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Published: Jul 15, 2021 7 min read
Collage of a mother searching for money with a flashlight while her baby sits next to her
Money; Getty Images

The first round of advance child tax credit payments officially went out Thursday, providing a cash infusion to some 39 million families across the U.S.

The IRS sent most of the July 15 checks, worth up to $300 per child depending on age and income level, automatically via direct deposit. But not everyone got the money they expected. Even prior to Thursday's payment date, social media was teeming with questions from parents and guardians confused about the White House letters, the eligibility requirements and more.

Didn't receive your child tax credit payment yet? Here are eight possible explanations — and what you can do about it.

The payment is still processing

When the government sent out stimulus checks earlier in the pandemic, the deposits often dropped into different people's accounts on different days due to bank processing times. In these cases, there's nothing to do but wait.

If your bank says it still hasn't received the payment and it's been five days since your direct deposit, you can request a payment trace from the IRS. Fill out this form to get the process started.

It's in the mail

If the IRS doesn't have your direct deposit information, it'll default to snail-mailing you a paper check. Paper checks typically take longer to arrive than a direct deposit. (This is also true for tax refunds and stimulus checks.)

If four weeks have passed since the check was mailed to a normal address, six weeks since it was sent to a forwarding address or nine weeks to a foreign address, you can request a payment trace from the IRS. Begin with this form.

Your eligibility is pending

If the Child Tax Credit Update Portal returns a "pending eligibility" status, it means the IRS is still trying to determine whether you qualify. The IRS won't send you any monthly payments until it can confirm your status.

If all else fails, you can plan to claim the child tax credit when you file your 2021 taxes next year.

You and your spouse opted out

Maybe you followed expert advice to opt out of the child tax credit installments due to your family situation (you normally owe the IRS, you share custody of your kids, you've got a major payment coming up, etc.). Or maybe you simply prefer to get your credit as a lump sum next year.

If you — and your spouse with whom you file taxes jointly — opted out, you won't receive monthly payments. If you change your mind, the IRS says you can't opt back in until "late summer." (There is not a more specific date on the website.)

Your child is too old

In order to qualify for the advance payments, the dependent in question has to be under age 18 on Dec. 31, 2021.

If your kid misses the cutoff, you're not completely out of luck — you just have to be patient. Families with dependents who are 18 years old or full-time college students between 19 and 24 will qualify for a $500 credit when they file taxes in 2022.

You just had a baby

Congrats! Alas, the IRS is generally using data from your 2020 or 2019 tax returns to calculate child tax credit payments. So if you've had a baby recently, the agency might not know about it.

You'll eventually be able to update your family size information on the Child Tax Credit Update Portal, but not right now. Worst case, you can plan to claim the full credit on your 2021 taxes when you file next spring. (P.S. Your 2021 newborn probably qualifies for a $1,400 stimulus check, too, so make sure to claim the Recovery Rebate Credit, as well.)

Your income is too high

The advance child tax credit payments are subject to income limits over which they begin to phase out.

For single filers, the first phaseout starts at $75,000 in modified adjusted gross income. For heads of household, it starts at $112,500; for married couples filing jointly, it starts at $150,000. Your credit will decrease by $50 for every $1,000 in income that exceeds those numbers, bottoming out at $2,000.

It may dip even lower if you're a single or head-of-household filer with a modified adjusted gross income over $200,000. Ditto if you're a joint filer who makes over $400,000. People who earn over $240,000 as a single or head-of-household filer and couples that make over $440,000 are not eligible for the credit.

It went to the wrong bank account

The IRS used direct deposit info it had on file from your 2020 (and, if that hadn't been filed or processed yet, your 2019) tax return and the stimulus checks to determine where to send your child tax credit payment. If you've changed banks since then, your money may have gone to the wrong account.

With the stimulus checks, if the IRS tried to send a deposit to a closed account, the bank rejected it and returned the money. The IRS then defaulted to mailing a paper check. This will likely happen with child tax credit payments sent to closed accounts, as well.

You can update your bank account information in the Child Tax Credit Update Portal. Do so by Aug. 2 to have it take effect for the Aug. 13 payment.

It was garnished by a creditor

Although the child tax credit advance payments are not being reduced to pay overdue taxes, past-due child support, or other federal and state debts, they are subject to garnishment from some entities. Non-federal creditors at the state, local and private levels can take your money.

Some states, like California, have specifically decreed that debt collectors can't access people's child tax credit payments, so you may want to check what the policy is in your area.

More from Money:

Child Tax Credit Eligibility: Who Gets IRS Payments This Week?

6 Expert Tips for Navigating the New Monthly Child Tax Credit

Child Tax Credit Update: You Can Now Change the Bank Account Where the IRS Sends Your Payments