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Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC): What It Is and How to Qualify

In general, the less you earn, the larger the credit. And families with children often qualify for the largest credits.
Feb. 21, 2019
Income Taxes, Personal Taxes, Taxes
Can You Take the Earned Income Tax Credit
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The Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC) is a tax credit for low- and moderate-income wage earners. If you fall within the guidelines for the credit, be sure to claim it on your 2018 return when you do your taxes in 2019. And if you didn’t claim the earned income credit when you filed your 2015, 2016 or 2017 taxes but you think you qualified for it, the IRS encourages you to let it know so you can get that money back.

What is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC)?

Here are some quick facts:

  • For the 2018 tax year, the earned income credit ranges from $519 to $6,431 depending on your filing status and how many children you have.
  • 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 EIC could also score you a refund, and in some cases a refund that’s more than what you actually paid in taxes.

Do I qualify 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 2018 investment income must be $3,500 or less.
  • You can’t claim the earned income tax credit if you’re married filing separately.
  • You must not 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.

How much can I get?

Below are the maximum earned income tax credit amounts available for the 2018 tax year, plus the max you can earn before losing the benefit altogether.

2018 Earned Income Tax Credit

(for taxes due in April 2019)
Number of childrenMaximum earned income tax creditMax earnings,
single or head of household filers
Max earnings,
married filers
0$519$15,270$20,950
1$3,461$40,320$46,010
2$5,716$45,802$51,492
3 or more$6,431$49,194$54,884
  • 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.

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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 EIC, 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 EIC 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. You must be at least 25 but under 65 at the end of the year.

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 Earned Income Credit After Disallowance,” before you can claim the EIC again.
  • You could be banned from claiming EIC 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 EIC for the next 10 years if the IRS finds you filed your return fraudulently.

Most tax software walks you through the EIC with a series of interview questions, greatly simplifying the process. (Plus, if you qualify for the EIC, 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.