How do state earned income tax credits work?
In 2020, 28 states and the District of Columbia offered their own earned income tax credit (EITC). States typically set their credits as a percentage of the federal EITC. However, unlike the federal credit, some state EITCs are not refundable, which makes them much less valuable to very low-income families who rarely owe income tax.
Twenty-eight states and DC offered their own earned income tax credit (EITC) in 2020. This does not include Washington’s credit which, while a part of the state’s tax code, has never been implemented or funded. If Washington did fund its credit, it would be the only state without an income tax to offer an EITC.
In all but six states—Delaware, Hawaii, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia—state EITCs, like the federal credit, are refundable. That is, if a refundable credit exceeds a taxpayer’s state income tax, the taxpayer receives the excess amount as a payment from the state. A nonrefundable EITC can only offset state income taxes, so the benefit is limited for low-income families with little taxable income.
All states but one set their credits as a percentage of the federal credit, the exception being Minnesota, which calculates its credit as a percentage of income (table 1). State credits as a percentage of the federal credit ranged from 3 percent in Montana to a nonrefundable 62.5 percent in South Carolina. The highest refundable credit is in the District of Columbia (40 percent).
California’s credit is 85 percent of the federal credit but is based on a smaller earnings range (up to $30,000 if there is one or more qualifying children) than the federal EITC (up to $56, 844 if married with three or more qualifying children).
Wisconsin’s EITC depends on the number of qualified children: 4 percent of the federal credit for filers with one child, 11 percent for filers with two children, and 34 percent for filers with three or more children. A filer in Wisconsin without children is not eligible for the state EITC.
The District of Columbia also offers 100 percent of the federal EITC to earners without qualifying children and expanded the range of eligible income beyond the federal limits. The maximum federal credit for earners without a qualifying child is far lower ($538) than the max credit for earners with at least one child ($3,584), and the eligible income range is also far smaller for earners without qualifying children.
California, Maine, and Maryland are the first states to make residents without qualifying children ages 18 to 24 eligible for their state credit. (These filers are not eligible for the federal credit, which can only be claimed by childless workers ages 25 to 64.) Minnesota allows such filers ages 21 to 24 to claim their credit.
Updated May 2020
Tax Credits for Workers and Their Families. “State Tax Credits.” Accessed March 9, 2020.
Maag, Elaine. 2015a. “Earned Income Tax Credit in the United States.” Journal of Social Security Law 22 (1): 20–30.
———. 2015b. “Federal and State Income Taxes and Their Role in the Social Safety Net.” Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
———. 2015c. “Investing in Work by Reforming the Earned Income Tax Credit.” Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
Rueben, Kim, Frank Sammartino, and Kirk Stark. 2017. “Upward Mobility and State-Level EITCs: Evaluating California’s Earned Income Tax Credit.” Tax Law Review 70: 477–511.
Urban Institute. “State Earned Income Tax Credits.” Washington, DC: Urban Institute.