COVID-19 has caused hardships and unprecedented challenges for businesses and organizations all over the world. Many employers have faced reduced revenues, increased expenses, and disrupted operations due to lockdowns, social distancing, 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The ERC, which was originally enacted in 2020 by the CARES Act, was extended and modified later by subsequent legislation in both 2021 & 2023. This article will describe what the ERC does, how it operates, and explain how to 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? Employee Retention Act Credit
The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a refundable tax credit for businesses and tax-exempt organizations that had employees and were affected 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 aims to encourage employers to keep their workers on the payroll and provide them with health benefits during the crisis.
Main Features and Benefits
- The credit is a percentage of wages and health insurance premiums paid by eligible employees. There are limits per employee, per quarter.
- The credit limit and percentage are dependent on the period of time for which you claim the credit. 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, the percentage will be 70% for the two first quarters and 40% for the two last quarters. The limit per employee per quarter is $10,000. Employee Retention Act Credit
- The credit is fully refundable. If the amount of credit exceeds an employer’s liability for payroll tax, the excess will then be paid back to the employer.
- The credit can be claimed by employers who experienced a significant decline in gross receipts or a full or partial suspension of operations due to a qualifying government order related to COVID-19. The credit can be claimed by employers who have been classified as recovery startups only until 2023.
- Credits may be obtained by filing a revised employment tax form (Form 941X) or reducing employment deposit amounts in anticipation. Employers can also request an advance payment of the credit by filing Form 7200.
To qualify for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must meet one of the following two main criteria:
- A government order has suspended or halted the business or organization of an employer due to COVID-19 in a calendar year 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 are eligible for the ERC, regardless of whether their business has been suspended or if revenue has declined.
A government order will either fully or partially suspend an organization or business if:
- The order limits travel, commerce or group meetings as a result of COVID-19
- The order has a direct impact on the operations of an organization or business
- This order is applicable to any calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021
Here are some examples of government orders that can result in a business being suspended:
- Stay-at-home orders restricting non-essential business operations
- Curfews that limit the hours of operation for certain businesses
- Capacity limitations that reduce the amount of customers or clientele that a firm can service
- Travel restrictions or bans that impact the ability of an organization to transport goods and services
Employers must take into account the following to determine whether a business has been suspended in full or in part by an order of government:
- The nature and extent of the order, and its impact on the operation of your business
- The length and frequency of your order and the way it corresponds to the calendar quarters
- The extent and severity of the impact of the order on the revenues and expenses of the business
A business or organization is considered to have experienced a significant decline in gross receipts if:
- The gross revenue for any calendar-quarter in 2020 was less than 50 percent of the gross revenues for the same period 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 refer to the total of all money received or accrued during a company’s annual accounting period. Gross receipts include the following:
- Sales of Goods and Services
- Rents, dividends, and annuities are examples of income streams that include interest, dividends.
- Donations, contributions, grants and gifts Employee Retention Act Credit
- Membership 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.
- The same calendar year quarters that it used to file its federal employment tax returns (Form 941) for 2019 and 2020/2021
- The same sources of revenue that they reported on their federal income tax return in 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A recovery startup is a business:
- After February 15, 2020, you can start any business or trade.
- 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 startups are not exempt from certain rules and restrictions.
- The maximum credit amount per quarter is $50,000
- The credit is only applicable to wages paid for the third and fourth quarters of 2021
- Credits for recovery startups are subject to a maximum of $250 million.
Credit Amount and Calculation
For different lengths of time, different types of employers and different amounts of ERC, the ERC has different rules. The ERC is affected primarily by:
- How much an employer’s company was affected by the pandemic.
- 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
To receive the ERC, employers must submit forms to the IRS. The employer must provide proof of how much they paid their employees for health insurance as well as the ERC. The IRS will check the forms and give the money to the employer. The employer can then use the money for paying their employees, their health insurance and/or to receive refunds or credits on their payroll tax.
The ERC will not be available indefinitely. The ERC will expire in September 2022. The employer must claim ERC before the expiration date or when it becomes unavailable. The employer should also make sure to not waste the money. Employee Retention Act 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 credit amount varies depending on the time period for which it is claimed. The following table summarizes and compares the ERC’s main features for each 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 following table summarizes rules and thresholds to determine employer 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)
Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages include wages paid to eligible workers during a business suspension or revenue decrease. Qualified wages include tips, commissions, bonuses, severance pay, sick leave pay, family leave pay, and other forms of compensation. Qualified earnings also include costs associated with providing health insurance coverage to eligible employees. These include premiums as well as deductibles.
The definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs depend on the employer size and the time period. This table summarises the rules and provides examples for various scenarios. Employee Retention Act 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 has to report each quarter the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who are eligible and the credit claimed.
Form 941 is used to report the employer’s quarterly federal tax liability, including income tax, social security tax, and Medicare tax. Form 941 allows employers to claim ERCs for current or future quarterly periods. Form 941 can be used by the employer 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. Employee Retention Act Credit
- Carry over any excess credit into the following quarter
To fill out Form 941 correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the newest version of the Form 941, which reflects changes to laws that impact the ERC.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Line 11c to declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify.
- Report the amount of credit claimed each quarter using Line 13d.
- Use Line 13f to report any advance payments of the credit received from the IRS
- Use Line 24 if you require an advance credit payment.
- Report any credit balance that may be carried forward into the next quarter using Line 25
- Sign the form 941, and attach any supporting documents.
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out Form 941 here:
- Use electronic filing services (efile) and online services to submit the Form 941 faster, more securely
- Visit the IRS website to get the latest updates, FAQs, and guidance regarding Form 941 and ERC.
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarifications and assistance if you need it.
The Form 941X can be used to make corrections or adjustments on an earlier Form 941. Form 941-X also allows the employer to claim the ERC retroactively for past quarters. Employers can use Form 941/X for Employee Retention Act Credit
- Claim refunds or credits for taxes overpaid due to the ERC
- Report any additional wages or health insurance costs that are paid to employees who are eligible but not reported on Form 951.
- Correct any errors or omissions you find on Form 941, which may affect your credit claim.
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 X and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the latest version of Form 941-X that reflects the changes and updates made by the laws that affect the ERC
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use Part 2 for indicating which lines of the Form 941 need to be corrected or adjusted
- Use Part 3 of Form 941 to explain why it is being amended or corrected
- Use Line 24 to declare any additional qualified wages or health insurance costs paid by eligible employees.
- Use Line 25 to report any additional amount of credit claimed for 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.
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 Employee Retention Act Credit
- After making a correction or finding an error, you should file Form 941X.
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941X and ERC can be found on the IRS website.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
Form 941 must be filed by the last date of the month that follows the end each quarter. 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, the Q1 of 2021 is January-March. The Form 941 should be received by May 10th, 2021. Employee Retention Act 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 Q1 of 2020 (January through March), the deadline for Form 941 to be filed was 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 employers filed Forms 941 and paid taxes on June 15, 2019, the deadline is June 15, 2022.
Employee Retention credit (ERC), a valuable benefit under tax law, can help employers who have been affected by COVID-19 keep their staff on payroll and minimize the impact of pandemic.
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.
You should not miss the opportunity to benefit from this tax incentive if you are an eligible employer. 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 you need clarification or assistance, you can contact the IRS.
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. This article aims to provide you with more information about the ERC. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Employee Retention Act Credit
What is an ERC?
Employee Retention Credit: This is a credit that employers can claim if they retained employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CARES Act, passed by Congress in March of this year, was amended in December of that year by the CAA Act. In March 2021, the ARPA Act (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021), was extended.
Are all ERC applicants eligible?
ERCs are not available to all. 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-issued order temporarily or permanently suspended the organization or business due to COVID-19.
- Their gross revenues for a quarter calendar in 2020 or in 2021 were lower than a percentage compared to their gross revenues for the same period in 2019.
- The business is a startup that started operations after February 15, 2020, and has an average gross revenue of less than $1 million.
How much is ERC?
The amount that an organization or company receives in ERC will depend on many 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. If you want a more detailed explanation, read the above article.
How to claim 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 submit quarterly reports detailing the amounts of the tax credit, the wages paid and the health insurance premiums that they have claimed to be reimbursed.
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. The deadline for Forms 941-X, however, is usually three years after the date the original Form was completed. The deadline can be two years after the date the tax was paid. However, the latter date is preferred.