Can I Get the Earned Income Tax Credit If I Don't Have Kids?

Can I Get the Earned Income Tax Credit If I Don't Have Kids?
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Last updated: January 2014

The following questions were submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "Q&A: The Law," runs in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Illinois Edition) and the Champaign News Gazette. This article was published on March 30, 2011.

**Editor's Note:  The content of this article has been edited to reflect changes in the Earned Income Tax Credit for the 2013 Tax Year.

Question:

Can I get the Earned Income Tax Credit if I don’t have kids? I know people with kids get big EITC refunds. If I can qualify without kids, can my refund be taken to pay debts I owe?

Answer:

The EITC isn’t just for families with kids. Childless single people or married couples can qualify. You just need to be age 25 to 65, and have had earned income in 2013. (Disability insurance income counts as earned income.)

If you qualify for the EITC, and receive a refund, “regular” creditors can’t touch an EITC refund. But the government can.

The Earned Income Tax Credit is a rare tax credit. That’s better than a deduction, which just reduces the income you pay tax on. A tax credit is deducted from any tax you owe.

The EITC is fully refundable, too. If it reduces your tax bill to zero, whatever’s left of the EITC gets paid to you. If you didn’t owe any tax to begin with, you get the whole EITC.

If you have no kids, the maximum EITC is $487. That’s for single filers with adjusted gross income less than $14,340, and married joint filers with AGI less than $19,680.

You can qualify for the EITC without kids if you’re between 25 and 65, not someone else’s dependent, nor someone else’s qualifying child for EITC purposes, and lived in the US for at least half of 2013.

With kids, the EITC really increases. With 1 child the maximum refund is $3,250; with 3 or more it’s $6,044. The maximum possible adjusted gross income before you completely lose the EITC is: $37,870 for single filers with 1 child; $46,227 for single filers with 3 kids; $43,210 for married filers with 1 child; and $51,567 for married filers with 3 kids. If your income is below those limits, you’ll get something from the EITC.

Because it’s aimed at people with lower incomes, the EITC is treated as a public benefit. That makes it legally “exempt” from collection, and protected from creditors. Several court cases have said so.

Therefore, whatever amount of a tax refund that comes from the EITC should be off-limits to creditors. You can claim it as “exempt,” so that even a judge shouldn’t be able to make you pay it to anyone else.

At least, that’s true for “regular” debts, like for credit cards, utilities, or medical bills. It’s NOT true, however, for federal or state debts. If, for example, you owe Uncle Sam for back taxes, or a student loan, your federal refund can be intercepted, including the EITC amount. Same thing if you owe the state of Illinois, for something like back taxes or overpaid benefits. (You can claim part of the federal EITC as a credit on your Illinois taxes.)

But, even if your tax refund is intercepted for government debts, you might as well file. It’s a good way to pay off your debt, so that the intercepts eventually stop, and you start receiving your refunds again.

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