For tax year 2021, Congress is giving away billions of dollars in additional tax credits on your Form 1040 individual tax return.
These temporarily expanded tax credits include the child tax credit, the dependent care credit, and the health insurance premium tax credit.
With good planning on your end—which you have more control of than most, because you are in business for yourself—the various credits could easily put an additional $5,000 or more in your pocket for tax year 2021.
You’ll learn how to get the maximum value from the enhanced tax credits when you read this article.
Child Tax Credit—Current Law
In tax year 2020, you received a $2,000 tax credit for qualifying children who had not reached age 17 by the end of the tax year. Up to $1,400 of the credit was refundable if you had earned income and no overall tax liability.
If your modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) exceeded $200,000, or $400,000 on a married-filing-jointly return, then your 2020 credit decreased by $50 for each $1,000 (or fraction thereof) your MAGI was over the threshold.
Child Tax Credit—Tax Year 2021
For tax year 2021 only, the child tax credit amounts are
- $3,000 ($1,000 extra) per qualifying child, for qualifying children ages 6 through 17 at the end of the tax year; or
- $3,600 ($1,600 extra) if the qualifying child is five or under at the end of the tax year.
Planning point. The tax code measures your child’s age on December 31. For example, if you child turned 4 in July, your child is on December 31.
Phaseout 1. You’ll reduce the 2021 credit amount that exceeds the $2,000 base credit by $50 for each $1·,000 (or fraction) by which your modified AGI exceeds
- $150,000 for married, filing jointly, or for qualifying widower;
- $112,500 for head of household; or
- $75,000 for all other filing statuses
Phaseout 2. Once your MAGI exceeds $200,000, or $400,000 on a married-filing-jointly return, then your $2,000 base credit decreases by $50 for each $1,000 (or fraction thereof) your MAGI is over the thresholds.
In addition, the entire child tax credit is 100 percent refundable as long as either you or your spouse has a principal place of abode in the U.S. for more than one-half of the tax year.
Heads up. Here’s a new wrinkle you need to manage: the IRS will advance you 50 percent of your anticipated child tax credit based on your last filed tax return.
You’ll reconcile the advance payments received with your actual 2021 child tax credit, and if the advance payments exceed your actual credit, you have to pay back the excess with your 2021 tax return.
The IRS will make the advance payments in equal monthly amounts between July and December 2021. You will have access to an IRS online portal where you can opt out of the advance payments or can update your information to avoid having to repay any of the amounts on your 2021 tax return due to a change in circumstances.
Child Tax Credit—Example
Bryan files as head of household and has adjusted gross income (AGI) of $120,000 in tax years 2020 and 2021. He has a son who was 3 years old at the end of 2020.
In tax year 2020, Bryan received a $2,000 child tax credit. In ·tax year 2021, he’ll receive a $3,200 child tax credit:
- $3,600 base credit, less
- $400 because his MAGI is $7,500 over the $112,500 head-of-household MAGI threshold.
Assuming Bryan doesn’t opt out of the advance child tax credit payments, he’ll receive
- equal monthly payments of $266.67 starting in July 2021 and ending in December 2021, for a total of $1,600; and
- $1,600 on his 2021 tax return.
Dependent Care Credit—Current Law
In tax year 2020, you could claim a tax credit if you paid someone to care for your under-age-13 dependent or for your spouse or dependent who isn’t able to care for himself or herself.
Your maximum expenses eligible for the credit were
- $3,000 for one qualifying individual, or
- $6,000 for more than one qualifying individual.
The credit rate was 35 percent up to an AGI of $15,000. Your credit rate then decreased by 1 percent for each additional $2,000 of AGI (or fraction thereof). Once your AGI was $43,000 or higher, you had a 20 percent credit rate.
Dependent Care Credit—Tax Year 2021
Fo·r tax year 2021 only, the maximum creditable expenses are
- $8,000 for one qualifying individual, or
- $16,000 for more than one qualifying individual.
The credit rate is 50 percent up to an AGI of $125,000. Your credit rate then decreases by 1 percent for each additional $2,000 of AGI (or fraction thereof). Once your AGI is $185,000 or higher, you have a 20 percent credit rate.
But there is a new upper limit: once your AGI reaches $400,000, you reduce your credit rate by 1 percent for each additional $2,000 (or fraction thereof) of AGI until the rate is 0 percent at an AGI of $440,000.
In addition, the dependent care credit is 100 percent refundable as long as either you or your spouse has a principal place of abode in the U.S. for more than one-half of the tax year.
Employer-Provided Dependent Care Assistance
For tax year 2021 only, the maximum employer-provided dependent care benefit excluded from your income as part of your cafeteria plan goes from $5,000 to $10,500 (or $5,250 for married filing separate).
Dependent Care Credit—Example
Let’s assume Bryan from the prior example (with an AGI of $120,000) also spends $10,000 in child-care expenses for his son each year so that he can work full-time. His employer doesn’t provide a dependent care benefit.
In tax year 2020, his dependent care credit was $600, which is 20 percent of $3,000—the maximum creditable expense for one qualifying dependent.
In tax year 2021, his dependent care credit is $4,000, which is 50 percent of $8,000—the maximum creditable expense for one qualifying dependent.
Bryan spends the same and has the same AGI for both years, but he realizes a hefty increase in tax credits, from $600 for tax year 2020 to $4,000 for tax year 2021.
- $6,000 for more than one qualifying individual.
- $16,000 for more than one qualifying individual.
Premium Tax Credit—Current Law
For a deep dive into the premium tax credit, see ARPA Ends Dreaded Cliff for Health Insurance Premium Tax Credit.
The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) created the premium tax credit to help you afford insurance purchased on your state’s health insurance marketplace.
Your premium tax credit is equal to
- total monthly premiums for the tax year for the second-lowest silver health plan available on your state’s health insurance marketplace, less
- a certain percentage of your annual household income, with that percentage determined by your annual household income.
The percentage of your annual household income you must pay ranges from 2.06 to 9.78 percent in tax year 2020.
Once your household income exceeds 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), you are no longer eligible for the premium tax credit. For example, the 400 percent thresholds outside of Alaska and Hawaii for tax year 2020 are
- $67,640 for a household of two,
- $85,320 for a household of three, and
- $103,000 for a household of four.
You can receive advances of the premium tax credit based on information you provide to the health insurance marketplace. On your tax return, you then compare your credit with the advance amounts and pay back any advance payments in excess of the actual credit, subject to limits.
New Law—Good Deal
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) retroactively removed the requirement to repay any excess advance premium tax credit payments for tax year 2020.
Premium Tax Credit—Tax Years 2021 and 2022
ARPA made several changes to expand access to the premium tax credit for tax years 2021 and 2022. For tax year 2021 only, if you receive (or receive approval for) unemployment for any week beginning during tax year 2021, then
- you qualify for the premium tax credit (but if married, you must file a joint return with your spouse), and
- you will not take into account any of your household income in excess of 133 percent of the FPL for a family of the size involved.
The above provision creates larger premium tax credits for most anyone who receives unemployment during tax year 2021.
- In addition, for tax years 2021 and 2022 only you can claim the premium tax credit even if your household income exceeds 400 percent of the FPL, and
- the amount of your household income you must contribute toward your health insurance to calculate your premium tax credit ranges from 0.0 percent to 8.5 percent based on your household income, which is a significant decrease over tax year 2020. The 0.0 percent rate goes up to 150 percent of the FPL.
Premium Tax Credit—Example
Let’s assume Bryan, our guy from the prior examples with the AGI of $120,000, does not receive health insurance from his employer, so he buys private insurance on the health insurance marketplace.
In tax year 2020, he’s not eligible for a premium tax credit to subsidize the insurance cost, because his $120,000 of household income is over 400 percent of the FPL for his household size.
Household income. If you are single, your household income is your AGI plus tax-exempt interest, untaxed Social Security benefits, and foreign earned income and foreign housing costs exclusions for U.S. citizens and residents living abroad. You would add the household income contributions of (a) your spouse, if you’re married, and (b) dependents who pay taxes.
Bryan in 2021
In tax year 2021, Bryan is eligible for a premium tax credit equal to the total premiums for the second- lowest silver plan less his expected family contribution of 8.5 percent of his income.
Assuming the second-lowest cost silver plan in Bryan’s state is $1,000 per month for him and his son, his 2021 premium tax credit is $1,800:
- $12,000 total health insurance premiums ($1,000 x 12), less
- $10,200 expected family contribution ($120,000 x 8.5 percent).
Bryan’s Big Picture
With the new law changes to the three tax credits, Bryan has an additional $6,400 in his pocket in tax year 2021 compared with tax year 2020:
- $1,200 from the child tax credit;
$3,400 from the dependent care credit; and
- $1,800 from the premium tax credit.
With ARPA, Congress temporarily increased many common Form 1040 individual tax credits, including
- the child tax credit,
- the dependent care credit, and
- the premium tax credit.
Don’t lose out on these amounts.
Because you are in business for yourself, you have control over your AGI, and this can allow you to maximize your potential tax credits.
Here’s something to consider, too: the enhanced child tax credit may make the married-filing-separately option more beneficial than a joint return in tax year 2021 if one spouse has AGI below $75,000 and joint AGI is over $150,000.
For the premium tax credit, you must buy your health insurance via the health insurance marketplace. Open enrollment is available through May 15, 2021—so if you are uninsured or have private insurance from the Marketplace, you may be able to get tax credit subsidies for 2021 and 2022 regardless of your income.
Furthermore, although we don’t have a crystal ball, we understand that Congress is considering extending these provisions or making them a permanent part of the tax code.