What Are the Guidelines for Earned Income Credit?

Guidelines exist for figuring out the earned income tax credit.

The earned income credit is a refundable tax credit for low- and moderate-income individuals and families. It was implemented in 1975 as a measure to lessen the impact of Social Security taxes on the working poor. You can claim the entire credit on your yearly tax return or receive part of it in your paycheck.


Income qualifications for the earned income credit vary depending on filing status and number of qualifying children. The IRS states that, as of 2009, individuals with no qualifying children can earn no more than $13,440 per year. Married couples without children can earn no more than $18,440. The income guidelines for heads-of-household range from $35,463 to $43,279 depending on the number of children. Married couples with children have income limits between $40,463 and $48,279. Any income you receive from working or running a business is considered earned income. Investment income does not qualify for the EIC and investment income over $3,100 per year will disqualify you from taking the EIC.


Individuals and couples without children must between 25 and 65 years old in order to receive the EIC. There are no restrictions on age for people with qualifying children, but the IRS states that you must be older than any children you claim unless the child is disabled.

Qualifying Children

To claim a child for the earned income credit, the child must be a direct descendant, such as a son, daughter or grandchild, a stepchild, foster child, or an adopted child. Siblings--including half siblings and stepsiblings--and their descendants also qualify. Qualifying children cannot be older than 18 at the end of the tax year. You can claim full-time students up to age 24 and permanently disabled children of any age. The child must have been living with you for at least half of the year or have been born in that year.

Filing Status

Individuals who cannot be claimed as a dependent or qualifying child on another person's tax return can claim the EIC as long as they meet the age and income requirements. Married couples must file jointly to receive the credit. There are no restrictions on head-of-household filers.


To claim the earned income credit, you must be a U.S. citizen or year-round resident alien. Nonresident aliens must be married to a resident alien or U.S. citizen. U.S. citizens must have lived in the U.S. for at least half of the year to qualify for the credit.