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Can I Take the Earned Income Credit While on Unemployment?

As its name suggests, the earned income credit requires that you “earn” income for the services you provide to your employer or through self-employment, to be eligible to claim it. Receiving unemployment doesn’t disqualify you from taking the credit. However, there are some requirements that you’ll need to satisfy as well. If you do, the EIC can reduce your tax bill on a dollar-for-dollar basis or even be the reason you receive a refund despite not paying a single dollar of tax during the year.

Unemployment Income

The Internal Revenue Code defines “earned income” as money or property you receive from all types of employment and self-employment activities. For purposes of the earned income credit, however, the definition excludes state unemployment benefits. However, if you worked or were self-employed at any time during the same tax year that you started receiving state unemployment benefits, you still may be eligible to claim the earned income credit based on those earnings.

EIC & Your AGI

Earned income credits are only available when your adjusted gross income, or AGI, doesn’t exceed the designated threshold for the tax year. The maximum AGI isn’t the same for all taxpayers – it depends on which filing status you use and the number of children you claim as dependents. The maximum allowable AGI taxpayers can report increases for each dependent child that you take an exemption for on your return. Moreover, the AGI limitation is higher for couples who file jointly than for taxpayers who file as single. Keep in mind, however, that if you use the married filing separately status, you’re automatically ineligible to take an earned income credit. Your AGI, which is located on the first page of your tax return, is equal to your total income that’s subject to the income tax less the specific deductions that the IRS refers to as “adjustments to income.” For purposes of the AGI limitation test, your eligibility to claim the credit when receiving unemployment compensation depends entirely on whether the sum of your unemployment and earned income is below the applicable AGI threshold for your situation.

Non-Resident Aliens

If you were a nonresident alien for even on day during the tax year, you’re ineligible for the earned income credit and must wait until the following tax year to evaluate your eligibility again. This means that if you don’t have U.S. citizenship, you must be a legal resident, as evidenced by a green card, or satisfy a “substantial presence test.” Substantial presence requires that you be physically present in the U.S. for a minimum number of days in the tax year. Moreover, you must have a valid Social Security card that doesn’t have the phrase “not valid for employment” on it. And if you’re a U.S. citizen or resident who lives and works in a foreign country, you can’t take the earned income credit in the same tax year that you claim the foreign earned income exclusion on either Form 2555 or 2555-EZ.

Unemployed with Investment Income

Lastly, eligibility for the earned income credit, whether you’re receiving unemployment benefits or not, requires that your annual investment income not exceed the applicable maximum for the year, which recently was only $3,150. Investment income doesn’t include money you earn from working or unemployment compensation. It does, however, cover all capital gains from the sale of certain property, such as stocks and bonds, interest from your checking and savings accounts and dividends, to name just a few.

Earned Income Tax Credit Rules