Qualifying Child Rules

You may claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for a child if you meet the rules for a qualifying child.

To qualify for the EITC, a qualifying child must:

If you don’t have a qualifying child, you may be able to claim the EITC if you:

For more information about how to qualify for the EITC, see Who Qualifies for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

Tests for a Qualifying Child

A child is a qualifying child for EITC if they meet all 4 of these tests:

To be a qualifying child for the EITC, your child must be:

or

  • Under age 19 at the end of the year and younger than you (or your spouse, if you file a joint return)

or

  • Under age 24 at the end of the year and a full-time student for at least 5 months of the year and younger than you (or your spouse, if you file a joint return)

Full-Time Student Definition

To be considered full-time, the student must have enrolled for the number of hours or courses their school considers to be full-time attendance. Students who work on "co-op" jobs in private industry as a part of a school's official program are also considered full-time students.

School Definition

For the EITC, a school is:

  • Elementary school
  • Junior or senior high school
  • College or university
  • Technical, trade or mechanical school

A school is not:

  • On-the-job training course
  • Correspondence school
  • School offering courses only through the Internet 

For more information on students and schools, see Publication 596, Earned Income Credit, Student Defined and School Defined.

To be a qualifying child for the EITC, your child must be your:

  • Son, daughter, stepchild, adopted child or foster child
  • Brother, sister,  half-brother, half-sister, stepsister or stepbrother
  • Grandchild, niece or nephew

Adopted Child Definition

An adopted child is a child who is lawfully placed with you for legal adoption.

Foster Child Definition

For the EITC, you can only claim a foster child that is placed with you by:

  • A State or local government agency
  • An Indian tribal government
  • A tax-exempt organization licensed by a state or an Indian tribal government
  • A court order

To be a qualifying child for the EITC, your child must live in the same home as you in the United States for more than half of the tax year. The United States includes the 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. military bases. It does not include United States possessions such as Guam, the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico.

Birth or Death of a Child

If the child was born or died during year for which you claim the EITC and they lived with you for more than half of their life during that year we consider that more than half of the year for the EITC.

Temporary Time Away from Home

If your child was temporarily away from home, we count that as time lived with you. For example, your relative may temporarily leave the home because of:

  • Illness or hospitalization
  • School attendance, vacation, business or military service
  • Detention in a juvenile facility
  • Kidnapping

For more residency information, see:

If your child can file a joint return with another person (for example, their husband or wife), you may not be able to claim them.

To be a qualifying child for the EITC, your child must not have filed a joint return with another person (for example, their husband or wife) to claim any credits such as the EITC. Your child can file a joint tax return only to get a tax refund on tax withheld from their paycheck.

For more information see:

Only One Person May Claim a Qualifying Child

Sometimes a child meets the rules to be a qualifying child of more than one person.

If your child is also the qualifying child of another person, only one of you may claim the child for the EITC and related child tax benefits.

Exception

If a qualifying child’s parents are divorced, separated or parents living apart, the noncustodial parent may be entitled to claim the EITC.

Related: Publication 596 (2019), Earned Income Credit (EIC)

How to Choose Who Will Claim the Qualifying Child

To choose which person can claim the qualifying child to get the EITC, use these tiebreaker rules:

  • Only one person is the child's parent: The parent may claim the child
  • Both parents file a joint tax return with each other: They may claim the child
  • Both parents claim the child on separate tax returns: The parent with whom the child lived the longest during the year may claim the child
    • If the child lived with each parent for the same amount of time: The parent with the higher adjusted gross income (AGI) for the year may claim the child
  • Neither person is the child’s parent: The person who had the highest AGI for the year may claim the child
  • A parent can claim the child but doesn’t: The person who had the highest AGI for the year may claim the child, but only if that person's AGI is greater than the AGI of any of the child's parents who can claim the child

If you can’t claim the qualifying child because of the tiebreaker rules, you may be eligible to claim the EITC with no qualifying child.

Other Credits You May Qualify For

If you qualify for the EITC, you may also qualify for other tax credits.

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