ProPublica has reported extensively about taxes, the IRS Free File program and the IRS. Specifically, the ways in which the for-profit tax preparation industry — companies like Intuit (TurboTax), H&R Block and Tax Slayer — has lobbied for the Free File program, then systematically undermined it with evasive search tactics and confusing design. These companies also work to fill search engine results with tax “guides” that sometimes route users to paid products.

Update, Feb. 14, 2024: This article has been updated and fact-checked to reflect the most current tax information according to the IRS.

The earned income tax credit (EITC) put an average of $2,541 back in recipients’ hands last year and has helped lift millions of children above the poverty line.

Approximately 23 million people applied and received the credit last year, according to the IRS. But a fifth of taxpayers who are eligible for the credit still don’t claim it. Here’s what you should know about the earned income tax credit and eligibility.

What Is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)?

Tax credits help reduce how much you owe or can help give you a refund. The earned income tax credit is meant to help working people with low or moderate incomes.

You can receive as much as $7,430 in tax credit, depending on your status. It’s for this reason that the EITC is one of the most popular tax credits, even if it’s one of the least understood.

Who Can Get the EITC?

  • Individuals: If you’re filing taxes as a single filer without kids, you must have made $17,640 last year or less to claim the credit.
  • Families: If you have a kid or have taken a young family member into your home, you should see if you qualify for the EITC. See the table below to see income requirements.

How Do I Figure Out if I Qualify for the EITC?

The best way to figure out if you qualify for the EITC is to use the IRS’ EITC Assistant, an easy-to-use online guide that will ask you yes-or-no questions to determine if you’re eligible.

There are a few basic qualifications for the EITC:

  • You must have been a U.S. citizen or legal resident all year.
  • You must have a valid Social Security number.
  • You must have earned income from wages, a salary or a business.

To qualify for the EITC, you must not exceed the earned income limits. For the 2023 tax year, your adjusted gross income cannot be more than:

Earned Income Tax Credit Adjusted Income Caps

For the category that you’re in, this is the maximum you can make before exemptions and deductions to claim the credit.

Filing Status Zero children One child Two children Three or more children
Single filer or head of household $17,640 $46,560 $52,918 $56,838
Married, filing jointly $24,210 $53,120 $59,478 $63,398

There are special qualifying rules for U.S. military members and clergy members.

Who is a qualifying child?

If you are claiming a child as part of the EITC, they must be a “qualifying child.” To be a qualifying child, a child must:

  • Be your child (including adopted, step and foster children); sibling (including half and stepsiblings); or a descendant of your child or sibling, such as a grandchild, niece or nephew.
  • Have been younger than 19 at the end of 2023 or younger than 24 if they’re a full-time student. They also must be younger than you. If they do not meet these age requirements, they must have been permanently disabled at any point in the year.
  • Have lived with you in the United States for more than half the year.
  • Have a valid Social Security number.

Check the full IRS guidelines for a “qualifying child” for more information about who you can claim as part of the EITC.

Does Claiming the EITC Delay My Tax Refund?

If you take the credit, by law, the IRS cannot issue your refund before mid-February 2024. However, the IRS says that taxpayers who claim the EITC can expect their refund around Feb. 27 if they’ve filed online, chosen to receive their refund by direct deposit and have no issues with their tax return.

You can always check the status of your return on the IRS’ Where’s My Refund page.

About this guide: ProPublica has reported on the IRS, the Free File program and other tax topics for years. ProPublica’s tax guide is not personalized tax advice. Speak to a tax professional about your specific tax situation.

Kristen Doerer is a reporter in Washington, D.C. Her writing has appeared in PBS NewsHour, The Guardian and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among other places. Follow her on Twitter at @k2doe.