Get an IRS letter in the mail? Chances are it’s good news about your child tax credit check


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

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Ordinarily, an unexpected letter from the IRS might send a chill down your spine, as it did for one colleague who — fearing an audit notice — eyed the white envelope with alarm. But if you’re staring at a new letter from the US agency or receive one in the next few weeks, it could actually be a cause for celebration and not alarm. Like our colleague, the contents could bring a sigh of relief: This letter said his family could qualify for up to $3,600 per child as part of the new child tax credit payment for 2021.

The IRS is currently sending the same letter to 36 million families across the US. 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 in years past.

So what’s the big deal with this IRS letter? We’ll explain what the letter will and won’t tell you, why you should keep a lookout for a second letter from the IRS about your child tax credit checks and why it’s a good idea not to recycle either one. And what if you don’t get either letter at all? Don’t worry, 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.) 

What does the first child tax credit letter from the IRS mean?

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 nonfilers’ 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, what is the second letter for?

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 should I do 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.