Home » Is that IRS letter an audit or child tax credit confirmation? Chances are, it’s a good thing

Is that IRS letter an audit or child tax credit confirmation? Chances are, it’s a good thing

Is that IRS letter an audit or child tax credit confirmation? Chances are, it's a good thing

Watch for a letter from the IRS. It might just signal more money coming your way.

Angela Lang/CNET

Ordinarily, a letter from the IRS when you least expect it might send a chill down your spine, as it did for one colleague who eyed the white envelope with alarm, fearing an audit notice lay folded inside. For him, and 36 million other families across the US, a letter from the IRS could actually be a cause for celebration, rather than concern. As he unfolded it, the meaning became clear: His family could qualify for up to $3,600 per child as part of the new child tax credit payment for 2021.

As many as 92% of families with children — that’s 65.6 million kids — could qualify for the payments, which start next month. New rules this year will boost the annual child tax credit from $2,000 to a cap of $3,600 and start delivering the money sooner than usual. So what’s the big deal with this IRS letter? While you might be tempted to recycle it, it’s a smart idea to keep it instead. 

We’ll explain what the letter will and won’t tell you, and why you should keep a lookout for a second letter from the IRS about your child tax credit checks. And what if you don’t get either letter at all? Don’t panic — we’ll walk you through that, too. (While you’re here, here’s how you can opt out of the advance monthly payments and ideas for how to spend your child tax credit money.) 

Your first child tax credit letter from the IRS: What it means

Congratulations. If a letter that looks like this arrives in the mail… (see directly below)


This is an actual copy of the letter from the IRS that could soon find its way in your mailbox.


… it means the IRS thinks you could qualify for the upcoming child tax credit, based on information it has from your 2019 or 2020 tax return or from details you filed using the non-filers tool to get your stimulus check money. (You can also check here to see if you qualify and use our child tax calculator to see how much you could expect to receive each month.)

Until there’s a check in your hand or direct deposit in your bank account, it’s a good idea not to treat this letter as a guarantee of a child tax credit payment to come, but your chances are good. As with all IRS correspondence, you’ll want to hold onto this letter for your records.

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But wait. There’s a second letter, too

If you do, in fact, get the go-ahead from the IRS to receive child tax credit payments — P.S. they start July 15 — you’ll be treated to a second letter that confirms your eligibility. It also ballparks how much money you should expect to see in those checks. 

The child tax credit payment schedule gets a little complicated from here, but the upshot is that half the total money will arrive in increments from July through December, with the remaining money coming your way after you file taxes in 2022. 

You’ll definitely want to keep this letter. Why? So you can compare the estimate with what you eventually receive, to make sure you get the right amount for the right number of children you claim. In case there’s some problem with child tax credit check delivery, this letter is almost like your receipt from the IRS and you may need to reference it in the future (like in a recovery claim on your 2021 taxes next year).


Mark the date on your calendar for the first child tax credit check.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What if I never get a letter from the IRS?

If a letter never shows up in your mailbox, that doesn’t necessarily mean the IRS is skipping you over for the child tax credit payments. After all, the vast majority of US households with children will receive some portion of the money earmarked for parents. 

For example, while 36 million families are intended to get a letter, up to 39 million households could qualify for the credit. That means off the bat, 3 million households could see a check, but no confirmation letter. 

You might not get a letter if the IRS:

What you can do now:

For more information about the child tax credit, here’s how you’ll use the two online IRS portals launching by the start of July and what happens if you have a baby this year.