The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges and hardships for many businesses and organizations around the world. Due to lockdowns and social distancing as well as health and safety measures, many employers have seen their revenues and expenses drop, while operations are disrupted.
Employee Retention Credit is a refundable income tax credit available to eligible employers that helps them retain their employees while providing health benefits.
The ERC is a program that was introduced by the CARES Act of 2020. Subsequent legislation was passed in 2021 and in 2023 to extend and modify it. This article will explain the ERC, how it functions, and how you can claim it.
For a brief reading of what the Employee Retention Credit or ERC is, take a look at this video from the YouTube channel “ERC Specialists”. You can also continue below to read an in-depth explanation of ERC.
What is the Employee Retention Credit? Employee Retention Credit Eligible Wages
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’s goal is to encourage employers during a crisis to continue to employ their workers, and to offer them health coverage.
Main Features and Advantages
- 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 the limit vary depending on the time period for which the credit is claimed. In 2020, the 50% percentage and $5,000 limit per employee is applicable for the entire calendar year. For 2021, there is a 70% percentage and a limit of $7,000 per employee per quarter. 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 Eligible Wages
- 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.
- 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. Employers who are considered to be recovery startup businesses may also claim this credit, but only for 2023.
- Credits are available by submitting an amended employment return (Form 951) or by reducing deposits for employment taxes in anticipation. By submitting Form 7020, employers can request an early payment of their credit.
To qualify for Employee Retention credit (ERC), employers must meet either of 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 gross receipts of the employer for a calendar-quarter in 2020 or 2020 were less than 50 percent (for 2020), or 80 percent (for 2021), of their gross receipts during the same calendar quarter 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.
A business or organization is considered fully or partially suspended by a government order if:
- The order limits commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19
- The order will affect the operation of the business or the organization
- The order will apply to any calendar month in 2020 or even 2021
Some examples of government orders that can cause a business suspension are:
- Orders to stay at home that prevent non-essential companies 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 restrictions or travel bans that limit the ability of businesses to transport products or 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 order’s duration, frequency, and alignment with the calendar quarters
- The order’s impact on revenues and expenses
It is considered that a business or organization has experienced a significant drop in gross receipts when:
- 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 revenue for any quarter of 2021 was less than 80% that for the same period 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 & Services
- Dividends, rents, and royalties, as well as interest, are all examples of annuities.
- Contributions, gifts and grants Employee Retention Credit Eligible Wages
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross profits from trades and businesses
To compare gross revenues for different quarters an employer can use:
- The same method for accounting (cash-based or accrual-based) that was used to file the federal income Tax return 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 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.
- 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
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 Startup Businesses are still subject to some restrictions and special rules.
- The maximum amount of credit per quarter is $50,000
- Only wages paid during the third and fourth quarters in 2021 are eligible for this credit
- All recovery startup businesses are subject to an aggregate cap of $250,000,000.
Credit Amounts Calculation
The ERC has different rules and amounts for different periods of time and different types of employers. The ERC is primarily affected by:
- How much business income dropped compared to 2019.
- How many employees an employer had in 2019, 2020/2021 or whether they worked, or did not work during the pandemic
- The amount of money paid by the employer to each employee as well as their health insurance during pandemic
To claim the ERC, the employer must fill out and submit a form 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 review the forms and pay the money back 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. It began in March 2019 and will finish in September 2020. Employers must claim their ERC before they expire or become unavailable. The employer must also spend the money properly and not waste any of it. Employee Retention Credit Eligible Wages
Below you will find detailed information on ERC, including the amount of credit and the calculation.
The ERC has been introduced, modified, and terminated in different laws between 2020 and 2021. 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 of eligible employees will affect the calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages. 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 the rules and thresholds for determining employer size in each time 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)
Earnings and Costs of Health Insurance
Qualified wages include wages paid to eligible workers during a business suspension or revenue decrease. Qualified wage includes tips and bonuses, as well as severance, pays, sick leave payments, family leave payments and other types of compensation. Qualified wage also includes the cost of health insurance for eligible employees. This may include premiums, deductibles, co-pays, or co-insurance.
The size of an employer’s business and the period in which they operate will determine the definition and calculation for qualified wages and health care costs. The following table summarizes the rules and examples for different scenarios: Employee Retention Credit Eligible Wages
|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
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 report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees and the amount of credit claimed for each quarter.
Form 941 is used by employers to report their quarterly federal tax liabilities, which includes income tax, Medicare tax, and social security tax. Form 941 is used by the employer to claim ERC for the current quarter or future. 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
- Employers can request a payment in advance if their ERC is higher than the taxes they are required to pay. Employee Retention Credit Eligible Wages
- You can carry forward any credit balance 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 1c to report on the health insurance and wages that eligible employees have received.
- Report the amount of credit claimed each quarter using Line 13d.
- Use Line 13f to declare any advance payments received from the IRS.
- If you need to receive an advance payment, use Line 24.
- Report any credit balance that may be carried forward into the next quarter using Line 25
- Sign and date Form 941, and include any supporting documents and schedules.
Some tips and resources for filling out Form 941 are:
- Use electronic filing (e-file) or online services to submit Form 941 faster and more securely
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941, the ERC, and other IRS forms can be found on the IRS website.
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
Form 941-X is used to correct errors or make adjustments on a previously filed Form 941. Form 941-X allows employers to claim ERC retroactively. Form 941-X can be used by the employer to: Employee Retention Credit Eligible Wages
- 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.
The employer should:
- Use the latest form 941X that reflects changes to laws that are applicable to the ERC.
- Follow the IRS instructions and worksheets for calculating the ERC and reporting it.
- Use Part 2 for indicating which lines of the Form 941 need to be corrected or adjusted
- Use Part 3 for explaining why form 941 has been corrected or adjusted
- Use Line 24 to declare any additional qualified wages or health insurance costs paid by eligible employees.
- Use Line 25 to claim any additional credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 26 to report any refund or credit requested due to claiming the ERC
- Sign the form 941-X, date it and include any documents or schedules that you wish to attach.
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 X include:
- Filter a separate Form 941/X for every quarter that needs to be corrected or adjusted Employee Retention Credit Eligible Wages
- After making a correction or finding an error, you should file Form 941X.
- Check the IRS website for updates, FAQs, and guidance on Form 941-X and the ERC
- Need clarification? Contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
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, Form 941 for Q1 of 2021 (January to March) is due April 30, 2020. 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 of the quarterly period. For Q1 2021 (January-March), form 941 must be submitted by May 10, 2020, Employee Retention Credit Eligible Wages
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 an employer files Form 941 by April 30, 2020 and pays the tax on April 30 2020, then the deadline to file Form 941-X will be April 30, 2023. If an employee filed Form 941 April 30, 2020 and paid tax June 15, 2020 the deadline for submitting Form 941 X is June 15, 222.
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 is a refundable tax credit. It varies based on time, number of employees, and amount of wages and health insurance paid to eligible employees. 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.
This tax benefit is available to employers who meet the ERC’s eligibility criteria. The ERC has a time limit and deadline for claiming. 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 is a great tool for both your business and employees. It will help you to keep your employees, maintain a healthy cash flow, as well as recover from pandemic. This article should have helped you learn more about ERCs and how to apply for them. Thank you for reading. Stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Eligible Wages
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 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-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.
- 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 of ERC an organization or business receives depends on several factors.
Some of these include the time period and number of employees. Others are the amount paid in qualified wages or health insurance to eligible employees. For a detailed explanation of ERC, you can read the article mentioned above.
How to claim the ERC?
To claim the ERC an employer must submit a federal employment reform (Form 941)-X or a revised employment tax return to the IRS.
The employer must report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees and the amount of credit claimed for each quarter.
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 last day for Form 941 in most cases is the last month following the end each quarter. In contrast, the deadline to submit Form 941 X is generally set at three years since the date of the original 941. This can also be up to two years, based on the date when the tax is paid.