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Publication 596

Chapter 2
Rules If You Have a Qualifying Child(p9)

If you have met all the rules in chapter 1, use this chapter to see if you have a qualifying child. This chapter discusses Rules 8 through 10. You must meet all three of those rules, in addition to the rules in chapters 1 and 4, to qualify for the earned income credit with a qualifying child.
You must file Form 1040 or Form 1040A to claim the EIC with a qualifying child. (You can’t file Form 1040EZ.) You also must complete Schedule EIC and attach it to your return. If you meet all the rules in chapter 1 and this chapter, read chapter 4 to find out what to do next.

No qualifying child. (p9)

If you don't meet Rule 8, you don't have a qualifying child. Read chapter 3 to find out if you can get the earned income credit without a qualifying child.
If your child meets the tests to be your qualifying child, but also meets the tests to be the qualifying child of another person, only one of you can actually treat the child as a qualifying child to claim the EIC. If the other person can claim the child under the tiebreaker rules you can't claim the EIC as a taxpayer with a qualifying child unless you have another qualifying child. However, you may be able to claim the EIC without a qualifying child.

Rule 8—Your Child Must Meet the Relationship, Age, Residency, and Joint Return Tests(p9)

Your child is a qualifying child if your child meets four tests. The four tests are:
  1. Relationship,
  2. Age,
  3. Residency, and
  4. Joint return.
The four tests are illustrated in Figure A. The paragraphs that follow contain more information about each test.

Relationship Test(p9)

To be your qualifying child, a child must be your:
The following definitions clarify the relationship test.

Adopted child. (p9)

An adopted child is always treated as your own child. The term "adopted child" includes a child who was lawfully placed with you for legal adoption.

Foster child. (p9)

For the EIC, a person is your foster child if the child is placed with you by an authorized placement agency or by judgment, decree, or other order of any court of competent jurisdiction. An authorized placement agency includes:

Example. (p9)

Debbie, who is 12 years old, was placed in your care 2 years ago by an authorized agency responsible for placing children in foster homes. Debbie is your foster child.

Figure A. Tests for Qualifying Child


Age Test(p9)

Your child must be:
  1. Under age 19 at the end of 2017 and younger than you (or your spouse, if filing jointly);
  2. Under age 24 at the end of 2017, a student, and younger than you (or your spouse, if filing jointly); or
  3. Permanently and totally disabled at any time during 2017, regardless of age.
The following examples and definitions clarify the age test.

Example 1—Child not under age 19. (p9)

Your son turned 19 on December 10. Unless he was permanently and totally disabled or a student, he isn't a qualifying child because, at the end of the year, he wasn’t under age 19.

Example 2—Child not younger than you or your spouse. (p9)

Your 23-year-old brother, who is a full-time student and unmarried, lives with you and your spouse. He isn't disabled. Both you and your spouse are 21 years old, and you file a joint return. Your brother isn't your qualifying child because he isn't younger than you or your spouse.

Example 3—Child younger than your spouse but not younger than you. (p11)

The facts are the same as in Example 2 except that your spouse is 25 years old. Because your brother is younger than your spouse, he is your qualifying child, even though he isn't younger than you.

Student defined. (p11)

To qualify as a student, your child must be, during some part of each of any 5 calendar months during the calendar year:
  1. A full-time student at a school that has a regular teaching staff, course of study, and regular student body at the school; or
  2. A student taking a full-time, on-farm training course given by a school described in (1), or a state, county, or local government.
The 5 calendar months need not be consecutive.
A full-time student is a student who is enrolled for the number of hours or courses the school considers to be full-time attendance.
School defined. (p11)
A school can be an elementary school, junior or senior high school, college, university, or technical, trade, or mechanical school. However, on-the-job training courses, correspondence schools, and schools offering courses only through the Internet don't count as schools for the EIC.
Vocational high school students. (p11)
Students who work in co-op jobs in private industry as a part of a school's regular course of classroom and practical training are considered full-time students.

Permanently and totally disabled. (p11)

Your child is permanently and totally disabled if both of the following apply.
  1. He or she can’t engage in any substantial gainful activity because of a physical or mental condition.
  2. A doctor determines the condition has lasted or can be expected to last continuously for at least a year or can lead to death.
Substantial gainful activity.(p11)
Substantial gainful activity means performing significant duties over a reasonable period of time while working for pay or profit, or in work generally done for pay or profit. Full-time work (or part-time work done at an employer's convenience) in a competitive work situation for at least the minimum wage shows that the child can engage in substantial gainful activity.
Substantial gainful activity isn't work done to take care of yourself or your home. It isn't unpaid work on hobbies, institutional therapy or training, school attendance, clubs, social programs, and similar activities. However, doing this kind of work may show that the child is able to engage in substantial gainful activity.
The fact that the child hasn’t worked for some time doesn't, by itself, prove the child can’t engage in substantial gainful activity.
For examples of substantial gainful activity, see Pub. 524.

Residency Test(p11)

Your child must have lived with you in the United States for more than half of 2017.
You can't claim the EIC for a child who didn't live with you for more than half of the year, even if you paid most of the child's living expenses. The IRS may ask you for documents to show you lived with each qualifying child. Documents you might want to keep for this purpose include school and child care records and other records that show your child's address.
The following paragraphs clarify the residency test.

United States. (p11)

This means the 50 states and the District of Columbia. It doesn't include Puerto Rico or U.S. possessions such as Guam.

Homeless shelter. (p11)

Your home can be any location where you regularly live. You don't need a traditional home. For example, if your child lived with you for more than half the year in one or more homeless shelters, your child meets the residency test.

Military personnel stationed outside the United States. (p11)

U.S. military personnel stationed outside the United States on extended active duty are considered to live in the United States during that duty period for purposes of the EIC.
Extended active duty. (p11)
Extended active duty means you are called or ordered to duty for an indefinite period or for a period of more than 90 days. Once you begin serving your extended active duty, you are still considered to have been on extended active duty even if you don't serve more than 90 days.

Birth or death of child. (p11)

A child who was born or died in 2017 is treated as having lived with you for more than half of 2017 if your home was the child's home for more than half the time he or she was alive in 2017.

Temporary absences. (p11)

Count time that you or your child is away from home on a temporary absence due to a special circumstance as time the child lived with you. Examples of a special circumstance include illness, school attendance, business, vacation, military service, and detention in a juvenile facility.

Kidnapped child. (p11)

A kidnapped child is treated as living with you for more than half of the year if the child lived with you for more than half the part of the year before the date of the kidnapping or following the date of the child's return. The child must be presumed by law enforcement authorities to have been kidnapped by someone who isn't a member of your family or the child's family. This treatment applies for all years until the child is returned. However, the last year this treatment can apply is the earlier of:
  1. The year there is a determination that the child is dead, or
  2. The year the child would have reached age 18.
If your qualifying child has been kidnapped and meets these requirements, enter "KC," instead of a number, on line 6 of Schedule EIC.

Joint Return Test(p12)

To meet this test, the child can’t file a joint return for the year.

Exception. (p12)

An exception to the joint return test applies if your child and his or her spouse file a joint return only to claim a refund of income tax withheld or estimated tax paid.

Example 1—Child files joint return. (p12)

You supported your 18-year-old daughter, and she lived with you all year while her husband was in the Armed Forces. He earned $25,000 for the year. The couple files a joint return. Because your daughter and her husband file a joint return, she isn't your qualifying child.

Example 2—Child files joint return to get refund of tax withheld. (p12)

Your 18-year-old son and his 17-year-old wife had $800 of wages from part-time jobs and no other income. They don't have a child. Neither is required to file a tax return. Taxes were taken out of their pay, so they file a joint return only to get a refund of the withheld taxes. The exception to the joint return test applies, so your son may be your qualifying child if all the other tests are met.

Example 3—Child files joint return to claim American opportunity credit. (p12)

The facts are the same as in Example 2 except no taxes were taken out of your son's pay. He and his wife aren't required to file a tax return, but they file a joint return to claim an American opportunity credit of $124 and get a refund of that amount. Because claiming the American opportunity credit is their reason for filing the return, they aren't filing it only to claim a refund of income tax withheld or estimated tax paid. The exception to the joint return test doesn't apply, so your son isn't your qualifying child.

Married child. (p12)

Even if your child doesn't file a joint return, if your child was married at the end of the year, he or she can’t be your qualifying child unless:
  1. You can claim an exemption for the child, or
  2. The reason you can’t claim an exemption for the child is that you let the child's other parent claim the exemption under the Special rule for divorced or separated parents (or parents who live apart) described later.
Social security number. Your qualifying child must have a valid social security number (SSN) by the due date of your 2017 return (including extensions), unless the child was born and died in 2017 and you attach to your return a copy of the child's birth certificate, death certificate, or hospital records showing a live birth. You can’t claim the EIC on the basis of a qualifying child if:
  1. The qualifying child's SSN is missing from your tax return or is incorrect,
  2. The qualifying child's social security card says "Not valid for employment" and was issued for use in getting a federally funded benefit, or
  3. Instead of an SSN, the qualifying child has:
    1. An individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), which is issued to a noncitizen who can’t get an SSN, or
    2. An adoption taxpayer identification number (ATIN), issued to adopting parents who can’t get an SSN for the child being adopted until the adoption is final.
If you have more than one qualifying child and only one has a valid SSN, you can use only that child to claim the EIC. For more information about SSNs, see Rule 2.