We analyze ethnographic data on 42 families’ perceptions and uses of the EITC, including the decision to use the lump sum or advance payment form. A behavioral life cycle (BLC) model lends a theoretical framework and a description of family financial situations provides context. Parents discuss and exhibit a strong preference for a lump sum combined tax refund and EITC over the credit’s advance payment option. We argue that the preference aligns with the BLC model and is rational given scarce time, money, and personal energy. We conclude with implications and hypotheses for quantitative investigation of labor supply and well being issues.