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By Julia Glum
July 15, 2021
Young pregnant woman working on her computer while older child plays at her side
Getty Images

If you logged into your bank account on Thursday to a surprise deposit from the IRS, it's probably your initial advance from the 2021 child tax credit. And if you'd intended to opt out of the payments, it probably means you forgot or didn't file the request early enough.

The federal government has officially begun distributing payments associated with the enhanced child tax credit, giving families across the United States up to $300 per kid for the next six months. The IRS automatically enrolled millions of people in the payments after the American Rescue Plan was signed into law; July 15 was the first deposit date.

But the installment plan isn't the best option for everyone — especially families that share custody, have changing tax situations or generally owe the IRS money. By taking the monthly payments, those families risk getting money they'll just have to pay back when they file their 2021 taxes.

Although the IRS gave families the choice to opt out of getting advance child tax credit payments, the tool that allows them to do so only launched on June 22. The six-day window to unenroll before Thursday's deposit date was so short that many busy parents missed it... or forgot to opt out of the child tax credit monthly payments entirely.

If you're among them, no need to beat yourself up. You can still unenroll and make it so you don't get future child tax credit checks.

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Can you still opt out of monthly child tax credit payments?

Yes. To unenroll, all you've got to do is navigate to the Child Tax Credit Update Portal and enter your personal information. Having trouble with the website? You can also opt out by calling the IRS phone number at 800-829-1040.

Note that if you're married and file taxes jointly, both spouses have to opt out individually. Otherwise, the enrolled taxpayer will get half of the advance payment on the next deposit date.

Another important point: By opting out, you're not totally forfeiting your right to the child tax credit. You're just telling the IRS that you'd like to claim the refundable credit as a lump sum when you file taxes in the spring.

For workers who typically owe money each year when doing their taxes, claiming the credit as a lump sum will reduce how much they have to send to the IRS at tax time. If that's you, and you didn't opt out in time for the first payment, you don't need to — and probably can't — send that money back now. If you're really worried about your potential tax bill, put July's payment in a savings account and earmark it for spring.

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Deadline to opt out of the advance child tax credit for 2021

The next round of payments is set to drop on Aug. 13. The deadline to unenroll for August and subsequent child tax credit installments is Aug. 2. (This is also the last day to change the bank account where the IRS sends the August payment. In this case, too, any adjustments you make will apply to the rest of the year's payments.)

Warning: Once you opt out, you won't be able to opt back in until "late summer," according to the IRS website. The agency hasn't shared any details on when, exactly, that will be, so be certain before you commit.

More from Money:

6 Expert Tips for Navigating the New Monthly Child Tax Credit

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