“Lookback” rule lets you use 2019 income on two credits for 2020 taxes

January 15, 2021 : H&R Block

Taxpayers who claim the Earned Income Credit (EIC) and Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) received some good news recently. A special rule in the Dec. stimulus bill lets you continue to claim these valuable credits–even if your income changed in 2020.

EIC 2020 and ACTC 2020 impacts

With this new “lookback” rule, you can choose to use your 2019 earned income information to determine your eligibility for the Earned Income Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit if your 2020 earned income is lower than your 2019 earned income and doing so results in a larger credit.

Why the lookback rule is important for those with unemployment or a job change

Without the lookback rule, some taxpayers would qualify for a lower credit than the prior year or potentially even not qualify for these two credits. This could be due to receiving unemployment income or because they had a job change and are earning less.

Man reviewing lookback rule with family in background.

The key to qualifying for these credits is earned income, so here’s why those life changes matter:

  • Unemployment is not considered earned income, although it is taxable and increases your AGI.
  • A lower paying job also means that your earned income has been reduced.

The EIC is calculated based on a percentage of your earned income, and other factors impact the credit calculation such as the number of qualifying children you have and your AGI.

The ACTC is calculated based on a percentage of your earned income over $2,500, and other factors impact the credit calculation.

Myths and realities about the lookback rule

  • Myth: You can use the lookback provision to apply 2019 to your entire return.
  • Reality: You can only use the lookback provision for your eligibility for the Earned Income Credit and the Additional Child Tax Credit.
  • Myth: You are required to use the lookback provision for the EITC and ACTC.
  • Reality: If it’s better for you to use your 2020 income, you don’t have to use the new rule.
  • Myth: It’s always better to use the lookback provision.
  • Reality: Check both options to determine if the lookback results in a better outcome; your software or your tax return preparer can help you do the math. 

Additional details about the lookback rule

Like many things with taxes, there are important nuances to consider. Here are a few other things you should you know about this special lookback rule. 

  • The lookback rule was created as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021 passed in Dec. of 2020. 
  • You can choose to use your 2019 earned income for either the EIC or the ACTC–or both. It’s up to you.
  • If you’re married and file jointly, applying the lookback rule means that you both will use your 2019 earned income. It can’t be for just one of you.
  • Choosing to use the lookback rule does not impact your 2020 Adjusted Gross Income or any other part of your tax return.

Questions about how the lookback rule affects you?

Look no further than the expertise at H&R Block. You can get answers from our tax pros, who can help with questions about the new rule and both credits, whether you work with us in an office or virtually.

Related Topics

H&R Block

H&R Block

Related Resources

Qualified Tuition Plans

What is a qualified tuition plan? Can it impact your tax return? Learn more about this type of savings account and get tax answers at H&R Block.

Credit for Elderly or Disabled

Learn more about the elderly or disabled tax credit and get tax answers at H&R Block.

Qualifications for the Saver's Credit

What are the qualifications for the retirement savings contribution credit or savers credit? Learn more from the experts at H&R Block.

Where’s my refund – Idaho?

Looking for more information about your Idaho refund? Find out details on how to check your refund status, who to contact, and more from H&R Block.