Tax Changes Affecting Individuals from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) signed into law on March 11, 2021 by President Biden contains numerous tax provisions which may affect your taxes in 2020 and 2021.  We’ll provide a general recap of some of the major changes in this article. 

Recovery Rebate

The biggest news for taxpayers is a stimulus payment of $1,400 per person including dependents for taxpayers who meet income limits. The income will be measured based on the 2020 tax return if filed, and the 2019 tax return if 2020 has not yet been filed. 

Individuals with adjusted gross incomes (AGI) of less than $75,000 qualify for the full amount, while individuals with AGIs between $75,000 and $80,000 will qualify for a partial rebate. Joint filers with adjusted gross incomes below $150,000 qualify for the full amount, while joint filers with AGIs between $150,000 and $160,000 qualify for a partial rebate. 

The Recovery Rebate stimulus payment is a fully refundable tax credit against 2021 taxes which will start paying out the weekend of March 13, 2021. The stimulus payments are tax-free. 

Unemployment Income

While unemployment income (UI) is normally taxable, the first $10,200 of 2020 UI for households making less than $150,000 is now tax-free.  However, if you pay state income tax, the UI may still be taxable. It remains to be seen how many states will follow federal tax treatment of UI.

The $300 unemployment income payments that were set to expire in March are now extended through September 6, 2021 for eligible individuals. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for the self-employed, part-time workers and gig workers is also extended.

Expanded Credits

The Child Tax Credit (CTC) increases for 2021 only from $2,000 to $3,600 for each child under 6 and $3,000 for each child older than 6 and younger than 18 (up from age 16).  Single filers earning up to $75,000 and joint filers earning up to $150,000 receive the full credit, while single filers making from $75,000 to $200,000 and joint filers making from $150,000 to $400,000 will receive a portion of the credit.    

The payout for the CTC is different as well. Half of the credit will be disbursed in monthly payments from July to December 2021 while the remaining half can be claimed on the 2021 tax return. 

The Child and Dependent Care Credit amounts have been increased as well. This credit helps defray the costs paid to a caretaker or child care agency for caring for a child or dependent with disabilities. For 2021 alone, the credit is increased from $3,000 to $8,000 for one child or dependent, and from $6,000 to $16,000 for more than one child or dependent.


Many people who have been laid off have also lost their health insurance. COBRA is the program that allows unemployed individuals to continue paying for insurance after they’ve lost their job or had hours reduced. The government will pay COBRA premiums from April through September 2021 for qualified taxpayers.

Student Debt

While ARPA did not forgive student debt outright, it provided for the tax treatment of forgiven student debt that occurs between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2025. Any debt forgiven during these dates is non-taxable.