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Should I claim a premium tax credit in advance or at the end of the year or some of both?

That’s up to you. You can have 1/12 of your annual premium tax credit paid directly to your health plan each month to reduce your monthly premium right away. Or, if you can afford to, you can pay the entire health plan premium yourself up front and collect the premium tax credit in a lump sum next year when your file your tax return. Or you can have some of the tax credit paid directly to your insurer in advance but save some to claim as a refund when you file your tax return at year end.

Keep in mind that when you apply for the premium tax credit during Open Enrollment, you won’t necessarily know for sure what your income for the coverage year will be, so you will apply based on your best estimate. Later, when you file your tax return, the IRS will compare your actual income to the amount of premium tax credit you claimed in advance. If you underestimated your income and claimed too much premium tax credit, you might have to pay back some or all of the difference. If you didn’t receive all of the premium tax credit you’re entitled to during the year, you can claim the difference when you file your tax return. If you’re uncertain about your income for the coming year, remember that you can modify the amount of premium tax credit during the year if your income changes. So, for example, if you are unemployed now, you can apply for a premium tax credit based on your current low income; then if you get a new job during the year, you can report this increase in income to the Marketplace and reduce the amount of premium tax credit you’re receiving at that time.

How do the premium tax credits work?

Premium tax credits reduce your premium for most Marketplace policies. The amount of the tax credit you may receive depends on your income and the cost of Marketplace health plans in your area. The Marketplace will determine the expected contribution you are required to pay toward the premium for a mid-range (Silver) benchmark plan. The expected contribution will increase on a sliding scale based on your 2019 income. If your income is near the poverty level, the expected contribution you would be required to pay toward the benchmark plan is 2.08 percent of your income in 2019. As your income gets closer to 400% of the poverty level, the expected contribution you would be required to pay toward the benchmark plan is 9.86% of your income.  The difference between the premium for the benchmark plan and your expected contribution equals the amount of your tax credit. (You do not have to pay more than the actual premium for the plan.) The Marketplace will tell you what that dollar amount is. You can use that amount to help pay the premium for any Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum plan offered in the Marketplace. The credit cannot be used to pay for a Catastrophic plan.

Premium tax credits may be claimed at the end of the year, or you can apply for an advanced premium tax credit based on your estimated income for the up-coming year. If you elect to receive an advanced credit, the government will pay 1/12 of the credit directly to your insurance company each month and the insurer will bill you for the rest of the premium.

It’s important to keep in mind that when you apply for the premium tax credit during Open Enrollment, you won’t necessarily know for sure what your income for the coverage year will be, so you will apply based on your best estimate. Later, when you file your tax return, the IRS will compare your actual income to the amount of premium tax credit you claimed in advance. If you underestimated your income and claimed too much premium tax credit, you might have to pay back some or all of the difference. If you didn’t receive all of the premium tax credit you’re entitled to during the year, you can claim the difference when you file your tax return. You should report any changes in your income during the year to the Marketplace, so your credit can be adjusted and you can avoid any significant repayments at the end of the year.

Can I use the premium tax credit to reduce the cost of any Marketplace health plan?

You can apply the premium tax credit to any Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum plan offered through the Marketplace. Premium tax credits cannot be applied to Catastrophic plans or to stand-alone dental plans.   If you are also eligible for cost sharing reductions, be aware that these can only be obtained through Silver plans offered in the Marketplace.

Who is eligible for Marketplace premium tax credits?

Premium tax credits are available to U.S. citizens and lawfully present immigrants who purchase coverage in the Marketplace and who have income between 100% and 400% of the federal poverty level. Premium tax credits are also available to lawfully residing immigrants with incomes below 100 percent of the poverty line who are not eligible for Medicaid because of their immigration status. (Generally, immigrants must lawfully reside in the U.S. for five years before they can become eligible for Medicaid.)

In addition, to be eligible for the premium tax credits, individuals must not be eligible for public coverage—including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicare, or military coverage—and must not have access to health insurance through an employer. (There is an exception in cases when the employer plan is unaffordable because the employee share of the premium exceeds 9.86% of the employee’s income in 2019. There is also an exception in cases where the employer plan doesn’t provide a minimum level of coverage.)

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