What is the Earned Income Tax Credit?

Tax Deductions and Credits

The earned income tax credit (EITC) provides additional funds to people who, despite working, receive low to moderate incomes. Easy enough, right? Unfortunately, there are countless rules and exceptions to those rules in determining eligibility for the EITC. Let’s get right to simplifying it for you.

Earned Income Tax Credit
Earned Income Tax Credit

Earned Income Tax Credit Eligibility

To qualify for the EITC, you must have a Social Security Number, work for pay, and earn less than a certain dollar threshold (amounts detailed later).  There are many other requirements including USA citizenship/resident alien status and limitations on investment and foreign income, but those are typically not issues for people otherwise qualified for the EITC.

Work for Pay

Unemployment income doesn’t help you qualify for the EITC. Neither does bank interest.  In order to receive any money via the EITC, you must work. You can have a traditional job as an employee or you can be your own boss and earn money from self-employment.  But one way or another, you’ve got to earn some money in order to qualify for the EITC.

Income Limits

For the 2011 tax year (the tax return you’re about to file), your earned income (what you receive due to your work), and your adjusted gross income (AGI, the sum total of all of your earnings less certain deductions) must be less than:

  • $43,998 ($49,078 married filing jointly) with three or more qualifying children
  • $40,964 ($46,044 married filing jointly) with two qualifying children
  • $36,052 ($41,132 married filing jointly) with one qualifying child
  • $13,660 ($18,740 married filing jointly) with no qualifying children

Qualifying Children

As you can see above, the relevant income limits are much more generous if you take care of at least one qualifying child.  Your child qualifies if he or she meets all of the following conditions:

  • Has a valid Social Security Number
  • Is your child (natural, adopted or foster), grandchild, sibling, step-sibling, half-sibling, niece, or nephew
  • Younger than you and younger than 19, unless a student (in which case your child must be less than 24), or totally and permanently disabled (in which case there is no age limit)
  • Lives with you in the United States for more than half of the year
  • The child doesn’t file a joint tax return.

For more information or to help determine your eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit, use EITC Finder app by Intuit.

Claiming the EITC

The EITC Finder  app and TurboTax can help you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit.  Note that unlike many other tax credits, the EITC is a refundable tax credit. This means that the EIC can not only eliminate any income tax liability you might otherwise face but, to the extent your tax credit exceeds your liability, you can pocket the difference. It is for this reason that the EITC is one of the most important tax considerations.

Make sure to review the table above and use the EITC Finder app– if your income is below the relevant threshold, .  It just might mean an extra $2,000 or more in your pocket. Few other tax maneuvers can earn you that kind of cash!

Comments (25) Leave your comment

  1. Hello, my husband works as a independent contractor and made about 12,000 in 2014, I was wondering if we qualify for earned income and we have 2 children under age 4… Will we most likely have to pay back or possibly get a refund??? This is so stressful, I’m clueless about taxes and worried about having to end up paying… Please help me.

  2. My wife and children arrived on July 7 from Thailand to live with me in the US. All have ssns, but we missed the 6 month cut off for the EIC by about a week. However, my wife received her visa on June 20. Can I count the time from June 20 to July 7 as them taking a vacation, so that I can claim the EIC?

  3. I am an independent contractor. Do I use my gross income or business income profit as my “earned income?” EIC form is unclear – says to use Line 7 of 1040, which is not for business income.

    1. Hi! You use your net profit (gross income after expenses) when figuring our the Earned Income credit.
      Hope this answers your question.


  4. i am self employed my earnings are around 22,000.. my ex pays alimony in the form of my van payment.. he paid it off and is claiming it on his taxes which is about 25,000..if that is not considered earned income would i still be able to get the earned income credit..i have one child to claim

  5. hi my husband worked for 7 months was payed 250 .00 a week we have 5 children 3 disabled all in school now he is working at a place that takes taxes out how do we pay what he would owe in for state and fed. ss all that what kinda form do i need the family he worked for wont give him a 1099 but i got reseats for each week he got payed be 4 the job he has now

    1. Yes, you should file because you may qualify for the earned income credit and/or the child tax credits. You may even qualify for a refund of the taxes you paid in on your W-2.

  6. Hello,

    I am a independent contractor, claiming Head of Household with two children(ages 6 and 9).My income per 1099 was approximately 23,000. Is TurboTax.com software correct in stating that I do not qualify for EIC?

  7. I made 1600.00 as a handyman this year and no taxes were taken out. I also have a 6 year old child who lives with me. Should I even file?

  8. My husband pays me spousal support & child support. We live in separate homes but have not filed for divorce. Do I have to claim that on taxes if I do not work otherwise??

  9. I am filing singly for 2011. My income was 27,000 for the year. A little over 26,000 for S.S.D.I the rest from a part-time job. Do I qualify for EIC? and if not what form would I use?
    THX Stan

  10. Thank you so much for this very informative blog!! It was right to the point and made me feel better for accepting a position as an independant contractor! I have used turbotax for the past 4 years and will continue to do so. Thanks!

  11. I am self employed so have schedules C and SE. Turbotax is combining my net and gross income to get my ‘earned’ income. Why? Something must me entered wrong somewhere but I can’t figure it out. Also, there is an ‘error’ on the 1040 section of Alimony, asking for the recipients social security #. I told turbo tax software that we had no alimony (coming in or going out), I even went back to that section “updated” it to say we didn’t, but it is still flagging it as an error. How do I fix this?

    1. Hi Wendi,
      Sorry you are having difficulty. In TurboTax online:
      1. Go to the Home Tab
      2. Scroll down to “Delete a Form”
      3. Click “Delete a Form”
      4. All forms associated with your tax return will come up
      5. Delete the schedule C and SE and re-enter the information

      Regarding the alimony section, did you ever have alimony? It may be transferring from your previous tax return.
      1. Click the “wages and income” section
      2. Click “explore on my own”
      3. On the “My 2011 Income Summary” screen scroll down/click “Alimony”
      under “Less Common Income”
      4. On the “Alimony or Spousal Support Received” screen make sure nothing appears.
      If you are still having difficulty please contact our free tax experts so they can speak with you live.
      Thank you,
      Lisa Greene-Lewis

  12. will i have to owe anything or have to make payments to return any of the money? also how soon will it start showing up on my paycheck?

      1. Forgot to add. You don’t need to worry about the form. TurboTax will guide you through an interview and fill out the tax form for you.
        Thank you,
        Lisa Greene-Lewis

  13. i was a independent contractor for the year -2011 can i get a great a erned income credit. also what is the per mileage this year.

    1. Hi Robert,
      As an independent contractor you can still get earned income credit as long as your income meets the appropriate income limits.
      The mileage rates are as follows: January 1 – June 30, 2011
      Business 51
      Charitable 14
      Medical and moving 19

      July 1 – December 31, 2011

      Business 55.5
      Charitable 14
      Medical and moving 23.5
      Thank you for using TurboTax

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