COVID-19 has caused hardships and unprecedented challenges for businesses and organizations all over the world. Many employers faced decreased revenues, increased costs, and disruptions of operations as a result of lockdowns.
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 first became law in 2020 with the CARES Act. It was then extended and modified in subsequent legislations 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 the Employee Retention Credit? Employee Retention Credit Ends
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 created by the CARES Act in 2020 and was extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 2023. The ERC was created to encourage employers in crisis to keep workers on their payrolls and provide them health insurance.
Main Features and Benefits
- The credit is a percentage of wages and health insurance premiums paid by eligible employees. There are limits per employee, per quarter.
- The credit amount and percentage vary according to the time period in which it is claimed. For 2020, the percent is 50%, and the limit is $5,000 for each employee per year. For 2021, the percentage is 70%, and the limit is $7,000 per employee per quarter. For 2023, there will be a 70 percent percentage for the initial two quarters of the year and a 40 percent percentage for the last two. There will also be a limit of $10,000 per employee each quarter. Employee Retention Credit Ends
- The credit is fully refundable, which means that if it exceeds the employer’s payroll tax liability the excess amount will be returned to the employer.
- Employers may claim the credit if their gross receipts have declined significantly or they have had to suspend operations in whole or part due to a COVID-19-related government order. For 2023 only, employers that are classified as recovery startup business can claim the credit.
- Credits may be obtained by filing a revised employment tax form (Form 941X) or reducing employment deposit amounts in anticipation. Employers can also request an advance payment of the credit by filing Form 7200.
To qualify for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must meet one of the following two main criteria:
- A government order has suspended or halted the business or organization of an employer due to COVID-19 in a calendar year 2020 or 2021.
- 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.
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 are eligible for the ERC, regardless of whether their business has been suspended or if revenue has declined.
A government order will either fully or partially suspend an organization or business if:
- The order 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 any calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021
These are some examples:
- 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 bans and restrictions that restrict the ability for a company to transport services or goods
To determine whether an employer’s business was suspended fully or partially by a government directive, the employer must:
- The scope and nature of the order as well as how it impacts the business.
- The length and frequency of your order and the way it corresponds to the calendar quarters
- The extent and severity of the impact of the order on the revenues and expenses of the business
A significant decline in gross revenues is experienced by a business or organization if:
- The gross receipts of any calendar quarter in 2020 are less than half the gross receipts of the same quarter in 2019.
- The gross revenue for any quarter of 2021 was less than 80% that for the same period in 2019.
Gross receipts are the total amount that a business or organization has received or accrued from all sources, during its annual accounting period. Gross receipts consist of:
- Sales of Goods and Services
- Interest, dividends rents royalties and annuities
- Contributions are gifts, donations and grants Employee Retention Credit Ends
- Membership dues
- Gross profits from trades and businesses
To calculate and compare gross revenue for different quarters using the following:
- The same method for accounting (cash-based or accrual-based) that was used to file the federal income Tax return 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 startup that is in recovery can be defined as
- You must have started your business after the 15th of February 2020
- Has average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million for the three-tax-year period ending with the tax year that precedes the calendar quarter for which the credit is determined
Even if it does not meet the criteria for revenue decline or suspension of business, a recovery startup can still qualify. However, there are some limitations and special rules that apply to recovery startup businesses, such as:
- The maximum credit available per quarter is $50,000
- The credit is only available for wages paid in the third and fourth quarters of 2021
- The maximum credit available for startup businesses is $250 million.
Credit Amount 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.
- Employer’s number of employees in 2019 or 2021, and whether the employee worked or not.
- How much the employer paid to each employee and their health insurance during the pandemic
The employer has to fill out some forms and send them to the IRS to claim the ERC. The employer must provide proof of how much they paid their employees for health insurance as well as the ERC. The IRS will check the forms and give the money to the employer. The employer could use this money to pay health insurance for employees or to get refunds and credits for payroll taxes.
The ERC is not available forever. It started in March 2020 and will end in September 2022. The employer has to claim the ERC before it expires or becomes unavailable. Employers must also use the money well and not waste it. Employee Retention Credit Ends
You can find more information below on ERC calculation and credit amount.
The ERC was implemented, amended, or terminated by various laws in 2020. The amount of the credit varies according to the time period that it is applied for. 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|
The Number of Employees
The number employed affects how wages are calculated and defined, as well as the health insurance premiums for eligible employees. Employers are classified as small or large employers based on their number of full-time workers (FTEs), and the period in which they were employed. 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 are wages that eligible employees receive during periods of suspension or decline in revenue. Qualified wages can include severance payment, bonuses, severance tips, sick pay, family pay and other forms compensation. 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. This table summarises the rules and provides examples for various scenarios. Employee Retention Credit Ends
|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 Credit
For an employer to claim the Employee retention credit (ERC), they must submit a federal employment return (Form 951) or a revised employment tax report (Form 941X) to the Internal Revenue Service. The employer has to report each quarter the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who are eligible and the credit claimed.
Form 941 is 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 is used by the employer to claim ERC for the current quarter or future. The employer can use Form 941 to:
- ERC reduces the amount that employers must deposit with the IRS in order to pay taxes.
- Request an advance payment of the ERC if the credit exceeds the taxes that the employer has to deposit Employee Retention Credit Ends
- Carry forward any excess credit to subsequent quarters
To ensure the correct completion of Form 941, and to avoid common errors:
- Use the latest version of Form 941 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 Line 1c to report on the health insurance and wages that eligible employees have received.
- Use Line 13d when reporting the credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 13f to declare any advance payments received from the IRS.
- Use Line 24 to request a credit advance if necessary
- 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
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
- 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
Forms 941-X are used to rectify errors or make adjustments to Forms 941 previously submitted. The employer can also claim the ERC retroactively by using Form 941X. Form 941-X can be used by the employer to: Employee Retention Credit Ends
- Claim a refund or credit for overpaid taxes due to claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees that were not reported on Form 941
- Correct any errors or omissions you find on Form 941, which may affect your credit claim.
To avoid making common errors and fill out the Form 941-X correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest form 941X that reflects changes to laws that are applicable to the ERC.
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use Part 2 of Form 941 to indicate which lines are being amended or corrected.
- Use Part 3 to explain your corrections or adjustments on Form 941.
- Use Line 24 to report any additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Line 25 is the place to enter any additional credit claims 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.
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out the Form 941-X here:
- Filter a separate Form 941/X for every quarter that needs to be corrected or adjusted Employee Retention Credit Ends
- If you discover an error on Form 941 or make an adjustment, file Form 941X as soon as you can.
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about the ERC and Form 941X.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
Form 941 must be filed by the last date of the month that follows the end each quarter. For example, Q1 2020 (January-March) Form 941 will be due on April 30, 2021. In the event that an employer has deposited the taxes due on time for a particular quarter, Form 941 can be filed by the 10th date of the following month. Following the end of the quarter. For example, Q1 2020 (January to March) requires that Form 941 be returned by May 10, 2021. Employee Retention Credit Ends
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), the Form 941 must be filed by April 30th 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 employer filed Form 941 on April 30, 2020, and paid the tax on June 15, 2020, the deadline for filing Form 941-X is June 15, 2022.
Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC), is a valuable financial benefit that helps employers to keep their employees employed and reduces the impact COVID-19 has on their organization or business.
The ERC is a refundable tax credit that varies depending on the time period, the number of employees, and the amount of qualified wages and health insurance costs 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.
Don’t miss this chance to get a tax break if your employer meets the ERC criteria. The ERC is not available forever and has a deadline and a statute of limitations for claiming it. It is important to file your forms quickly and correctly. This article provides tips and resources that will help you avoid common errors. You can also contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed.
ERC can have a significant impact on your business, organization, and your employees. You can use it to retain employees, keep your cash flowing, and recover after a pandemic. We hope this article has helped you understand more about the ERC and how to claim it. Thanks for reading and please stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Ends
What is an 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, passed by Congress in March of this year, was amended in December of that year by the CAA Act. In March 2021, the ARPA Act (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021), was extended.
Does everyone qualify for the ERC program?
ERC eligibility is not universal. It is only available to employers who have retained employees and paid their wages to them between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
There are also criteria for eligibility; more details can be read above, but here are the highlights:
- A government-issued order temporarily or permanently suspended the organization or business 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.
- 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 ERC?
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. To learn more about how ERCs are calculated, please read the article.
How to claim ERC?
To claim the ERC, an employer must file a federal employment tax reform or an adjusted employment tax return (Form 941-X) with the IRS.
Employers are required to report each quarter the total amount claimed as a credit and the wages and insurance premiums paid by eligible employees.
When is the Deadline for Filing the ERC Forms?
The deadlines for filing ERC forms for Forms 941 and form 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 be as late as two years after you paid the tax, but the later date is the preferred date.