Do I qualify for Earned Income Credit while on unemployment?

Father at home helping son with online school work.
Father at home helping son with online school work.

As the name implies, to be eligible for the Earned Income Credit you must “earn” income such as through employment. However, receiving unemployment benefits doesn’t mean you’re automatically ineligible for the credit. There are other requirements you’ll also need to satisfy to claim the EIC. If you do, the credit can reduce your taxes, or even create a refund.

Unemployment compensation

The IRS defines “earned income” as the compensation you receive from employment and self-employment. Specifically excluded from this definition is any unemployment compensation you receive from your state.

However, as long as you worked or were otherwise self-employed during the same year you started receiving unemployment checks, you may still be eligible to claim the Earned Income Credit.

AGI limitations

The Earned Income Credit is only available if your adjusted gross income, or AGI, is less than the applicable maximum for the tax year. The applicable maximum AGI depends on your filing status and the number of qualifying children.

  • The applicable maximum AGI increases for up to three qualifying children.

  • It's also higher for married taxpayers than for single ones.

  • If you file your return using the married filing separately filing status, you’re automatically ineligible for the credit.

Your adjusted gross income, which you can find on the first page of your tax return, is equal to: Your total income subject to the income tax, minus the deductions the IRS refers to as “adjustments to income.”

In order to be eligible for the Earned Income Credit:

  • you must have “Earned Income” (which we discussed above) AND

  • your Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) must be below the applicable limit.

It's possible for your earned income to be below the threshold but for your total income, and therefore your AGI, to be above the threshold because of the addition of unemployment compensation. This could make you ineligible for the Earned Income Credit.

To find the AGI thresholds for your specific situation, see: IRS Publication 596. If you use TurboTax to prepare your taxes, we’ll ask simple questions, do all the calculations and tell you whether or not you’re eligible for the credit.

Citizen or resident

You will not be eligible for the Earned Income Credit if you or your spouse (if filing jointly) was a nonresident alien at any time during the tax year.

If you don’t have United States citizenship, you must either have a green card that allows you to reside in the country, or satisfy the IRS substantial presence test.

  • The test requires you to be physically present in the U.S. for a certain number of days.

  • You also have to have a valid Social Security card that does not include the phrase “not valid for employment.”

  • If you’re a U.S. citizen or resident who lives abroad, you ineligible for the tax credit.

Maximum investment income

Eligibility for the Earned Income Credit also requires that your investment income for the 2019 tax year not exceed $3,600. Your investment income never includes the money you earn in your profession and it does not include unemployment compensation.

Investment income does, however, include:

  • Any capital gains you got from investments such as stocks and bonds

  • Interest from a bank account

  • Dividends

Again, when you use TurboTax to prepare your taxes, we’ll ask straightforward, easy-to-answer questions about your income and life, and do all the work to determine whether you qualify for the EIC or other deductions and credits.

TurboTax is here to help with our Unemployment Benefits Center. Learn more about unemployment benefits, insurance, eligibility and get your tax and financial questions answered.

For more tax tips in 5 minutes or less, subscribe to the Turbo Tips podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and iHeartRadio

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