Claim All the Tax Credits You Earned: What the Earned Income Credit Can Do for You at Tax Time!

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded
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What the Earned Income Credit Can Do for You at Tax Time!

How Much Can I Get?

If you have qualifying children, you can get up to $6,143 in the Earned Income Credit (EIC). If you are a worker without children, you can get up to $496. The Internal Revenue Service has a tool on their website to help you figure out how much you would get from the Earned Income Credit based on your income and family size.  The calculator still has amounts for the 2013 tax year but will still give you a pretty good idea about what your 2014 EIC could be. It is available in English and in Spanish.

Who Can Get the EIC?


Worker with no qualifying child earning less than $14,590 ($20,020 married filing jointly)

Families with one child earning less than $38,511 ($43,941 married filing jointly)

Families with two children earning less than $43,756 ($49,186 married filing jointly)

Families with three or more children earning less than $46,997 ($52,427 married filing jointly)

How much can it be?





The earning amount listed in the parenthesis is for couples using “Married Filing Jointly” status.  The EIC is not available to married persons filing separately.

What Children Qualify? 
  • Qualifying children are sons, daughters, stepchildren, grandchildren and adopted children as long as they lived with you for more than six months during the tax year.
  • Brothers, sisters, stepbrothers and stepsisters - and the children of any of these relatives - qualify if they were with you for more than six months during the tax year.
  • Foster children who are placed with you by an authorized government or private placement agency also qualify.
  • The children must be under age 19, or under age 24 if they are full-time students.
  • Totally and permanently disabled children of any age are also qualifying children.

Social Security numbers valid for employment are required for the taxpayer and the children claimed for the earned income credit.

  • If you are not the parent of the qualifying child, you must be older than the child unless the child is totally and permanently disabled.
  • If you live with the child and his or her parent(s), you can only claim the child if you have the required relationship, the parent chooses not to claim the child, and your adjusted gross income is higher than the parent with the highest adjusted gross income.  
How Do I Get the Earned Income Credit? 
  • You must file a tax return. If you were raising children, you need to file a Federal 1040 or 1040A (not the 1040EZ) income tax return.
  • If you are a married couple, you must file a joint return. (See exception for separated parents below.)
  • A qualifying widow or widower with a dependent child may use this status to file and claim the EIC.
  • An unmarried parent who does not pay more than half of the costs for maintaining the family home can file as single and still claim the Earned Income Credit for a qualifying child who lived with him or her for more than six months of the year.
  • You must also file a form called the Schedule EIC with your tax return.
  • You need to fill out only the front side of this Schedule EIC, and the IRS will calculate the exact amount of the credit on the back side. If you do not file the Schedule EIC, you will not get the Earned Income Credit.
  • If you were not raising children, you can file any tax form including the form 1040EZ. You also do not have to file a Schedule EIC. 
What if I Am Self-Employed? 

You are eligible for the EIC, but you must fill out a special series of forms:

  • Schedule C or Schedule C-EZ, Schedule SE, Form 1040, and Schedule EIC (if you were raising children in your home).
  • Call the IRS to get the forms or go online.
  • You need to carefully include all income and expenses for your business.
  • Gather all business related receipts, bank statements and mileage records to accurately fill out these forms. 
What If I Am a Permanent Resident Alien Who Is Working in the U.S.? 

The EIC is available to taxpayers who have a Social Security number and have a child who has a Social Security number.

  • All Social Security numbers must be valid for work.
  • The taxpayer must have been a U.S. resident alien for tax purposes the entire year, and the child must have lived with the taxpayer for more than six months in the United States.
  • If the taxpayer is married and lives with his or her spouse, the spouse must also have a Social Security number. 
What If the Parents Are Divorced or Separated?
  • The parent with whom the child lived for more than six months can file for the EIC, even if the other parent can claim the child as a dependent.
  • The parent not living with the child may be able to get the smaller EIC for workers without qualifying children.
  • There is one case where married but separated parents who do not want to file jointly still can claim the EIC.
    • The parents must have lived apart for the last six months of the year and their child(ren) must have lived with one of the parents for more than half of the year.
    • In such cases, the parent with the child(ren) who meets the rules for filing as head of household can claim the EIC. 
What if the Parents Live Together But Are Not Married?
  • Either parent may claim the Earned Income Credit.
  • If both parents claim the credit, the IRS will decide who receives the credit.
  • The parent with whom the child lived the most time during the tax year will receive the credit.
  • If they both lived with the child the same amount of time, the credit will go to the parent with the highest adjusted gross income.
  • The parents may want to discuss how to claim the earned income credit to make sure the family gets the biggest credit permitted by the laws. 
What If I Have Not Filed in the Past?
  • You also can get EIC payments for the last three years - even if you did not file a tax return in those years - in addition to anything you may be eligible for in the current tax year.
  • You can get payments for the tax years 2011, 2012 and 2013 plus your 2014 return if you have not filed federal income tax returns during those years and you were eligible for the EIC.
  • For 2011, you must have the return on file by April 15, 2015 in order for it to be considered timely. You will need to get a Form 1040 or 1040A for those years. 
Where Can I Get Forms for a Prior Year?

You can get the forms you need by contacting the IRS:

  • By Telephone: Call 1-800-829-3676 
  • On the Internet: Go the IRS website at 
    • Select the gray tab Forms and Pubs
    • Click Prior Year Forms & Pubs
    • Put the number of the form you need in the Find box and click the Find button. 

If you filed taxes in 2010, 2011 or 2012 and did not claim the earned income credit but you have learned you were eligible, you can file amended returns. 

Can I Get the EIC with Electronic Filing?

Electronic filing with direct deposit is the fastest way to get your refund. You can get it in as little as 10-15 days. Lower-income taxpayers may go a local free tax assistance site to get this service for free. 

Does the EIC Affect Public Assistance?

EIC payments are not income for the purposes of FIP (AFDC), Medicaid (Title 19), SNAP (food stamps), SSI or public/subsidized housing in the month received. That means the Earned Income Credit will almost never affect your eligibility for these programs or the amount of benefits you get. Money from the EIC may be counted as a resource in the following months, depending on rules for the individual program. 

Where Can I Get Free Help to Prepare My Taxes?

To find out about free tax preparation at a local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site:

  • Call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040. If you live in Des Moines, call (515) 283-0523. Persons with impaired hearing impairment who have access to TTY equipment should call 1-800-829-4059;
  • Call the AARP Tax Counseling Program at 1-877-227-7844; or
  • In most areas, starting in mid-January, you are also able to get the same information by dialing 211. 
Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice.