COVID-19 has caused hardships and unprecedented challenges for businesses and organizations all over the world. Due to lockdowns and social distancing as well as health and safety measures, many employers have seen their revenues and expenses drop, while operations are disrupted.
The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC) is a refundable credit that employers can use to offset payroll costs.
The ERC was first enacted by the CARES Act in 2020 and was later extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 2023. 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 Employee Retention Credit (ERC)? Earned Employee Retention Credit
Employee Retention Credit (ERC), a refundable tax credits, is available for tax-exempt businesses or organizations with employees that were affected in any way by the COVID-19 Pandemic. 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 encourages employers to maintain their workers and to provide health benefits to them during the crisis.
Main Features and 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 amount and percentage vary according to the time period in which it is claimed. In 2020, the 50% percentage and $5,000 limit per employee is applicable for the entire calendar year. For 2021, there is a 70% percentage and a limit of $7,000 per employee per quarter. For 2023, there is a 70% percentage for the first 2 quarters followed by 40% for the second two quarters. There is a $10,000 limit per employee. Earned Employee Retention Credit
- The credit is fully refundable, meaning that if the amount of the credit exceeds the employer’s payroll tax liability, the excess will be paid to the employer as a refund.
- Employers can claim this credit if they experienced a significant decrease in gross receipts due to an order from the government relating to COVID-19. Employers who are considered to be recovery startup businesses may also claim this credit, but only for 2023.
- The credit may be claimed by filing a modified employment tax return (941-X), or by reducing the employment tax deposits to prepare for the credit. Employers can also request an advance payment of the credit by filing Form 7200.
To qualify as an employer for the Employee retention Credit (ERC), you must meet at least one of the two criteria below:
- A government order suspended the employer’s organization or business in full or part due to COVID-19 for a calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021
- The employer’s gross receipts for a calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021 were less than 50% (for 2020) or 80% (for 2021) of its gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019
In addition, there is a special rule for recovery startup businesses that began operations after February 15, 2020 and have average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million. These businesses can be eligible for ERC regardless of their revenue decline or suspension.
A business or organization is considered fully or partially suspended by a government order if:
- The order prohibits travel, group meetings, and commerce due to COVID-19
- The order has an impact on the business or organization
- The order will apply to any calendar month in 2020 or even 2021
Some examples of government orders that can cause a business suspension are:
- Stay-at-home orders that restrict non-essential businesses from operating
- Certain businesses have curfews that limit their hours of operations
- Limits to the number of clients or customers that a company can serve
- Bans on travel or restrictions on the ability to transport goods or service by a business
An employer should consider the following factors to determine if an order from a government has suspended a business in its entirety or only partially.
- The scope and nature of the order as well as how it impacts the business.
- The length and frequency of your order and the way it corresponds to the calendar quarters
- The magnitude and impact of the order upon the revenue and expenses of a business
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 receipts for any calendar quarter in 2021 were less than 80% of its gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019
Gross receipts are the total amount that a business or organization has received or accrued from all sources, during its annual accounting period. Gross receipts include the following:
- Sales of goods and services
- Dividends, rents, and royalties, as well as interest, are all examples of annuities.
- Contributions, gifts, grants, and donations Earned Employee Retention Credit
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross business income
Employers must use the following formulas to calculate gross receipts and compare them between quarters.
- It should use the same method of accounting, either cash or accrual, that it used for its federal income tax returns for 2019.
- It will use the same calendar year quarters for 2019/2021 as it did to file its federal Employment Tax Returns (Form 941).
- It is the same income sources that were reported on the federal income tax returns for 2019.
Recovery Startup Business
A startup that is in recovery can be defined as
- Begun carrying on any business after February 15th, 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
A recovery startup business can qualify for the ERC regardless of whether it meets the criteria of business suspension or revenue decline. Recovery startup businesses are subject to certain restrictions and special rules.
- The maximum credit amount per quarter is $50,000
- The credit can only be used for wages paid between the third and the fourth quarters of 2020
- Credits for recovery startups are subject to a maximum of $250 million.
Credit Amounts Calculation
The ERC has different rules and amounts for different periods of time and different types of employers. The ERC is primarily affected by:
- The employer’s business has been affected by the pandemic. This could be due to the government ordering the closure or reduction of operations or a significant drop in income from 2019.
- How many employees an employer had in 2019, 2020/2021 or whether they worked, or did not work during the pandemic
- What the employer paid each employee for their health insurance and during 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 then check the forms before giving the money to employers. The employer can use the money to pay their employees and their health insurance or to get refunds or credits for their payroll taxes.
The ERC will not be available indefinitely. The ERC started in March 2020 and ends in September 2022. The employer is required to claim ERCs before they expire, or are no longer available. The employer should also make sure to not waste the money. Earned Employee Retention Credit
Below you will find detailed information on ERC, including the amount of credit and the calculation.
In 2020, 2021, & 2022, different laws were passed to introduce, amend, and terminate the ERC. The amount of credit depends on the time frame for which it’s 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 and type of employees can affect the definition and calculation for qualified wages and health care costs. 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 all the rules and thresholds that determine an employer’s size.
|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)
Earnings and Costs of Health Insurance
Qualified wages include wages paid to eligible workers during a business suspension or revenue decrease. Qualified wage includes tips and bonuses, as well as severance, pays, sick leave payments, family leave payments and other types of compensation. Qualified wages also include the cost of providing health insurance to eligible employees, such as premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance.
The calculation of qualified wages, health insurance costs and employer size depends on the time period. The table below summarizes rules and examples in different scenarios. Earned Employee Retention Credit
|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|
Claiming and Reporting the Credit
For the Internal Revenue Service to grant the Employee Retention credit (ERC), employers must file either a federal tax return for employment (Form 941), or an amended tax return for employment (Form941-X). The employer will need to declare the qualified wages paid and the health insurance expenses paid for eligible employees. They must also report the credit claimed.
Form 941 reports the quarterly federal tax liability of an employer, including income tax and Medicare taxes. Form 941 also allows the employer to claim the ERC for current or future quarters. The employer can use the Form 941 for:
- ERC reduces the amount that employers must deposit with the IRS in order to pay taxes.
- Request an advance payment of the ERC if the credit exceeds the taxes that the employer has to deposit Earned Employee Retention Credit
- Carry forward any excess credits to future quarters
To fill out Form 941 correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest version of Form 941 that reflects the changes and updates made by the laws that affect the ERC
- Follow the IRS instructions and worksheets for calculating the ERC and reporting it.
- Use Line 11c to declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify.
- Use Line 13d when reporting the credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 13f to declare any advance payments received from the IRS.
- Use Line 24 to request a credit advance if necessary
- Line 25 is the place to enter any excess credit which can be carried to a subsequent quarter.
- Sign Form 941, date it and attach any documents or schedules that you wish to include.
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 include:
- Use electronic filing (e-file) or online services to submit Form 941 faster and more securely
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC and Form 941.
- Need clarification? Contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
Forms 941-X are used to rectify errors or make adjustments to Forms 941 previously submitted. The Form 941X allows the employer retroactively to claim ERC for previous quarters. Form 941-X can be used by the employer to: Earned Employee Retention Credit
- Claim the ERC to get a refund of taxes that you have overpaid.
- Report additional qualified wages paid and health insurance premiums paid to eligible workers that have not been reported on Form 941
- The amount of credit claimed will be affected by any mistakes or omissions in Form 941.
To avoid making common errors and fill out the Form 941-X correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest version of Form 941-X that reflects the changes and updates made by the laws that affect the ERC
- Follow the IRS instructions and worksheets for calculating the ERC and reporting it.
- Use Part 2 to indicate which lines of Form 941 are being corrected or adjusted
- Use Part 3 of Form 941 to explain why it is being amended or corrected
- Use Line 24 for any additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible workers
- Use Line 25 to claim any additional credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 26 to report any credit or refund due to the ERC claim.
- Sign and date Form 941-X and attach any supporting documents or schedules
Here are some tips and resources to help you fill out Form 941X:
- Filter a separate Form 941/X for every quarter that needs to be corrected or adjusted Earned Employee Retention Credit
- Fill out Form 941-X immediately after you find an error in Form 941
- Visit the IRS website to get the latest updates, FAQs, and guidance regarding Form 941-X, the ERC, and other forms.
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The deadline for submitting Form 941 generally falls on the last calendar day of the following month. For example for Q1 (2021) (January – March), Form 941 should be submitted by April 30, 2019. 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. The end of the quarter. For example, for Q1 2021 (January-March), Form 941 is due by May 10, 2021, Earned Employee Retention Credit
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 example, for Q1 2020 (January-March), Form 941 was due by April 30, 2020. If the employer has filed Forms 941 and paid tax by April 30th 2020, they have until April 30th 2023 to submit Form 941X. 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 Credit is a valuable tax credit that can assist employers affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic to keep their employees and reduce the impact on their business or organization.
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. You can claim the ERC by submitting Form 941 to the IRS. This form will ask you for the number of employees, the amount paid in qualified wages and insurance costs each quarter, and how much credit is being claimed.
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 are a powerful tool that can help your company or organization, as well as your employees. It can help you retain your workers, maintain your cash flow, and recover from the pandemic. We hope that this article helped you to understand more about ERC and the claim process. Thank you for reading. Stay safe.
Earned Employee Retention Credit
What is the ERC?
Employee Retention Credit is an employer tax credit available to employers who kept their employees on payroll during COVID-19.
The CARES Act created the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 in March 2021. Later, the CAA (Consolidated Appropriations Act), in December 2020, was amended and expanded by ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021), in March 2021.
Does everyone qualify for the ERC program?
The ERC is not available to everyone. Employers only eligible for the ERC are those who have retained and paid wages to their employees between March 14, 2020 and Dec 31, 2021.
There are also criteria for eligibility; more details can be read above, but here are the highlights:
- A government order has suspended the business or organization (wholly or partially) due to COVID-19.
- Their gross receipts for a calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021 were less than a percentage of their gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019.
- They are a recovery startup business that began operations after February 15, 2020, and has average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million.
How much is ERC?
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. You can read the article above for a more detailed explanation of how ERC is calculated.
How to claim the ERC?
To claim the ERC, an employer must file a federal employment tax reform or an adjusted employment tax return (Form 941-X) with the IRS.
The employer must provide a quarterly report detailing the wages, health insurance and other costs that are eligible for credit as well as the amount claimed.
When is the deadline to submit the ERC form?
The deadlines for filing Forms 941 and 941-X are different.
Form 941 deadline is typically the last of the month following each quarter. While the deadline for the Form 941-X will be three years after you filled out the original Form 941. This can also be up to two years, based on the date when the tax is paid.