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Who Can You Claim as a Qualifying Child for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)?

I was a Registered Tax Return Preparer (RTRP) and a partner in 3 national brand tax preparation stores in Pennsylvania for over 10 years.


The EITC Is a Refundable Tax Credit

The EITC is designed to help low and moderate-income individuals and families keep more of what they earned. As a refundable credit, even if you owe no federal income tax, you can still qualify for a refund.

If you (and your spouse if married and filing jointly) meet the requirements to qualify for the EITC, the tax credit may increase with a qualifying child. Up to 3 qualifying children can be used for the EITC. You cannot qualify for the EITC if you file married filing separately.

The Child Tax Credit is another tax credit that may be worth up to $2,000 per qualifying child in 2019 depending on your income and filing status.

2019 EITC Income Limits and Maximum Credit Amounts

 Earned Income (Single)Earned Income (MFJ)Tax Year 201 9Maximum Credit

3 or More Qualifying Children




2 Qualifying Children




1 Qualifying Child




No Qualifying Children




Income limits above are for taxpayers filing Married Filing Jointly (MFJ) or Single (including Head or Household or Widowed) Filers on their 2019 federal tax returns.

Investment income must be less than $3,600 for the year.

2019 Child Tax Credit

The maximum Child Tax Credit for 2019 is $2,000 per qualifying child.

  • The Child Tax Credit can reduce your federal income tax by up to $2,000 for each qualifying child under age 17 (16 or less as of December 31, 2019).
  • Up to $1,400 of that amount could be refundable for each qualifying child even if no tax is owed.
  • For MFJ, a phase-out begins with a modified AGI of $400,000 ($200,000 for all other filing statuses).
  • Credit in excess of your tax liability may be refundable as the Additional Child Tax Credit.

Who Qualifies as a Qualifying Child for EITC Purposes?

For EITC, a qualifying child must pass all 4 of these criteria:

1. Relationship:

  • Your son, daughter, adopted child, stepchild, foster child (or a descendant of any of these, i.e. your grandchild)
  • Brother, sister (or a descendant of any of these, i.e. your nephew or niece).

2. Age, at the end of the filing year:

  • Younger than you (or spouse if filing a joint return)
  • Under age 19
  • Under age 24 and a full-time student
  • Any age, if permanently and totally disabled.

3. Residency:

  • The child must have lived with you (or spouse if filing a joint return) in the U.S. for over 1/2 of the year.

4. Joint Return:

  • The child cannot file a joint return for the year. The only exception to this requirement would be if a child and the child's spouse did not have an income high enough to require filing a joint return, but they did so only to claim a refund.

A qualifying child cannot be the qualifying child of more than one taxpayer. Usually, a parent or parents claim the child for the EITC. If a parent does not claim the child, a non-parent can claim the child only if the non-parent has a higher Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) than the parent(s).

Don't get caught trying to claim a child and the EITC if you are not entitled to it.

An Example of How These Rules Apply:

A client of mine came into the tax office to file her return this year. She is a middle aged single woman employed full time with a low annual income. This year, she noted that she wanted to claim her 3 year old grandson as her dependent. She stated that the grandson had lived with her all year and she had provided over 1/2 of his support. Her 22 year old daughter, the child's mother, was sitting next to her. When questioned, the daughter stated that she too had lived the whole year with her mother. Unemployed and not a student, the client had also provided over 1/2 of the daughter's support.

Who qualifies as a dependent and who qualifies as a qualifying child for the EITC?

Dependent Exemptions:

  • The grandson and daughter lived with the client over 1/2 the year. Both of their incomes were under $3,700 (both were $0) and the client provided over 1/2 the support for each of them. No one else could or would claim the daughter as a dependent. The grandchild's other parent could not or would not be claiming the child. The daughter was not married and she would not be filing her own return claiming herself as a personal exemption.
  • The client can claim both her daughter and grandson as dependents and take an exemption for each of them.
  • Because the client was unmarried at the end of the year, paid over 1/2 of the cost of keeping a house, and had a qualifying person live with her over 1/2 the year, the client could use the Head of Household filing status.

Qualifying Child for EITC:

  • The client's 3 year old grandson meets the relationship and age tests. He lived with her the whole year (residency test) and will not be filing a joint return. The grandson qualifies as a qualifying child.
  • The client's daughter meets the relationship and residency tests, but at age 22 and not disabled or a student, does not qualify as a qualifying child.
  • Since the daughter has no income and will not be filing a return or claiming the child, the client can use the grandson as a qualifying child for the EITC.

Last year, the client filed single with only one personal exemption, herself. She did not quality last year for the EITC. This year she was able to file as Head of Household, had a personal exemption and 2 exemptions for dependents. In addition, she qualified for the EITC with one qualifying child. She significantly increased her tax refund this year compared to last.


Any federal tax or tax planning information provided above or linked to this article is not meant to be specific to any particular individual or situation. Anyone who wishes to apply this information should first discuss it with an accountant or tax professional to determine its appropriateness or how it specifically applies to their unique situation.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: If you have a son who he lives with his mom, and his grandma claims him even though he doesn't live with her, is that fraud?

Answer: I'm not a lawyer, but if the son lives with his mother and they both live with the son's grandmother (mother's mother), and the grandmother provides over 1/2 the son's support, the grandmother could claim the child. If the child does not live with the grandmother over 1/2 the year in the US, the grandmother wouldn't be able to claim him for EITC. In my tax office, we ask for proof that the child lives at the address of the taxpayer claiming the child. Proof would include a doctor's or school record with the correct address on it. Anyone who claims a deduction or credit that they are not entitled to could be looked at as fraud by the IRS. Making false claims to get EITC, if caught, could result in loss of eligibility for the EITC in the future.

© 2012 Mark Shulkosky


Mark Shulkosky (author) from Pennsylvania on March 04, 2012:

Thanks. Preparing taxes for other people, you come to realize how complex the tax code is and that symantics make a difference. Qualifying child and dependent child not always the same. I think my next tax hub will be on credits versus deductions and not to be confused with exemptions.

Shasta Matova from USA on March 04, 2012:

The term "qualifying child" is misleading, since it doesn't have to be your child. You have explained the term well.