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 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 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 Credit Alternative Quarter Election
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 was established by the CARES Act of 2020 and extended and modified in subsequent legislations in 2021 and in 2023. The ERC encourages employers to maintain their workers and to provide health benefits to them during the crisis.
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 percentage and the maximum credit vary depending on how long the credit can be claimed. For 2020, the percentage is 50%, and the limit is $5,000 per employee for the entire year. 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. Employee Retention Credit Alternative Quarter Election
- 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. In addition, employers who qualify as recovery-startup businesses for 2023 can also claim the credits.
- The credit can be claimed by filing an amended employment tax return (Form 941-X) or by reducing employment tax deposits in anticipation of the credit. Employers can also request an advance payment of the credit by filing Form 7200.
To qualify for Employee Retention credit (ERC), employers must meet either of two main criteria.
- 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
- 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.
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 may qualify for ERC regardless of revenue or business suspension.
An order of the government can suspend a business or an organization in full or part if it:
- The order prohibits travel, group meetings, and commerce due to 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
Examples of government orders which can lead to a suspension of business include:
- Stay-at-home orders restricting non-essential business operations
- Curfews that limit the hours of operation for certain businesses
- Limits on the capacity of a business that limit how many customers or clients it can serve
- Travel bans and restrictions that restrict the ability for a company to transport services or goods
To determine if the business was partially or fully suspended by an official order, employers must consider:
- The order’s nature, scope, and impact on 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 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 of any quarter in calendar 2021 were below 80% of the gross receipts in the same quarter for 2019.
Gross receipts refer to the total of all money received or accrued during a company’s annual accounting period. Gross receipts consist of:
- Sales of goods & services
- Dividends (rents), royalties and interest
- Contributions are gifts, donations and grants Employee Retention Credit Alternative Quarter Election
- Dues and fees for membership
- Gross business income
To compare gross revenues for different quarters an employer can use:
- Use the same method (cash or accrual accounting) as it used when filing its federal income taxes for 2019
- For 2019 and 2020/2021, the same quarters of the calendar year that were used for filing federal employment tax returns on Form 941.
- It is the same income sources that were reported on the federal income tax returns for 2019.
Recovery Startup Business
A recovery startup business is a business that:
- After February 15, 2020, you can start any business or trade.
- The average annual gross receipts for the three tax years ending in the year preceding the quarter for which credit is calculated cannot exceed $1 million
A recovery startup business can qualify for the ERC regardless of whether it meets the criteria of business suspension or revenue decline. There are certain limitations and rules that apply to recovery startups businesses.
- The maximum credit per quarter will be $50,000
- Only wages paid during the third and fourth quarters in 2021 are eligible for this credit
- The maximum credit available for startup businesses is $250 million.
Credit Amount and Calculation
There are different ERC rules and amounts for different employers and periods of time. 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.
- What number of employees did the employer have in 2019 and 2020/2021?
- The amount of money paid by the employer to each employee as well as their health insurance during pandemic
The employer has to fill out some forms and send them to the IRS to claim the ERC. The forms have to show how much the employer paid to their employees and their health insurance and why they qualify for 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 no longer be available. The ERC began in March 2020, and it will end in September 2022. The employer must claim the ERC prior to its expiration or becoming unavailable. Employers must also use the money well and not waste it. Employee Retention Credit Alternative Quarter Election
The following information provides more details on the ERC credit and how it is calculated.
Different laws introduced, amended and terminated the ERC in 2020, 2021 and 2022. The amount of the credit varies according to the time period that it is applied for. 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 of employees affects the definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs 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. This table summarizes thresholds and rules to determine the size of an employer for each 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. The list of qualified wages includes tips, bonuses, commissions, and severance payments, as well as sick leave, family leave, severance, and other compensation. Qualified wages include health insurance costs for eligible employees such as co-pays and deductibles.
The calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages are dependent on the size of the employer and the time period. The following table summarizes the rules and examples for different scenarios: Employee Retention Credit Alternative Quarter Election
|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 the Credit and Report It
To claim the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must file a federal employment tax return (Form 941) or an adjusted employment tax return (Form 941-X) with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 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 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 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.
- Employers can request a payment in advance if their ERC is higher than the taxes they are required to pay. Employee Retention Credit Alternative Quarter Election
- Carry over any excess credit into the following quarter
To fill out Form 941 correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest Form 941, which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- The IRS has provided worksheets to help you calculate the ERC.
- Use line 11c to report qualified wages paid and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 13d when reporting the credit for each quarter.
- Line 13f should be used to report any advance payments made by the IRS.
- Line 24 is the place to ask for an advance payment if you need it.
- Line 25 is the place to enter any excess credit which can be carried to a subsequent quarter.
- Sign and date Form 941 and attach any supporting documents or schedules
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941.
- Use online services (e-file or online filing) to submit Form 941, faster and with greater security.
- Check the IRS website for updates, FAQs, and guidance on Form 941 and the ERC
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
Form 941-X allows you to correct mistakes or make adjustments in Form 941 that has already been filed. The Form 941X allows the employer retroactively to claim ERC for previous quarters. Form 941-X can be used by the employer to: Employee Retention Credit Alternative Quarter Election
- Claim a credit or refund for the taxes you overpaid by claiming ERC
- Report additional qualified wages paid and health insurance premiums paid to eligible workers that have not been reported on Form 941
- Correct any mistakes or omissions made on Form 941 that affect the amount of credit claimed
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
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Part 2 to indicate which lines of Form 941 are being corrected or adjusted
- Use Part 3 for explaining why form 941 has been corrected or adjusted
- Use Line 24 for any additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible workers
- Use Line 25 to report any additional amount of credit claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 26 for any refunds or credits due to ERC claims.
- Sign the form 941-X, date it and include any documents or schedules that you wish to attach.
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941X.
- For each quarter to be adjusted or corrected, you must submit a different Form 941X. Employee Retention Credit Alternative Quarter Election
- 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.
- Need clarification? Contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The deadline for filing Form 941 is generally the last day of the month following the end of each quarter. For example for Q1 (2021) (January – March), Form 941 should be submitted by April 30, 2019. However, if an employer made timely deposits of all taxes due for a quarter, it can file Form 941 by the 10th day of the second month. After the end quarter. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. Employee Retention Credit Alternative Quarter Election
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 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 by June 15, 2020, then the deadline to file Form 941-X will be June 15, 2022.
Employee Retention (ERC) Credit is an important tax benefit which can help employers that were affected by COVID-19 to retain their employees, and lessen the impact the pandemic had on their organizations or businesses.
The ERC, a refundable credit, varies according to the time period and number of employees as well as the amount of qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to employees who are eligible. The ERC is claimed by filing IRS Form 941 or 941-X and reporting qualified wages, health insurance costs, and the credit amount claimed for each quarter.
Do not miss out on this opportunity if you’re an employer that meets the ERC eligibility criteria. 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. You can contact the IRS for help or clarification, or you could consult a tax expert.
The ERC can make a big difference for your business or organization and 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. Thanks for reading and please stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Alternative Quarter Election
What is ERC?
Employee Retention Credit: This is a credit that employers can claim if they retained employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was created in March of 2020 by the CARES Act and later extended and amended by the CAA Act of December 2020 (Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021).
Is everyone eligible for the ERC?
Not everyone is eligible for the ERC. 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.
- 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.
- It is a recovery-startup business that has been operating since after February 15, 2020. Their average annual gross receipts are no more than one million dollars.
How much does the ERC cost?
The amount of ERC that a company will receive depends on a number of 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 ERC
To receive the ERC, employers must file with the IRS a Form 941-X (revised employment tax returns) or a Federal Employment Tax Reform.
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.
What is the deadline for submitting the ERC forms?
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. It can also be from two years from the date that the tax was paid, with the later date being the more preferred one.