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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 2018 income. If your income is near the poverty level, the expected contribution you would be required to pay toward the benchmark plan is 2.01 percent of your income in 2018. 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 9.56% 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.

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.