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Still wondering about eligibility for the child tax credit

Q: How do you know whether you're going to get the child tax credit? For example, if my husband and I make $110,000 a year after deductions, do we get the credit?
J.M., via e-mail

A: Quite a few readers are still wondering whether they qualify for the child tax credit advance payments, a result of the tax-cut bill that lifted the credit to $1,000 per qualifying child. That change can mean as much as $400 extra per child. The last of the checks was sent out by the US Treasury earlier this month.

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To see if you're in or out of the money, check out the IRS web site, at www.irs.gov. Go to "Where's My Advance Child Tax Credit Check," plug in your Social Security number and the answer pops up.

"The bottom line is, if [filers] claimed a credit on their return last year, chances are they're getting" a check this year, says IRS spokesman Kevin McKeon.

There are exceptions, though, such as your child turning 17 this year. There also are income-phaseout limits, which start at $110,000 of modified adjusted gross income for married couples filing jointly. Refer to the IRS website for details. Oh, if you have received a check, hang onto the documents that came with it. You'll want them when you file your 2003 tax return.

Q: I made only $9,856 last year but this year I have already made $10,000. I'm a single mother of two, but do not think I received the child tax credit last year. Will I get the advance child tax credit?
C.C., via e-mail

A: Again, while there are a few factors other than income that go into computing whether you're due a credit, in general the IRS says that if you didn't receive a tax credit last year, then you won't receive the advance payment this year. That's because the IRS used 2002 returns to decide who was eligible for this year's money.

However, justice may not be lost, just delayed. The checks that were mailed this summer were advance payments made on a change of tax law effective in 2003 but which won't technically show up on your return until you file it sometime after Jan. 1, 2004.

There's nothing that says you won't be able to claim, and qualify for, the credit this year on your 2003 return.