Monthly tax credit payments to eligible families with children started this week. They promise to be helpful to struggling families and also to scam artists who are always waiting to pounce on any new source of revenue.
Families will be getting payments every month through December, adding up to half the child tax credit they can claim on next year's tax return. Let's say that again: this money is coming out of next year's tax refund, so don't expect to get the full amount next year.
Perhaps the most important thing for families to remember is this: You don't need to pay any fees to receive the payments.
Also, you should not need any help – free or otherwise – and you don't have to apply for the payments. The IRS already knows, or should know, who is eligible and will send you the money unless you ask them not to.
Child tax credit portal
The IRS has set up a child tax credit portal where you can find everything you need to make sure the payments are set up properly. It includes a page that will tell you if you're eligible and, if so, when the first payments should arrive.
Payments are being made by direct deposit, check or prepaid debit card.
So, this is all good, right? Help for struggling families and a potential boost to the economy. There is, however, the same trap that snares many seniors and disabled people who lose their benefit payments to con artists – namely, crime.
“A lot of families are still really hurting financially. Scammers know this and they’ve been plotting for months, since we learned about the advance tax credit payments, about how to rip people off,” said Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.
“It’s important for Americans who are desperate for help buying groceries or getting caught up on bills to make good choices and keep bad guys from cheating them out of their money,” Murray said.
The best way to do that is to go to the IRS Portal to check on your eligibility, when your check should be issued and in what form (paper, direct deposit or debit card). Doing it yourself ensures that no one else gets the information they need to divert the payment to themselves.
What to remember about the child tax credit
The IRS will not call you. Anyone who calls and says they are from the IRS is trying to scam you. Hang up. Don't engage the caller. Just hang up.
No one else should call you and ask for your personal information – bank account, Social Security number, names of your children or anything else. If you get a call like that, hang up.
Don't click on any links in an email, text message or social site posting. There is no reason for anyone to ask you for any personal information regarding the child tax credit. Or anything else, for that matter.
Don't click or respond to emails from your bank or answer phone calls that claim to be from your bank. If you need to talk to your bank, you should call them – not respond to someone who calls you. Better yet, go online to your bank to check on your account.
Don't let people help you with applying. You don't need to apply. Anyone who offers to help – whether it's a minister, acquaintance or someone outside your immediate family – run the other way.
And remember, these tax credits are coming out of your anticipated tax refund next year. So don't expect to get the full amount of your refund next year.