COVID-19, the pandemic that has swept across the globe in recent years, has brought unprecedented challenges and hardships to businesses and organisations around. Lockdowns, social distance, health and security measures and lockdowns have caused many employers to face reduced revenue, increased expenses and disruptions in their operations.
The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC) is a refundable credit that employers can use to offset payroll costs.
The ERC has been in place since 2020 when the CARES Act was passed. Later, in 2021 and again in 2023, it was modified and extended by new legislation. This article will explain what the ERC is, how it works, and how to claim it for different time periods and eligibility criteria.
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)? Employee Retention Credit Business Interruption
Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a refundable credit available to tax-exempt and for-profit organizations and businesses that have employees who were 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 encourages employers to maintain their workers and to provide health benefits to them during the crisis.
Main Features and Benefits
- Credit is a fixed percentage of qualifying wages and health care costs paid by employers to employees.
- The credit limit and percentage are dependent on the period of time for which you claim the credit. For 2020 the percentage is set at 50%, while the maximum per employee is set at $5,000. For 2021, it is 70%. The limit is $7,000 per quarter per employee. 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. Employee Retention Credit Business Interruption
- 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. The credit can be claimed by employers who have been classified as recovery startups only until 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.
Employers who wish to qualify for Employee Retention Credit (ERC) must meet two main criteria.
- 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 revenues for a quarterly calendar period in 2020, 2021 or both were less that 50% (for the 2020 quarter) or 80% (2021 quarter) of its gross revenue for the same year-ago quarter.
The recovery startup rule also applies to businesses that began operating after February 14, 2020 and had average annual gross receipts not exceeding $1 million. These businesses can be eligible for ERC regardless of their revenue decline or suspension.
An order of the government can suspend a business or an organization in full or part if it:
- The order restricts the commerce, travel and group meetings that are prohibited by COVID-19
- The order has an impact on the business or organization
- The order applies to all calendar quarters in 2020 and 2021
Here are some examples of government orders that can result in a business being suspended:
- Stay-at-home orders that restrict non-essential businesses from operating
- Certain businesses are subject to curfews which limit their hours of operation
- 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 scope of the order and how it affects the operations of the business
- The order’s duration, frequency, and alignment with the calendar quarters
- The order’s impact on revenues and expenses
It is considered a significant decrease in gross revenue if a business has:
- 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 of any quarter in calendar 2021 were below 80% of the gross receipts in the same quarter for 2019.
Gross receipts can be defined as all the money received by an organization or business from any source during their annual accounting period, without deductions. Gross receipts consist of:
- Sales of goods and Services
- Interest, dividends rents royalties and annuities
- Donations, contributions, grants and gifts Employee Retention Credit Business Interruption
- Membership dues
- Gross revenue from businesses or trades
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
- The same quarters in the calendar year as those used for the federal employment tax returns (Form 941) filed by 2019 and 2020/2021
- The same sources reported on your federal income tax form for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A startup that is in recovery can be defined as
- Start any new business or occupation after February 15, 2019,
- 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. There are certain limitations and rules that apply to recovery startups businesses.
- Maximum credit per quarter: $50,000
- Only wages paid during the third and fourth quarters in 2021 are eligible for this credit
- The credit is subject to an overall cap of $250 million for all recovery startup businesses
Credit Amounts Calculation
ERCs have different rules and amounts depending on the length of time and type of employer. The ERC is affected primarily by:
- How much of the employer’s income was affected in 2019 by the pandemic.
- How many employees the employer had in 2019 or 2020/2021, and whether they worked or not during the pandemic
- How much did the employer pay each employee in health insurance?
To receive the ERC, employers must submit forms to the IRS. The employer has to fill out the forms and show how much he paid his employees, as well their health insurance, to qualify for 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.
ERCs are not available forever. The ERC started in March 2020 and ends in September 2022. The employer has to claim the ERC before it expires or becomes unavailable. The employer also has to use the money wisely and not waste it. Employee Retention Credit Business Interruption
The following information provides more details on the ERC credit and how it is calculated.
The ERC was introduced, amended, and terminated by different laws in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Credit amounts vary depending on when they are 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 employed affects how wages are calculated and defined, as well as the health insurance premiums for eligible employees. The size of an employer depends on its number of FTEs and the time period. 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 are wages that eligible employees receive during periods of suspension or decline in revenue. Other forms of compensation are also included in qualified wages, such as tips, bonuses and commissions. Qualified salaries also include the costs of providing health coverage to eligible workers, including premiums, copays, deductibles, and coinsurance.
The employer size, the time period and the calculation of the qualified wage and health insurance cost will affect the calculation. Table 1 summarizes and gives examples of rules in various scenarios. Employee Retention Credit Business Interruption
|Employer Size||Time Period||Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs||Example|
|Small||2020||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||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)||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
To claim the Employees Retention Credit, an employer must file with the Internal Revenue Service a federal Employment Tax Return (Form941) or a adjusted Employment Tax return (Form941X). The employer must declare the wages and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees, as well as the credit amount claimed each quarter.
Form 941 allows employers to declare their quarterly federal taxes, including income taxes, Medicare and Social Security tax. Form 941 also allows the employer to claim the ERC for current or future quarters. 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. Employee Retention Credit Business Interruption
- Carry forward any excess credit to subsequent quarters
To avoid making common errors and fill out Form 941 correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest version 941 which reflects updates and changes in 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 to report the amount of credit claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 13f to declare any advance payments received from the IRS.
- Use Line 24 to request an advance payment of the credit if needed
- Use Line 25 to report any excess credit that can be carried forward to subsequent quarters
- Sign and date Form 941 and attach any supporting documents or schedules
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out Form 941 here:
- Use online services or electronic filing to submit Form 941 more quickly and securely
- Check the IRS website for updates, FAQs, and guidance on Form 941 and the ERC
- Need clarification? Contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
Form 941-X allows you to correct mistakes or make adjustments in Form 941 that has already been filed. The employer can also claim the ERC retroactively by using Form 941X. The employer can use Form 941-X to: Employee Retention Credit Business Interruption
- Claim refunds or credits for taxes overpaid due to the ERC
- Report additional qualified earnings and health benefits paid to eligible employee that weren’t reported on Form 941.
- Correct any errors or omissions you find on Form 941, which may affect your credit claim.
To fill out Form 941-X correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest version of Form 941-X that reflects the changes and updates made by the laws that affect the ERC
- The IRS has provided worksheets to help you calculate the ERC.
- Use Part 2 for indicating which lines of the Form 941 need to be corrected or adjusted
- Use Part 3 to explain your corrections or adjustments on Form 941.
- 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.
- Attach any supporting documents and schedules to Form 941-X.
Some tips and resources for filling out Form 941-X are:
- File a separate Form 941-X for each quarter that is being corrected or adjusted Employee Retention Credit Business Interruption
- Fill out Form 941-X immediately after you find an error in Form 941
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC, Form 941 X, and updates to 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 for Q1 (2021) (January – March), Form 941 should be submitted by April 30, 2019. The employer can still file Form 941 if they have deposited their taxes on time. Following the end of the quarter. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. Employee Retention Credit Business Interruption
Form 941X must be filed within three years of the original filing date or two from the payment date, whichever comes later. For Q1 2020 (January – March), for example, Form 941 is due on 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.
The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a valuable tax benefit that can help employers who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic keep their employees on the payroll and reduce the impact of the pandemic on their businesses or organizations.
The ERC can be claimed by filing Form 941 or Form 941-X with the IRS and reporting the qualified wages and costs of health insurance paid to eligible workers. The ERC may be claimed through IRS Forms 941 and 941X, which require the employer to report the qualified wages paid and the health insurance expenses incurred by each employee.
Do not miss out on this opportunity if you’re an employer that meets the ERC eligibility criteria. The ERC does not last forever. It has a deadline, and there is a statute of limitations for claiming the ERC. The forms should be filed as soon as you can. You can use the resources and advice provided in this post to avoid common mistakes and fill them out correctly. For clarifications or help, you can always contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
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. We hope that this article helped you to understand more about ERC and the claim process. We thank you for reading. Please stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Business Interruption
What is the ERC?
The Employee Retention Credit is a tax credit for employers who retained their employees in their payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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?
ERCs are not available to all. 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.
More details are available above. But here are some of the highlights.
- A government order suspended the business (fully or partly) because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
- 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.
- 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 the ERC?
The amount that an organization or company receives in ERC will depend on many factors.
Among these factors are the time period, employee count, amount of qualifying wages and health insurance cost paid to eligible workers. The article above provides a detailed explanation on how ERC is calculated.
How to claim your 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 for Filing the ERC Forms?
The deadlines for filing ERC forms for Forms 941 and form 941 X are different.
The deadline for Form 941 is usually the last day in the month after the end of every quarter. For Form 941X, the deadline is three years following the date on which the original form 941 was filed. The deadline can be two years after the date the tax was paid. However, the latter date is preferred.