Nonrefundable Tax Credits: How the Credit Works 2024

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Tax credits are a crucial component of the tax system in the United States, offering a powerful mechanism to reduce taxable income and lower the overall tax bill for eligible taxpayers. This article delves deep into the intricacies of tax credits, illuminating their function, types, and the significant impact they can have on an individual’s financial health. From refundable and non-refundable tax credits to specific examples, this article explores the breadth of tax credits available. It also contrasts tax credits with tax deductions, highlighting how each influences taxable income, gross income, and the taxpayer’s liability. With a focus on maximizing benefits for low-income taxpayers, the article covers various topics, including the specific advantages they offer to single filers, joint filers, and those with dependents. Additionally, the article addresses the nuances of eligibility criteria, the importance of maintaining detailed records, and the value of professional advice in navigating the complex landscape of tax credits.

Getting a Grasp on Tax Credits

Before exploring tax credits, it is crucial to understand how tax credits function. Tax credits are formulated to lower your tax responsibility, reducing the year’s income tax liability. For instance, if you owe $6,000 in taxes but qualify for a $2,000 tax credit, your overall tax debt would decrease to $4,000. Each type of tax credit comes with eligibility criteria based on factors like income level, expenditures, or the number of dependents involved.

Refundable tax credits

Refundable tax credits allow you to receive a refund even if you haven’t owed any income tax for the year. Conversely, nonrefundable tax credits do not lead to a refund when your tax liability is zero. It’s crucial to differentiate between the part of a credit and your total tax refund. The refund from a tax credit represents the amount you get from that credit, while your overall tax refund is the payment you receive from the IRS after filing your taxes.

Tax credits can serve as a source of income, particularly if you don’t owe any income tax for the year. These credits can result in a refund that exceeds your tax liability, enabling you to get money from the IRS. Let’s delve into some refundable tax credits:

Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)

Primarily aiding low-income taxpayers, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) varies based on factors like income and the number of children in your care; for the 2021 tax year, individuals without children could receive up to $543 through EITC, while those with three or more children could be eligible for up to $6,728.

One exciting thing about the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is that it allows you to get a refund even if you haven’t paid any income tax.

Premium Tax Credit (PTC);

The Premium Tax Credit (PTC) is designed for individuals who purchase health insurance through the Obamacare marketplace and meet income criteria. The PTC can reimburse you for your premium expenses if your household income exceeds 100% to 400% of the poverty line. Similar to the EITC, the PTC is fully refundable. You can receive it in advance monthly through the Advance Premium Tax Credit (APTC).

The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC);

The American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) is aimed at individuals with education costs. This credit can be valued at up to $2,500 per student. Covers expenses like tuition fees, books, and classroom materials. If the AOTC reduces your tax liability below zero, you may be refunded 40% of the remaining credit amount, up to a refund of $1,000.

Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC)

The Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) is for those who qualify for the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Have a credit amount that exceeds their tax liability. It could lead to a refund of up to $1,400 per child.

The Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC);

The Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC) offers help with health insurance premiums for individuals meeting the criteria. This credit covers 72.5% of health insurance costs, including COBRA coverage for individuals aged 55 to 64 whose pensions were assumed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). It also applies to those benefiting from Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), Alternative Trade Adjustment Assistance (ATAA), or Reemployment Trade Adjustment Assistance (RTAA) due to job losses from trade shifts.

Nonrefundable Tax Credits

Nonrefundable tax credits can lower your tax bill to zero. We won’t refund you if you already owe nothing in taxes. Some nonrefundable tax credits may let you carry over any credit for years. Let’s take a look at some tax credits:

Child Tax Credit (CTC);

The Child Tax Credit (CTC) can provide up to $2,000 per child. To qualify for this credit, your income must be below thresholds: $400,000 for couples filing jointly and $200,000 for other filing statuses. While the CTC itself is not refundable, you may be eligible for the Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) if you would have qualified for a refund otherwise.

Lifetime Learning Credit (LLC);

Moving on to the lifetime learning credit (LLC), which offers taxpayers a credit of up to $2,000 per tax return for expenses. This credit applies to studies, graduate programs, professional degree courses, and classes to acquire or enhance job-related skills. Unlike the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC), the LLC does not impose restrictions based on how many years of education you’ve completed.

Retirement Savings Contributions Credit (Saver’s Credit):

Lastly, there’s the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, or Savers Credit. This credit aims to incentivize individuals to save for retirement by offering credits based on contributions to an IRA employer-sponsored retirement plan or ABLE account. The maximum credit amount is $4,000 and $2,000 for filers. The eligibility criteria for claiming the Savers Credit depends on your filing status. It may change annually.

Adoption Tax Credit;

The Adoption Tax Credit offers a credit to individuals who have adoption expenses. This credit can be as high as $14,080 per child. It helps cover the costs of adoption. Any remaining credit can be carried forward for up to five years.

Other Nonrefundable Tax Credits;

There are nonrefundable tax credits you might qualify for, such as the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, Foreign Tax Credit, Credit for the Elderly or Disabled Energy Tax Credits, and Credit for Electric Plug-in Vehicles. Each of these credits has eligibility requirements. This can lead to significant tax savings for eligible individuals.

Comparison of Tax Credits and Deductions

Tax credits and standard deductions play a role in reducing your tax bill. While deductions lower your income by allowing you to subtract expenses or contributions from your total income, resulting in a reduced tax amount owed, tax credits directly decrease your tax liability by lowering the amount of taxes you owe on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Tax credits are generally more beneficial than deductions because they directly reduce the amount of taxes you owe, unlike deductions that only lower your income. For instance, if you qualify for a $1,000 tax credit and are in the 25% tax bracket, your tax bill will decrease by $1,000. On the other hand, a $1,000 tax deduction would only reduce your income by $1,000 and result in a lower tax bill based on your marginal tax rate.

How Nonrefundable Tax Credits Impact Your Tax Return

Nonrefundable tax credits can impact your tax return by lowering your tax liability and potentially reducing your taxes owed. However, it’s important to remember that nonrefundable credits cannot exceed your tax liability. If your tax liability is already zero, any nonrefundable credits cannot increase your refund. Trigger a refund on their own.

When filling out your tax return, it’s crucial to calculate your tax liability and determine the amount of credit you can claim. If the total nonrefundable credits exceed your tax liability, you won’t receive a refund for the amount.

However, there are tax credits that cannot be refunded. You can forward any unused credits to future tax years, allowing you to utilize them later.

Tips for Making the Most of Nonrefundable Tax Credits

To maximize the advantages of tax credits, it’s essential to grasp each credit’s eligibility criteria and guidelines. Here are some strategies to optimize your use of tax credits:

1. Understand the eligibility criteria

Every nonrefundable tax credit comes with eligibility criteria. Ensure you understand these criteria to determine if you meet the requirements for a credit. These criteria might include income thresholds, filing status, number of dependents, or other factors.

2. Keep Detailed Records

Maintaining records of your expenses and relevant paperwork is crucial when claiming tax credits. Keep receipts, invoices, and other documents supporting your credit qualification. These records will be essential when completing your tax return and applying for credits.

3. Seek Professional Assistance

Tax laws can be intricate and subject to change. If you have questions or worries about tax credits, please feel free to seek advice from a tax professional. They can offer guidance based on your circumstances and assist you in navigating the complexities of taxation laws.

4. Financial Planning

Knowing the tax advantages of tax credits can assist you in managing your finances more effectively. If you foresee incurring expenses that could qualify for these credits, include them in your plans and budgeting.

5. Exploring Tax Planning Opportunities

Tax planning allows you to optimize your tax position and take advantage of credits. You may enhance your eligibility for nonrefundable tax credits by timing expenses or transactions.


Tax credits serve as a dynamic tool within the tax system, offering a range of benefits designed to alleviate the financial burdens on taxpayers, particularly those with lower incomes. By understanding the various tax credits, including the non-refundable tax credits, the American Opportunity Credit, and the specific conditions under which they apply, taxpayers can significantly reduce their tax liabilities and, in some cases, increase their refunds. Eligible taxpayers need to familiarize themselves with the criteria for these credits, maintain accurate records, and consider professional guidance to ensure they maximize their potential benefits. Whether taking advantage of the total credit available, planning for future years, or exploring tax planning opportunities, the strategic use of tax credits can lead to substantial savings and financial advantages. As we navigate the complexities of the tax system, from federal to state credits, it’s clear that understanding and utilizing tax credits is fundamental to achieving a more favorable tax outcome and securing financial well-being.