to file Form 2555, Foreign Earned Income; or Form 2555-EZ, Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.

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

Kids and the earned income tax credit

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

  • The child can be your son, daughter, adopted child, stepchild, foster child or grandchild. The child also can be your brother, sister, half-brother or half-sister, stepbrother or stepsister or any of their children (your niece or nephew).

  • 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 he or she was a full-time student. There's no age limit for kids 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.

For each child you're claiming with the EITC, you’ll also need:

  • A Social Security number (be sure to use the child’s name and Social Security number exactly as they appear on the Social Security card).

  • His or her birthdate.

If you don't have kids

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 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 his or her tax return.

  3. For the 2021 tax year (the tax return you file in April 2022), you must be at least 24 if you were a student for at least five months of the year, 18 if you were in foster care any time after turning 14 or were homeless in any taxable year, and at least 19 otherwise. Also in 2021, there is no maximum age limit for the credit.

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 Earned Income Credit 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.

Most tax software walks you through the EITC with a series of interview questions, greatly simplifying the process. (Plus, if you qualify for the EITC, you might be able to get free tax software.) But remember: Even if someone else prepares your return for you, the IRS holds you responsible for all information on any return you submit.

2020 Earned Income Tax Credit

(for taxes due in May 2021)

For the 2020 tax year, the earned income credit ranges from $538 to $6,660 depending on your filing status and how many children you have.

Number of children

Maximum earned income tax credit

Max earnings, single or head of household filers

Max earnings, 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.

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.