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How to Claim the Earned Income Tax Credit

If you qualify, the earned income credit can save you a few thousand bucks in taxes, and even guarantee a refund check.

This page:

  • Makes clear who can claim this credit

  • Lists the basic criteria needed to qualify

  • Explains how claim it when filing either a paper return or e-filing

Make Claiming All Your Tax Credits Easier:

If you want to avoid costly mistakes, while at the same time taking advantage of all credits and deductions, you'll want to do your taxes with TurboTax this year.

TurboTax helps you work quickly and easily, and it double-checks your return to help you get the largest possible refund. You can even file your state taxes and get your state refund (which may be substantial) much faster than if you mail a paper return.

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Earned Income Credit Basics

The Earned Income Credit (known as the EIC) is available to families and individuals with lower incomes. The credit can be as much as $6,044.

To claim it, you must have earned income, or, in other words, you must have been employed some part of the year.

However, having accumulated investment income of more than $3,300 during the tax year makes you ineligible to claim any portion of the earned income credit.

The credit you are able to claim is not only based upon your income, it is also based on the number of children for which you provide support. It is a refundable credit which means if it reduces your tax below zero you get a tax refund for that amount.

This is very important, and it bears repeating: even if you withheld taxes from your paychecks correctly, and you neither owe money to the IRS nor are you owed a refund, the Earned Income Credit could actually entitle you to a refund, so it is definitely worth it to see if you qualify.

How Much is The Earned Income Credit Worth?

To qualify for the earned income credit you must meet all the income, age, and citizenship requirements.

Our earned income tax credit chart shows income limits, and corresponding earned income credit amounts for the 2017 tax season.

Earned Income Credit

Tax Year 2017

No. of Children

Maximum credit

Earned Income/AGI Each Less Than










3 or more




Taxpayers with investment income of more than $3,300 are not eligible for the credit.

* Increase these amounts by $5,000 for joint return filers.

To claim the earned income credit, you must be between the ages of 25 and 65, and not be claimed as a dependent on anyone else's return.

You also must have maintained a home in the U.S. for at least six months last year, and if you are married, you must file jointly, as the earned income credit does not apply to persons who are married but file separately.

The easiest way to see if you qualify for this and any other tax credit is to take the TurboTax e-filing interview, which will automatically figure out your eligibility and the amount of credit you can claim. You'll be able to work on your return for free, and if you satisfy certain filing requirements, you may even be able to e-file free of charge!

Other common requirements

In addition to your meeting the earned income limits, your qualifying children must meet the following criteria:

  • Relationship: the child must be your son, daughter, adopted child, stepchild, or foster child

  • Residency: the child must have lived with you in your residence in the U.S. for at least six months.

  • Age: the child must be no more 19, or 24 for full-time students, unless she is permanently and totally disabled in which case the age limit does not apply.

One more thing: if you are filing a paper return, you will need to attach schedule EIC with your return and mail it to the IRS.

But do yourself a favor: use TurboTax to file your return. It will make everything much easier.

Related IRS Publications

You can get more information about Schedule EIC, and other requirements directly from the IRS, in the form of IRS Publication 596 (in PDF.)

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