Many businesses and organizations have faced unprecedented hardships and challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employers have experienced reduced revenues, higher expenses, and disruptions to their operations because of lockdowns, distancing from social media, and health-and-safety measures.
To help employers retain their employees and provide them with health benefits during this difficult time, the U.S. government has introduced the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), a refundable tax credit that can offset some of the payroll costs for eligible employers.
The ERC was first enacted by the CARES Act in 2020 and was later extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 2023. The ERC will be explained in this article, along with how it works and the different eligibility criteria and time periods for which it can be claimed.
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? Employee Retention Credit Checklist
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 has been created by the CARES Act for 2020. It was further extended and modified with subsequent legislation in 2021, 2023. The ERC is designed to encourage employers to retain their employees and offer them health benefits in times of 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 percentage and limit will vary depending on when the credit is claimed. For 2020, the percent is 50%, and the limit is $5,000 for each employee per year. In 2021, 70% of the employees will be eligible for the maximum. The limit per employee is $7,000. 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 Checklist
- 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.
- Employers who have experienced a significant drop in gross receipts or a complete or partial suspension of their operations as a result of a government order relating to COVID-19 can claim the credit. 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 request an advance payment by submitting Form 7200.
To qualify as an employer for the Employee retention Credit (ERC), you must meet at least one of the two criteria below:
- The employer’s business or organization was fully or partially suspended by a government order due to COVID-19 during a calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021
- Gross receipts of an employer for a quarter calendar in 2020 or in 2021 are less than half (for 2020) and 80% (for 2021) their gross receipts from the same period in 2019.
Additionally, there is an additional rule that only applies to startups who began operating on or after February 15, 2021, and have gross receipts totaling no more than $1.0 million. These businesses can qualify for the ERC regardless of business suspension or revenue decline.
A government order will either fully or partially suspend an organization or business if:
- The order restricts commerce, travel or group meetings because of COVID-19
- The order will affect the operation of the business or the 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
- Curfews are restrictions on the hours that certain businesses can operate
- Capacity limitations that reduce the amount of customers or clientele that a firm can service
- Travel bans and restrictions that restrict the ability for a company to transport services or goods
To determine if a business was fully or partially suspended by a government order, an employer must consider:
- The order’s nature, scope, and impact on the business
- The duration, frequency of the orders and their alignment with the four quarters calendar.
- The impact of an order on revenue and expenses
It is considered that a business or organization has experienced a significant drop in gross receipts when:
- 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 from any calendar quarter during 2021 are less than 80% compared to the same quarter’s gross receipts from 2019.
Gross receipts are the total sums that an organization or a business has accrued or received from all its sources in a given accounting year, without any deductions. Gross receipts can include:
- Sales of Goods & Services
- Interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities
- Contributions, gifts, grants, and donations Employee Retention Credit Checklist
- Membership dues
- Gross income from trades or businesses
To calculate and compare gross receipts for different quarters, an employer must use:
- The same method for accounting (cash-based or accrual-based) that was used to file the federal income Tax return for 2019
- Use the same calendar quarters as it did for its federal employment tax return (Form 941 ) for 2019 and 2021/2022
- 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
- You must have started your business after the 15th of February 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 startups are not exempt from certain rules and restrictions.
- Maximum credit per quarter: $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
The ERC has different rules and amounts for different periods of time and different types of employers. The main factors that affect the ERC are:
- 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
- How much did the employer pay each employee in health insurance?
To receive the ERC, employers must submit forms to the IRS. 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 examine the forms to determine if the employer is eligible and then pay him the money. 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. It began in March 2019 and will finish in September 2020. The employer must claim ERC before the expiration date or when it becomes unavailable. Employers must also use the money well and not waste it. Employee Retention Credit Checklist
Below is more detailed information on the credit amount and calculation of ERC.
The ERC has been introduced, modified, and terminated in different laws between 2020 and 2021. Credit amounts vary depending on when they are 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 affects the calculation of qualified wages for employees and their health insurance costs. According to the time frame and number of full-time equivalents (FTEs), an employer can be classified as a small employer or large employer. 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)
Qualified Wages, Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages include wages paid to eligible workers during a business suspension or revenue decrease. Qualified wages can include severance payment, bonuses, severance tips, sick pay, family pay and other forms compensation. Qualified earnings also include costs associated with providing health insurance coverage to eligible employees. These include premiums as well as deductibles.
The calculation of qualified wages, health insurance costs and employer size depends on the time period. Table 1 summarizes and gives examples of rules in various scenarios. Employee Retention Credit Checklist
|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 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 used to report the employer’s quarterly federal tax liability, including income tax, social security tax, and Medicare tax. The employer can also claim the ERC in Form 941 for future or current quarters. The employer can use Form 941 to:
- Reduce the amount of taxes that the employer has to deposit with the IRS by the amount of the ERC
- You can ask for advance payment if your ERC exceeds the amount of taxes you have to pay. Employee Retention Credit Checklist
- Carry forward any excess credit to subsequent quarters
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the latest version 941 which reflects updates and changes in the ERC.
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use line 11c to report qualified wages paid and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 13d to declare the credit amount claimed for each quarter
- Line 13f is used to report any advance payment of credit received by the IRS
- Use Line 24 if you require an advance credit payment.
- Line 25 is the place to enter any excess credit which can be carried to a subsequent quarter.
- Sign and date Form 941, attaching any supporting documents, schedules, or schedules.
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941.
- 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.
Form 941-X allows you to correct mistakes or make adjustments in Form 941 that has already been filed. Form 941 X also allows for the employer to claim ERC retroactively. The employer can use the Form 941 X to: Employee Retention Credit Checklist
- Claim your refund or credit due to overpaid taxes by claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees that were not reported on Form 941
- Correction of errors or omissions on Form 941 which affect credit amount claimed
Employers can avoid common mistakes by filling in Form 941X correctly.
- Use the most recent version of Form 941X, which reflects any changes or updates to the ERC laws.
- Follow the IRS instructions and worksheets for calculating the ERC and reporting it.
- Use Part 2 of Form 941 to indicate which lines are being amended or corrected.
- Use Part 3 to explain why Form 941 is being corrected or adjusted
- Line 24 should be used to record any additional health insurance and wages paid to employees who qualify.
- Line 25 is the place to enter any additional credit claims for each quarter.
- You can use Line 26 to request a refund or credit due to claiming ERC.
- Sign the form 941-X, date it and include any documents or schedules that you wish to attach.
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out the Form 941-X here:
- File a separate Form 941-X for each quarter that is being corrected or adjusted Employee Retention Credit Checklist
- File Form 941-X as soon as possible after discovering an error or making an 0adjustment on Form 941
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about the ERC and Form 941X.
- For clarifications or help, you can contact the IRS.
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, Q1 2020 (January-March) Form 941 will be due on April 30, 2021. Nevertheless, if the employer deposited all taxes due in a given quarter on time, they may file Form 941 before the 10th day. The following quarter. For Q1 2021 (January-March), form 941 must be submitted by May 10, 2020, Employee Retention Credit Checklist
Form 941X must be filed within three years of the original filing date or two from the payment date, whichever comes 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 employer files Form 941 in April 2020 and pays the tax on June 15 2020, they have until June 15 2022 to file Form 941.
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, 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 cannot be claimed forever. There is a deadline to claim it and a statute that limits its use. It is important to file your forms quickly and correctly. This article provides tips and resources that will help you avoid common errors. 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 your business or organization retain workers, maintain cash flow and recover from a pandemic. This article aims to provide you with more information about the ERC. We thank you for reading. Please stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Checklist
What is the ERC?
Employee Retention Credit: This is a credit that employers can claim if they retained employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CARES Act was passed in March 2020. It was amended and extended in December 2020 by the CAA Act (Consolidated Appropriations Act) and in March 2021 by the ARPA Act (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021).
Can everyone apply for ERC?
ERC isn’t available to everyone. Employers who retained their employees and paid them wages between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021, are eligible.
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 receipts for a calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021 were less than a percentage of their gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019.
- You are a new business in recovery that has started operating after February 15th, 2020. Your average annual gross sales is no more than $1,000,000.
How much is the ERC?
The amount that an organization or company receives in ERC will depend on many factors.
These factors include time, the number of employees and the amount of wages that qualify. They also include health insurance costs for eligible employees. For a detailed explanation of ERC, you can read the article mentioned above.
How to claim your ERC?
To claim ERC benefits, an employer needs to file Form 941X or federal employment tax reform 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.
What is the deadline for submitting the ERC forms?
The deadlines for filing ERC forms for Forms 941 and form 941 X are different.
The last day for Form 941 in most cases is the last month following the end 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.