Many businesses and organizations have faced unprecedented hardships and challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 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.
To help employers retain their employees and provide them with health benefits during this difficult time, the U.S. government has introduced the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), a refundable tax credit that can offset some of the payroll costs for eligible employers.
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. This article will explain the ERC, how it functions, and how you can claim it.
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? Covid-19 Employee Retention Credit Program
Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC), is a refundable tax credit for organizations and businesses with employees who have been affected by COVID-19. The ERC is a refundable tax credit that was created by 2020’s CARES Act and has been extended and changed by subsequent legislations of 2021 and 2023. The ERC was created to encourage employers in crisis to keep workers on their payrolls and provide them health insurance.
Main Features and Advantages
- 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. For 2020, the percent is 50%, and the limit is $5,000 for each employee per year. For 2021, the percentage is 70%, and the limit is $7,000 per employee per quarter. 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. Covid-19 Employee Retention Credit Program
- The credit is fully refundable, which means that if it exceeds the employer’s payroll tax liability the excess amount will be returned to the employer.
- Employers may claim the credit if their gross receipts have declined significantly or they have had to suspend operations in whole or part due to a COVID-19-related government order. Employers who are considered to be recovery startup businesses may also claim this credit, but only for 2023.
- Credits can be claimed either by amending your employment tax return (Form 941)-X or by reducing your employment tax deposit in anticipation of receiving the credit. Employers may also request an advanced payment of the credit using Form 7200.
Criteria for Eligibility
Employers who wish to qualify for Employee Retention Credit (ERC) must meet two main criteria.
- The employer’s business or organization was fully or partially suspended by a government order due to COVID-19 during a calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021
- Gross receipts of an employer for a quarter calendar in 2020 or in 2021 are less than half (for 2020) and 80% (for 2021) their gross receipts from the same period in 2019.
There is also a special rule that applies to recovery startups, which are businesses that started operations after February 15th 2020 with gross receipts no higher than $1,000,000 on average. These businesses can be eligible for ERC regardless of their revenue decline or suspension.
A government order can either suspend or fully suspend a company or organization if the following conditions are met:
- The order prohibits travel, group meetings, and commerce due to COVID-19
- The order has an impact on the business or organization
- Order applies to any calendar year in 2020 or 21
Some examples of orders from the government that could cause a business to be suspended are:
- Orders to stay at home that prevent non-essential companies from operating
- Certain businesses are subject to curfews which limit their hours of operation
- Capacity limits that reduce the number of customers or clients that can be served by a business
- Bans on travel or restrictions on the ability to transport goods or service by a business
To determine if a business was fully or partially suspended by a government order, an employer must consider:
- The nature and scope of the order and how it affects the operations of the business
- The duration, frequency of the orders and their alignment with the four quarters calendar.
- The impact and magnitude of the order to the business’s revenues and costs
A significant decline in gross revenues is experienced by a business or organization if:
- The gross receipts from any quarter in 2020 is less than 50% its gross receipts from the same calendar quarter in 2019.
- The gross revenue for any quarter of 2021 was less than 80% that for the same period in 2019.
Gross receipts are the total sums that an organization or a business has accrued or received from all its sources in a given accounting year, without any deductions. Gross receipts are:
- Sales of goods and services
- Dividends, rents, and royalties, as well as interest, are all examples of annuities.
- Gifts, donations, and contributions Covid-19 Employee Retention Credit Program
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross revenue from businesses or trades
To compare gross receipts between different quarters of the year, employers must use:
- Use the same method (cash or accrual accounting) as it used when filing its federal income taxes for 2019
- Use the same calendar quarters as it did for its federal employment tax return (Form 941 ) for 2019 and 2021/2022
- The same sources as reported in the federal tax return for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A recovery startup business is a business that:
- Began carrying on any trade or business after February 15, 2020,
- Has average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million for the three-tax-year period ending with the tax year that precedes the calendar quarter for which the credit is determined
The ERC is available to a recovery startup business regardless of whether or not it meets the criteria for business suspension or revenue decrease. Recovery Startup Businesses are still subject to some restrictions and special rules.
- The maximum credit available per quarter is $50,000
- The credit is only available for wages paid in the third and fourth quarters of 2021
- The credit has a cap of 250 million dollars for all startup businesses that are eligible.
Credit Amount 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 of the employer’s income was affected in 2019 by the pandemic.
- The number of employees that the employer has in 2019 or 2020/2021 and whether or not they worked during the pandemic
- The amount of money paid by the employer to each employee as well as their health insurance during pandemic
To receive the ERC, employers must submit forms to the IRS. The forms must include the total amount paid by the employer to employees, their health insurance coverage and the reasons why they are eligible for the ERC. The IRS will review the forms and pay the money back to the employer. The money can be used by the employer to pay for health insurance, to pay employees, or refunds on payroll taxes.
The ERC will not be available indefinitely. It began in March 2019 and will finish in September 2020. Employers must claim their ERC before they expire or become unavailable. The employer also has to use the money wisely and not waste it. Covid-19 Employee Retention Credit Program
Below is more detailed information on the credit amount and calculation of ERC.
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 table below summarizes key differences and features of the ERCs for 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 employed affects how wages are calculated and defined, as well as the health insurance premiums for eligible employees. 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 table below summarizes the rules and thresholds for determining employer size in 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 refer to wages paid during a period when the business is suspended or revenues are declining. Qualified wage includes tips and bonuses, as well as severance, pays, sick leave payments, family leave payments and other types of compensation. Qualified salaries also include the costs of providing health coverage to eligible workers, including premiums, copays, deductibles, and coinsurance.
The calculation of qualified wages, health insurance costs and employer size depends on the time period. The following table summarizes the rules and examples for different scenarios: Covid-19 Employee Retention Credit Program
|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 the 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 must report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees and the amount of credit claimed for 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. Form 941 is used by the employer to claim ERC for the current quarter or future. Form 941 is used by employers to:
- Reduce the amount of taxes that the employer has to deposit with the IRS by the amount of the ERC
- The employer can request an advanced payment of the ERC credit if it exceeds taxes that they have to deposit. Covid-19 Employee Retention Credit Program
- Carry forward any excess credit to subsequent quarters
To ensure the correct completion of Form 941, and to avoid common errors:
- Use the latest version 941 which reflects updates and changes in the ERC.
- Follow the instructions and worksheets provided by the IRS for calculating and reporting the ERC
- Use Line 11c to report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 13d for the credit claim amount per quarter
- Line 13f is used to report any advance payment of credit received by the IRS
- Line 24 is the place to ask for an advance payment if you need it.
- 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:
- Use electronic filing (e-file) or online services to submit Form 941 faster and more securely
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about Form 941, the ERC.
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
The Form 941 X is used for corrections and adjustments to a Form 941. Form 941 X also allows for the employer to claim ERC retroactively. Form 941-X can be used by the employer to: Covid-19 Employee Retention Credit Program
- Claim the ERC to get a refund of taxes that you have overpaid.
- Report additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible employees which were not reported in Form 941
- Correct any mistakes or omissions made on Form 941 that affect the amount of credit claimed
To fill out Form 941-X correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest version 941-X to reflect the updated laws and regulations that impact the ERC.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Part 2 to indicate the lines on Form 941 that are being corrected or adapted.
- Use Part 3 of Form 941 to explain why it is being amended or corrected
- Line 24 should be used to record any additional health insurance and wages paid to employees who qualify.
- Use Line 25 to report any additional amount of credit claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 26 to report any refund or credit requested due to claiming the ERC
- Attach any supporting documents and schedules to Form 941-X.
Some tips and resources for filling out Form 941-X are:
- You must file a separate 941X form for each quarter you are correcting or adjusting. Covid-19 Employee Retention Credit Program
- If you discover an error on Form 941 or make an adjustment, file Form 941X as soon as you can.
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941X and ERC can be found on the IRS website.
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
Form 941 must be filed by the last date of the month that follows the end each quarter. For Q1 2021 (January-March), the Form 941 must be filed by April 30th, 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. After the end of the quarterly period. For example, Q1 2020 (January to March) requires that Form 941 be returned by May 10, 2021. Covid-19 Employee Retention Credit Program
The deadline for filing Form 941-X is generally three years from the date that the original Form 941 was filed or two years from the date that the tax was paid, whichever is later. For Q1 2020, (January-March), the Form 941 must be filed by April 30th 2020. If an employee filed Form 941 in April 2020 and paid their tax in April 2020, the deadline to file the Form 941 X is April 30 2023. If an employer filed Form 941 on April 30, 2020, and paid the tax on June 15, 2020, the deadline for filing Form 941-X is June 15, 2022.
Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC), is a valuable financial benefit that helps employers to keep their employees employed and reduces the impact COVID-19 has on their organization or business.
The ERC (Eligible Employees Credit) is a tax credit that can vary depending on the time frame, the number and type of employees employed, and the amount paid in wages and insurance to employees eligible for the credit. 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.
If you are an employer who meets the eligibility criteria for the ERC, you should not miss this opportunity to take advantage of this tax benefit. The ERC will not be available indefinitely, and it has a set deadline and statute of limitations. 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 can be a huge help to your organization or business and its employees. You can use it to retain employees, keep your cash flowing, and recover after a pandemic. This article should have helped you learn more about ERCs and how to apply for them. Thank you for reading. Stay safe.
Covid-19 Employee Retention Credit Program
What is ERC?
Employee Retention Credit: This is a credit that employers can claim if they retained employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CARES Act was passed in March 2020. It was amended and extended in December 2020 by the CAA Act (Consolidated Appropriations Act) and in March 2021 by the ARPA Act (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021).
Can everyone apply for ERC?
ERC isn’t available to everyone. The ERC is only available to employers that have paid wages to employees between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
The criteria for eligibility is also listed above. For the highlights, please see:
- A government-issued order temporarily or permanently suspended the organization or business due to COVID-19.
- Their gross receipts in a quarter of 2020 or 2021 are less than the percentage of their gross revenue in the same quarter of 2019.
- The business is a startup that started operations after February 15, 2020, and has an average gross revenue of less than $1 million.
What is the ERC rate?
The amount of ERC a company or organization receives will depend on several factors.
Some of these include the time period and number of employees. Others are the amount paid in qualified wages or health insurance to eligible employees. To learn more about how ERCs are calculated, please read the article.
How do I claim my ERC?
For an employer to claim the ERC, they must file either a federal reform of employment tax or an amended employment tax return (941-X).
Employers must declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify and the credit claimed each quarter.
When is the Deadline for Filing the ERC Forms?
The deadlines for filing ERC forms for Forms 941 and form 941 X are different.
Form 941 deadline is typically the last of the month following each quarter. In contrast, the deadline to submit Form 941 X is generally set at three years since the date of the original 941. It is also possible to choose a date of two years following the date on which the tax was paid.