Premium Tax Credit: What Is It & How to Qualify

It’s nice to receive a little financial help in exchange for complying when the government tells you that you ​must​ do something. The Premium Tax Credit or PTC is designed to help some earners meet the requirement of the Affordable Care Act that you must carry mandatory health insurance. It will pay a portion of your health insurance premiums so you don’t have to do so, if you can qualify.

The best part is that you won’t even have to go through a laborious process of trying to figure out if you qualify. The government will take care of that for you when you apply for health insurance.

You’re Limited to the Health Insurance Marketplace

You have no choice but to purchase your health care coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace – aka the “Exchange” – administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. The Marketplace will automatically calculate whether you’re eligible for the Premium Tax Credit when you apply for insurance, and, if so, how much of a credit you’re likely entitled to receive.

Some Other Qualifying Rules

You can’t have access to an “affordable” plan through your employer or any other source. You can’t decline that insurance and opt in for Marketplace insurance instead so you qualify for the credit, at least unless the government agrees that the policy offered by your employer is out of your price range. COBRA coverage – the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act – is an exception to this rule.

The IRS says that an employer-sponsored health insurance plan is affordable for you if the annual premium is ​9.83 percent​ or less of your income as of 2020, but this isn’t quite as black-and-white as it seems. The ​premium​ is based on self-only health coverage, but again, we’re talking ​household​ income here.

You can’t qualify for any coverage offered by a government program, either, such as Medicare or Medicaid.

You can only purchase insurance through the Marketplace during open enrollment periods, or if you’ve just experienced a pretty significant life event like marriage, divorce or the birth of a baby.

Read More:List of Medicare Plans

About “Minimum Value” Plans

The affordability rule is based on another ACA term – the cost of a "minimum value" plan that might be available through your employer. This term is defined as a plan that pays ​60 percent​ or more of the expected cost for the services it covers as of 2020.

Ask your employer if you’re unsure whether your plan offers minimum value. Technically, companies are supposed to provide this information to employees in writing upon hiring.

How Much Is the Credit?

The PTC is based on your estimated household income – note the term "household" here – and the cost of the second-lowest silver plan offered by the Marketplace in the area where you live. A percentage of your household income is subtracted from the annual premium to determine your credit amount.

You have a right to appeal the decision if you think the Marketplace has incorrectly calculated the amount of your credit, or if the Marketplace tells you that you don’t qualify. You can find the appropriate forms for an appeal on the HealthCare.gov website.

Household Income Requirements

The Internal Revenue Service makes a distinction between what you earn and what everyone in your household earns collectively, at least when it comes to qualifying for the Premium Tax Credit. The credit is based on your household's total income from all workers. Households that earn less receive more of a credit than those that earn more.

Your family’s income must be no less than ​100 percent​ but no more than ​400 percent​ of the federal poverty level for its size, and this is based on your household income the year ​before​ you apply for the credit. In other words, you’d use the 2020 FPL figures if you’re applying for the credit in 2021. HHS determines these amounts annually. You can check to see if you fall into the PTC parameters on the HHS website.

What Is Your Household Income?

This calculation starts with your ​modified adjusted gross income​. For purposes of the Premium Tax Credit, your MAGI is your adjusted gross income or AGI plus any nontaxable Social Security benefits you receive, tax-exempt interest income and any foreign income you might have excluded when preparing your tax return. You can find your AGI on line 11 of the 2020 Form 1040.

If you live alone, that’s it – you’re done. This is your household income. Otherwise, you must add the MAGIs of every other earner in your household: your spouse if you’re married, and anyone else who lives with you whom you can claim as a dependent. This spouse-and-dependents rule also determines your family size for purposes of the federal poverty guidelines.

The PTC Is Refundable – Sort of

OK, you qualify. Now what? The PTC is a unique tax credit in that it’s paid in advance​,​ before you actually file your tax return. Yes, you read that correctly. How’s that for a gift from the IRS? Unfortunately, you won’t actually see the money if you elect this option.

Let’s say that the Marketplace offers open enrollment for 2021 coverage in the fall of 2020. You don’t have to file your 2020 tax return until April 2021. You’re applying for insurance – and for the PTC – well in advance based on what you ​think​ your household's income will be at year’s end.

The Marketplace will calculate how much of a credit you’ll likely be entitled to if you qualify, and the IRS will begin paying it out toward your January 2021 insurance coverage, well before tax day rolls around. But that money goes to your insurance company, not to you.

Tips

  • You’re only responsible for paying any portion of the monthly premiums that remain after applying the monthly amount of your advance payment PTC.

The IRS won’t force you to let them send the money to your insurer in advance, but if you want to actually claim this refundable tax credit personally, you won’t get it until you file your income tax return. ​That​ PTC option is not an advance payment.

You Might Have to Pay Some of the Credit Back

Now let’s fast-forward to tax filing time. We’ll presume that you elected to have your PTC applied directly to your insurance premiums, but your income calculations weren’t exactly on target.

You’ll have to pay a portion of the credit back if it turns out that you received too much of a tax credit when you file your tax return with your actual income figures. The difference will either be deducted from any tax refund you’re entitled to for that year, or the amount will be added to any existing federal income tax liability you owe.

If there’s any good news here, it’s that you might not have to pay back ​all​ the difference between what you would have qualified for and what your insurer actually received. The amount of your repayment is based on a sliding scale determined by where your income falls on the federal poverty level chart.

How to Claim the Credit – Form 8962

You'll have to account for the PTC when you file your tax return. This means completing and filing Form 8962 with your Form 1040. In fact, you ​must​ submit Form 8962 if your insurer received advance payments of the credit. You’ll have the necessary information for doing so because the Marketplace will send you a Form 1095-A with all the information you must enter on Form 8962.