The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges and hardships for many businesses and organizations around the world. Many employers have experienced reduced revenues, higher expenses, and disruptions to their operations because of lockdowns, distancing from social media, and health-and-safety measures.
In order to help employers retain employees and offer them health benefits in this tough time, the U.S. Government has introduced the Employee retention credit (ERC), which is a tax credit refundable that can be used by eligible employers to offset some payroll costs.
The ERC has been in place since 2020 when the CARES Act was passed. Later, in 2021 and again in 2023, it was modified and extended by new legislation. The ERC will be explained in this article, along with how it works and the different eligibility criteria and time periods for which it can be claimed.
For a brief reading of what the Employee Retention Credit or ERC is, take a look at this video from the YouTube channel “ERC Specialists”. You can also continue below to read an in-depth explanation of ERC.
What is the Employee Retention Credit? Accelerate America 2023 Employee Retention Credit Guide
Employee Retention Credit is a tax credit that can be refunded to businesses and tax-exempt organizations who had employees affected by COVID-19. The ERC has been created by the CARES Act for 2020. It was further extended and modified with subsequent legislation in 2021, 2023. The ERC aims to encourage employers to keep their workers on the payroll and provide them with health benefits during the crisis.
Main Features & Benefits
- Credits are equal to a percent of the qualified wages and costs for health insurance paid to eligible employees up to a limit per employee each quarter.
- The credit limit and percentage are dependent on the period of time for which you claim the credit. In 2020, 50% of the employees will be eligible for the credit, with a maximum limit of $5,000 per employee. For 2021, it is 70%. The limit is $7,000 per quarter per employee. In 2023, 70% of the employees will be eligible for the first two quarterly limits and 40% in the final two. The limit for each employee is $10,000. Accelerate America 2023 Employee Retention Credit Guide
- The credit will be fully refundable if its amount exceeds that of the employer’s payroll taxes.
- Employers who have experienced a significant drop in gross receipts or a complete or partial suspension of their operations as a result of a government order relating to COVID-19 can claim the credit. Alternatively, for 2023 only, employers who are considered recovery startup businesses can also claim the credit.
- Credits may be obtained by filing a revised employment tax form (Form 941X) or reducing employment deposit amounts in anticipation. Employers can request an advance payment by submitting Form 7200.
To qualify as an employer for the Employee retention Credit (ERC), you must meet at least one of the two criteria below:
- The employer’s company or organization has been suspended, either fully or partly, by an order of the government due to COVID-19 at a particular calendar quarter in 2020/2021
- The gross receipts of the employer for a calendar-quarter in 2020 or 2020 were less than 50 percent (for 2020), or 80 percent (for 2021), of their gross receipts during the same calendar quarter in 2019.
A special rule is in place for businesses that have started operating after February 15, 2020, and whose average gross receipts per year are no more than one million dollars. These businesses qualify for ERC despite business suspensions or revenue decreases.
A government order will either fully or partially suspend an organization or business if:
- The order restricts commerce, travel or group meetings because of COVID-19
- The order impacts the operations of a business or organization
- The order applies to any calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021
These are some examples:
- Orders to stay at home that prevent non-essential companies from operating
- Certain businesses have curfews that limit their hours of operations
- Limits in capacity that restrict the number or clients that a business can serve
- Travel restrictions or bans that impact the ability of an organization to transport goods and services
To determine if a business was fully or partially suspended by a government order, an employer must consider:
- The nature and extent of the order, and its impact on the operation of your business
- The length, frequency, and timing of the order in relation to the quarters of the year.
- The order’s impact on revenues and expenses
It is considered that a business or organization has experienced a significant drop in gross receipts when:
- The gross receipts in any calendar quarter of 2020 will be less than 50% the gross receipts in the same quarter of 2019.
- The gross receipts of any quarter in calendar 2021 were below 80% of the gross receipts in the same quarter for 2019.
Gross receipts are defined as the total amount received or accrued by a business or organization from all sources during its annual accounting period without any deductions. Gross receipts include the following:
- Sales of goods and services
- Interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities
- Gifts, donations, and contributions Accelerate America 2023 Employee Retention Credit Guide
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross profits from trades and businesses
To calculate and compare gross receipts for different quarters, an employer must use:
- The same method of accounting (cash or accrual) that it used to file its federal income tax return for 2019
- The same calendar year quarters that it used to file its federal employment tax returns (Form 941) for 2019 and 2020/2021
- It is the same income sources that were reported on the federal income tax returns for 2019.
Recovery Startup Business
The recovery startup business is one that:
- Began carrying on any trade or business after February 15, 2020,
- Have average annual gross income of no more than $1 million over the three-year period ending the tax year before the calendar quarter in which the credit is determined
If a business is in recovery, it can still qualify for ERC even if the business has been suspended or its revenue has declined. Recovery startups are not exempt from certain rules and restrictions.
- Maximum credit per quarter: $50,000
- The credit can only be used for wages paid between the third and the fourth quarters of 2020
- The credit has a cap of 250 million dollars for all startup businesses that are eligible.
Credit Amounts and Calculation
The ERC has different rules and amounts for different periods of time and different types of employers. The ERC is affected by the following main factors:
- How much the employer’s business was affected by the pandemic, either by having to close or reduce operations due to government orders or by having a big drop in income compared to 2019
- How many employees an employer had in 2019, 2020/2021 or whether they worked, or did not work during the pandemic
- How much each employee received from their employer and how they were covered by health insurance in the pandemic
In order to receive the ERC from the IRS, the employer will need to complete some forms. The form must show the amount the employer paid for their employees’ health insurance, and how they qualified for the ERC. The IRS will examine the forms to determine if the employer is eligible and then pay him the money. The employer can use the money to pay their employees and their health insurance or to get refunds or credits for their payroll taxes.
ERCs are not available forever. The ERC began in March 2020, and it will end in September 2022. The employer must claim ERC before the expiration date or when it becomes unavailable. The employer must also spend the money properly and not waste any of it. Accelerate America 2023 Employee Retention Credit Guide
Here is more information about the ERC and its calculation.
In 2020, 2021, & 2022, different laws were passed to introduce, amend, and terminate the ERC. The credit amount varies depending on the time period for which it is claimed. The following table summarises the main features and differences between the ERCs of each time period:
|Time Period||Law||Eligible Employers||Credit Rate||Qualified Wages|
|2020||CARES Act||Employers with business suspension or revenue decline of more than 50%||50% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per year||Wages paid from March 13 to December 31, 2020|
|Q1-Q3 2021||CAA and ARPA||Employers with business suspension or revenue decline of more than 20%||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter||Wages paid from January 1 to September 30, 2021|
|Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||ARPA||Recovery startup businesses with average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million,||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter),||Wages paid from July 1 to December 31, 2021,|
|Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||ARPA and IIJA||Employers with a revenue decline of more than 90%||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter||Wages paid from October 1, 2021, to September 30, 2022|
Number of Employees
The number of eligible employees will affect the calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages. An employer is considered a small or large employer depending on the time period and the number of full-time employees (FTEs) it had in 2019. The following table summarizes the thresholds and rules for determining the employer size for each time period:
|Time Period||Small Employer Threshold||Large Employer Threshold|
|2020||Less than or equal to 100 FTEs in 2019||More than 100 FTEs in 2019|
|Q1-Q2 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in 2019||More than 500 FTEs in 2019|
|Q3-Q4 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not have in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a small eligible employer if it had less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021. For recovery startup businesses, the employer size is irrelevant. For severely financially distressed employers, the employer size is irrelevant if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q2 2021 apply.||More than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not exist in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a large eligible employer if it had more than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021.|
To count FTEs for a given year or quarter, an employer must use the following steps:
- Count the number of employees who worked at least 30 hours per week (or at least 130 hours per month) for each month in the year or quarter
- Add up the total hours worked by all other employees (who are not counted as FTEs) for each month in the year or quarter
- Divide the total hours by120and round down to the nearest whole number
- Add the number of FTEs from Step One and Step Three for each month in the year or quarter
- Calculate the average number of FTEs by adding up the monthly totals and dividing by 12 (for a year) or 3 (for a quarter)
Qualified Wages, Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages include wages paid to eligible workers during a business suspension or revenue decrease. Other forms of compensation are also included in qualified wages, such as tips, bonuses and commissions. Qualified salaries also include the costs of providing health coverage to eligible workers, including premiums, copays, deductibles, and coinsurance.
The definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs depend on the employer size and the time period. Table 1 summarizes and gives examples of rules in various scenarios. Accelerate America 2023 Employee Retention Credit Guide
|Employer Size||Time Period||Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs||Example|
|Small||2020||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 80 FTEs in 2019 paid $8,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in 2020. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 50% in Q2 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q2 2020 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q1-Q3 2021||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 400 FTEs in 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $3,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $15,000.|
|Small||Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter)||A recovery startup business that began operations in March 2020 paid $9,000 in wages and $1,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q3 2021. The business had average annual gross receipts of $800,000. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q3 2021 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 600 FTEs in Q2 2019 paid $11,000 in wages and $4,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q4 2021 are $15,000.|
|Large||2020||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 30 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 120 FTEs in 2019 paid $10,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in 2020. The employer had a business suspension due to a government order in April 2020. The employee did not work for two weeks in April 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for April 2020 are $2,308 ($10,000 x2/52+$2,000 x2/52).|
|Large||Q1-Q3 2021||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 90 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 550 FTEs in 2019 paid $15,000 in wages and $5,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The employee did not work for three weeks in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $5,769 ($15,000 x3/13+$5,000 x3/13).|
|Large||Q3-Q4 2021 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (only if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q32021 apply.)||An employer with 700 FTEs in Q4 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $6,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs|
Claim and Report Credit
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that employers claim the Employee-Retention Credit by filing a federal income tax return, Form 941, or a modified employment tax form (Form941X), with them. The employer is required to report the qualified wages, health insurance costs and credit claimed by each quarter.
Form 941 is a quarterly tax return that the employer must file to show his federal tax liabilities. This includes income taxes, Medicare tax and Social Security taxes. The employer can also claim the ERC in Form 941 for future or current quarters. The employer can use Form 941 to:
- ERCs can be used to reduce the amount of tax that an employer must pay to the IRS.
- If the ERC is greater than the tax that the employer must deposit, you can request an advance payment. Accelerate America 2023 Employee Retention Credit Guide
- Carry over any excess credit into the following quarter
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the newest version of the Form 941, which reflects changes to laws that impact the ERC.
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use Line 11c to report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 13d to report the amount of credit claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 13f to declare any advance payments received from the IRS.
- Use Line 24 to request an advance payment of the credit if needed
- Use Line 25 to report any credit excess that can be carried over to the next quarter.
- Sign Form 941, date it and attach any documents or schedules that you wish to include.
Some tips and resources for filling out Form 941 are:
- Form 941 can be submitted faster and more securely by using electronic filing (efile) or online services
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941, the ERC, and other IRS forms can be found on the IRS website.
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarifications and assistance if you need it.
Form 941-X is used to correct errors or make adjustments on a previously filed Form 941. Form 941-X also allows the employer to claim the ERC retroactively for past quarters. Form 941-X can be used by the employer to: Accelerate America 2023 Employee Retention Credit Guide
- Claim a credit or refund for the taxes you overpaid by claiming ERC
- Report additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees that were not reported on Form 941
- Correction of errors or omissions on Form 941 which affect credit amount claimed
Employers can avoid common mistakes by filling in Form 941X correctly.
- Use the latest Form 941-X which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- Follow the instructions and worksheets provided by the IRS for calculating and reporting the ERC
- Use Part 2 for indicating which lines of the Form 941 need to be corrected or adjusted
- Use Part 3 for explaining why form 941 has been corrected or adjusted
- Use Line 24 to report any additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 25 for any additional credit claimed each quarter.
- Use Line 26 when reporting any refund or credit that you have requested as a result of claiming your ERC
- Attach any supporting documents and schedules to Form 941-X.
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 X include:
- Filter a separate Form 941/X for every quarter that needs to be corrected or adjusted Accelerate America 2023 Employee Retention Credit Guide
- File Form 941-X as soon as possible after discovering an error or making an 0adjustment on Form 941
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about the ERC and Form 941X.
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarification or additional assistance.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The last day to file Form 941 usually falls on the last month after the end of each quarterly period. For example, Q1 2020 (January-March) Form 941 will be due on April 30, 2021. If an employer has made all the required deposits for the quarter in a timely manner, they can file Forms 941 on the 10th of the second month. Following the end of the quarter. For example, for Q1 2021 (January-March), Form 941 is due by May 10, 2021, Accelerate America 2023 Employee Retention Credit Guide
Form 941X must be filed within three years of the original filing date or two from the payment date, whichever comes later. For example, Q1 2019 (January to March), Form 941 had to be submitted by April 30, 2019. If an employer submitted Forms 941 on 30 April 2020 and the tax was paid on 30 April 2020, it is now April 2023 before they can file Forms 941-X. If an employer filed form 941 on April 30 2020 and paid the tax by June 15, 2020, then the deadline to file Form 941-X will be June 15, 2022.
The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a valuable tax benefit that can help employers who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic keep their employees on the payroll and reduce the impact of the pandemic on their businesses or organizations.
The ERC is a refundable tax credit. It varies based on time, number of employees, and amount of wages and health insurance paid to eligible employees. The ERC may be claimed through IRS Forms 941 and 941X, which require the employer to report the qualified wages paid and the health insurance expenses incurred by each employee.
Do not miss out on this opportunity if you’re an employer that meets the ERC eligibility criteria. The ERC does not last forever. It has a deadline, and there is a statute of limitations for claiming the ERC. To avoid making common mistakes, you should fill out the forms correctly using the information and tips in this article. If needed, you can also reach out to the IRS or a professional tax advisor for clarification or help.
ERCs are a powerful tool that can help your company or organization, as well as your employees. It can be used to help retain your employees, maintain your cash flow, and recover in the event of a pandemic. This article aims to provide you with more information about the ERC. Thanks for reading and please stay safe.
Accelerate America 2023 Employee Retention Credit Guide
What is ERC and what does it do?
Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a tax incentive for employers that retained their employees on their payrolls during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
It was created by the CARES Act in March 2020 and was later amended and extended by the CAA (Consolidated Appropriations Act) in December 2020, and the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) in March 2021
Who is eligible for the ERC?
Not everyone is eligible for the ERC. It is only available to employers who have retained employees and paid their wages to them between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
You can read more about the criteria here. Here are some highlights.
- A government order imposed a suspension (full or partial) on the business or organization due to COVID-19.
- The gross receipts they had for a calendar-quarter in 2020, 2021 or both were less than 10% of their gross receipts during the same quarter last year.
- These businesses are recovery startups that have been in operation since February 15, 2020. They also generate gross revenues of no more than $1 million on average per year.
How much is ERC?
The amount of ERC an organization or business receives depends on several factors.
Among these factors are the time period, employee count, amount of qualifying wages and health insurance cost paid to eligible workers. To learn more about how ERCs are calculated, please read the article.
How to claim ERC?
To claim ERC benefits, an employer needs to file Form 941X or federal employment tax reform with the IRS.
Employers are required to report each quarter the total amount claimed as a credit and the wages and insurance premiums paid by eligible employees.
When is the deadline to file the ERC Forms
The deadlines for filing Forms 941 and 941-X are different.
The last day for Form 941 in most cases is the last month following the end each quarter. While the deadline for the Form 941-X will be three years after you filled out the original Form 941. It can also be from two years from the date that the tax was paid, with the later date being the more preferred one.