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Tax Credits for Individuals

  1. Child Tax Credit
  2. EITC
  3. Form 5405
  4. Foreign Tax Credit
  5. IRS Publication 970
  6. Publication 972
  7. Form 1095-A
  8. ACTC
  9. Bush Tax Cuts
  10. Hope Credit
  11. Non-Refundable Tax Credit
  12. Tax Credit

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What Is Tax Credit: Definition & How to Claim It

Updated: November 25, 2022

Doing your taxes in the United States can be a confusing process.

With all of the different types of tax filings, the number of different things you can claim, and making sure you stay on the right side of the IRS – there’s a lot to remember.

One of the more important things that you should remember to give consideration to are tax credits. 

But what exactly are tax credits, and how can you use them to lower the taxes that you owe on your income?

Read on as we give you a full breakdown of what tax credits are, lay out the different types of tax credit, and highlight the difference between credits and tax deductions.

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    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    • A tax credit is a specific amount taxpayers can use to reduce the amount of income tax that they owe. This is done on a dollar-for-dollar basis.
    • The three most common types of tax credits include refundable, nonrefundable, and partially refundable.
    • Tax credits differ significantly from deductions since they reduce the amount of tax that’s actually due instead of taxable income.
    • Nonrefundable tax credits won’t provide any type of tax refund, but they can reduce the amount of tax owed to zero.

    What Are Tax Credits?

    A tax credit is essentially a reduction of the income tax you owe and it’s calculated on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Essentially, a tax credit helps reduce the total amount of income tax you’ll have to pay back to both federal and state governments.

    Many tax credits are designed with the purpose of encouraging and rewarding specific behaviors. These can include behaviors that benefit the environment, economy, or another government purpose.

    There are certain requirements that you must meet first to be eligible for certain tax credits. But, in most cases, they’re meant to help cover a range of expenses you might incur throughout the year.

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    Types of Tax Credits

    There are an array of tax credits you could be eligible for, and they fall into three primary categories of tax credits. They include refundable tax credits, nonrefundable tax credits, and partially refundable tax credits. Let’s take a closer look at how each of them works. 

    Refundable Tax Credits

    Refundable tax credits are going to provide you with the most benefits. This is because, as the name suggests, they’re paid out in full. So, any individual taxpayer is eligible for the entire amount of the refundable tax credit.

    Income and tax liability aren’t considered, and if the credit reduces tax liability to less than $0, then you will be entitled to a tax refund. One of the most popular types of refundable tax credits is the earned income tax credit (EITC). This is usually for lower to moderate-income taxpayers who meet certain criteria.

    Another example of a refundable tax credit is the premium tax credit. This tax credit allows families and individuals to cover health insurance premium costs. These often get purchased through a health insurance marketplace.

    Nonrefundable Tax Credits

    Nonrefundable tax credits help reduce your tax liability to $0. This is where the non refundable portion of the tax credit comes in. If the credit happens to reduce your tax liability to below zero, you will not receive a refund the same way you would with a refundable tax credit.

    Essentially, any nonrefundable tax credit that’s still remaining or outstanding is lost. However, they are only valid in the same year the tax gets reported. Once you file your tax return you cannot carry over a nonrefundable tax credit.

    Some of the most common types of nonrefundable tax credits include:

    • Education credit
    • Child and dependent care credit
    • Retirement savings contribution credit
    • Child tax credit
    • Mortgage interest credit
    • Adoption credit

    Partially Refundable Tax Credits

    As you may guess, partially refundable tax credits tow the line between a refundable and nonrefundable tax credit: they’re only partially refundable. The best way to describe how partially refundable tax credits work is with the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC).

    This tax credit is only available to post-secondary education students. If they can reduce their total tax liability to zero before they even have to use all of the tax deduction, 40% of the remaining credit or up to $1,000 can get refunded.

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    How Tax Credits Work

    A tax credit for taxpayers is a dollar reduction that helps reduce your total tax liability dollar-for-dollar. Depending on the type of tax credit you might be eligible for a full refund, a partial refund, or no refund at all. It all depends on the specific type of tax credit in question.

    For example, you can receive the full amount of the earned income credit even if it exceeds your tax bill. So if you claimed $1,000 in earned income credit and your total tax was $400, you would be eligible for a $600 refund.

    Comparing Tax Credits to Tax Deductions

    In most cases, tax credits can provide more benefits and advantages compared to tax deductions. Deductions reduce your income amount that’s subject to your applicable tax rates. Tax credits, on the other hand, reduce the total amount of tax that you pay.

    • Tax Credits: lower the amount of tax you owe
    • Tax Deductions: lower your taxable income

    Summary

    A tax credit is a certain amount of money that individual taxpayers may be entitled to claim. The tax credits can be subtracted from the taxes that you already owe, ultimately reducing the total amount of tax you owe.

    Some criteria must be met to be eligible for certain tax credits. As well, the actual value of the tax credits can depend on the specific nature of the credit itself. Most tax credits can be put into three categories. These are refundable, nonrefundable, and partially refundable tax credits.

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    FAQs About Tax Credit

    Who Gets a Tax Credit?

    Anyone can get a tax credit as long as they meet the eligibility requirements and as long as they file taxes.

    How Much Is a Tax Credit Worth?

    Tax credits ultimately reduce the amount of tax that you owe to the government dollar-for-dollar. The actual amount depends on a range of other factors, such as income and filing status.

    How Do You Know If You Have Earned Tax Credit?

    Certain tax credits are available to most taxpayers and some require you to meet certain criteria. The best thing you can do is go to the IRS website for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

    Do I Have to Pay Back a Tax Credit?

    It depends on the tax credit. For example, if you receive an excess tax credit by accident or if you were overpaid, then you might have to pay back a certain portion. The IRS provides guidelines for each tax credit.

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