Many businesses and organizations have faced unprecedented hardships and challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 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The ERC, which was originally enacted in 2020 by the CARES Act, was extended and modified later by subsequent legislation in both 2021 & 2023.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 Flowchart
Employee Retention Credit is a tax credit that can be refunded to businesses and tax-exempt organizations who had employees affected by COVID-19. The ERC was established by the CARES Act of 2020 and extended and modified in subsequent legislations in 2021 and in 2023. The ERC’s goal is to encourage employers during a crisis to continue to employ their workers, and to offer them health coverage.
Main Features & Benefits
- The credit is equal to a percentage of qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees, up to a certain limit per employee per quarter.
- The percentage and the limit vary depending on the time period for which the credit is claimed. In 2020, 50% of the employees will be eligible for the credit, with a maximum limit of $5,000 per employee. In 2021, 70% of the employees will be eligible for the maximum. The limit per employee is $7,000. 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 Flowchart
- 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. Alternatively, for 2023 only, employers who are considered recovery startup businesses can also claim the credit.
- 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 may also request an advanced payment of the credit using Form 7200.
Criteria for Eligibility
To qualify for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must meet one of the following two main criteria:
- 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
- The employer’s gross receipts for a calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021 were less than 50% (for 2020) or 80% (for 2021) of its gross receipts for the same 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 qualify for ERC despite business suspensions or revenue decreases.
A government order will either fully or partially suspend an organization or business if:
- The order prohibits travel, group meetings, and commerce due to COVID-19
- The order affects the operations of the business or organization
- This order is applicable to any calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021
Examples of government orders which can lead to a suspension of business include:
- Stay-at-home orders that restrict non-essential businesses from operating
- Curfews are restrictions on the hours that certain businesses can operate
- Limits in capacity that restrict the number or clients that a business can serve
- Travel bans or restrictions that affect the ability of a business to transport goods or services
To determine if a business was fully or partially suspended by a government order, an employer must consider:
- The scope and nature of the order as well as how it impacts 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
A business or organization is considered to have experienced a significant decline in gross receipts 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
- Dividends, rents, and royalties, as well as interest, are all examples of annuities.
- Contributions, gifts and grants Employee Retention Credit Flowchart
- Membership dues
- Gross profit from business or trade
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
- It will use the same calendar year quarters for 2019/2021 as it did to file its federal Employment Tax Returns (Form 941).
- The same sources as reported in the federal tax return for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
Recovery startup businesses are those that:
- Began carrying on any trade or business after February 15, 2020,
- Average annual gross receipts not exceeding $1 million during the three-year period ending on the tax year immediately preceding the calendar quarterly for which the credit will be determined
Even if it does not meet the criteria for revenue decline or suspension of business, a recovery startup can still qualify. There are certain limitations and rules that apply to recovery startups businesses.
- The maximum amount of credit per quarter is $50,000
- The credit can only be used for wages paid between the third and the fourth quarters of 2020
- The credit has a cap of 250 million dollars for all startup businesses that are eligible.
Credit Amount and Calculation
ERC amounts and rules vary for different time periods and employers. The main factors that affect the ERC are:
- How much of the employer’s income was affected in 2019 by the pandemic.
- How many employees an employer had in 2019, 2020/2021 or whether they worked, or did not work during the pandemic
- What the employer paid each employee for their health insurance and during the pandemic
Employers must complete and send IRS forms to claim ERC. The forms have to show how much the employer paid to their employees and their health insurance and why they qualify for the ERC. The IRS will check the forms and give the money to the employer. The money can be used by the employer to pay for health insurance, to pay employees, or refunds on payroll taxes.
ERCs are not available forever. It began in March 2019 and will finish in September 2020. The employer must claim the ERC prior to its expiration or becoming unavailable. The employer also has to use the money wisely and not waste it. Employee Retention Credit Flowchart
Here is more information about the ERC and its calculation.
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 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 affects the calculation of qualified wages for employees and their health insurance costs. 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)
Qualified Wages, Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wage is the number of wages that are paid to employees who qualify during a time when a business has been suspended or revenue has decreased. Qualified wage includes tips and bonuses, as well as severance, pays, sick leave payments, family leave payments and other types of compensation. Qualified earnings also include costs associated with providing health insurance coverage to eligible employees. These include premiums as well as deductibles.
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 provides a summary of the rules for different scenarios. Employee Retention Credit Flowchart
|Employer Size||Time Period||Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs||Example|
|Small||2020||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 80 FTEs in 2019 paid $8,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in 2020. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 50% in Q2 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q2 2020 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q1-Q3 2021||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 400 FTEs in 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $3,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $15,000.|
|Small||Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter)||A recovery startup business that began operations in March 2020 paid $9,000 in wages and $1,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q3 2021. The business had average annual gross receipts of $800,000. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q3 2021 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 600 FTEs in Q2 2019 paid $11,000 in wages and $4,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q4 2021 are $15,000.|
|Large||2020||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 30 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 120 FTEs in 2019 paid $10,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in 2020. The employer had a business suspension due to a government order in April 2020. The employee did not work for two weeks in April 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for April 2020 are $2,308 ($10,000 x2/52+$2,000 x2/52).|
|Large||Q1-Q3 2021||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 90 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 550 FTEs in 2019 paid $15,000 in wages and $5,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The employee did not work for three weeks in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $5,769 ($15,000 x3/13+$5,000 x3/13).|
|Large||Q3-Q4 2021 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (only if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q32021 apply.)||An employer with 700 FTEs in Q4 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $6,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs|
Claim and Report the Credit
For the Internal Revenue Service to grant the Employee Retention credit (ERC), employers must file either a federal tax return for employment (Form 941), or an amended tax return for employment (Form941-X). 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 is used to report the employer’s quarterly federal tax liability, including income tax, social security tax, and Medicare tax. Form 941 allows the employer also to claim ERCs in current or future quarters. Form 941 is used by employers 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 Flowchart
- Carry forward any excess credits to future 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.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Line 11c to declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify.
- 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
- Line 25 is the place to enter any excess credit which can be carried to a subsequent quarter.
- Sign the form 941, and attach any supporting documents.
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 include:
- Use electronic filing services (efile) and online services to submit the Form 941 faster, more securely
- Check the IRS website for updates, FAQs, and guidance on Form 941 and the ERC
- For clarifications or help, you can contact the IRS.
The Form 941X can be used to make corrections or adjustments on an earlier Form 941. The Form 941X allows the employer retroactively to claim ERC for previous quarters. The employer can use Form 941-X to: Employee Retention Credit Flowchart
- Claim your refund or credit due to overpaid taxes by claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible employees which were not reported in Form 941
- Correct any mistakes or omissions made on Form 941 that affect the amount of credit claimed
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 X and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the latest version 941-X to reflect the updated laws and regulations that impact the ERC.
- The IRS has provided worksheets to help you calculate the ERC.
- Use Part 2 to indicate the lines on Form 941 that are being corrected or adapted.
- 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
- Line 25 should be used to declare any additional amount claimed as a credit each quarter
- Use Line 26 for any refunds or credits due to ERC claims.
- Sign and date Form 941, and attach any supporting documentation or schedules
Some tips and resources for filling out Form 941-X are:
- For each quarter to be adjusted or corrected, you must submit a different Form 941X. Employee Retention Credit Flowchart
- 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.
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarification or additional assistance.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The deadline for submitting Form 941 generally falls on the last calendar day of the following month. For Q1 2021 (January-March), the Form 941 must be filed by April 30th, 2021. 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. The end of the quarter. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. Employee Retention Credit Flowchart
The deadline for submitting Form 941X is usually three years following the original date of Form 941 or two after the date on which the tax was paid. For example, Q1 2019 (January to March), Form 941 had to be submitted by April 30, 2019. 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 employers filed Forms 941 and paid taxes on June 15, 2019, the deadline is 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 is a refundable tax credit. It varies based on time, number of employees, and amount of wages and health insurance paid to eligible employees. You can claim the ERC by submitting Form 941 to the IRS. This form will ask you for the number of employees, the amount paid in qualified wages and insurance costs each quarter, and how much credit is being claimed.
Don’t miss this chance to get a tax break if your employer meets the ERC 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. For clarifications or help, you can always contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
The ERC is a great tool for both your business and employees. It can help your business or organization retain workers, maintain cash flow and recover from a pandemic. This article is intended to help you better understand the ERC, and how it can be claimed. We thank you for reading. Please stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Flowchart
What is 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 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).
Does everyone qualify for the ERC program?
ERC eligibility is not universal. The ERC is only available to employers that have paid wages to employees between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
Below are some details about eligibility.
- 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.
- The business is a startup that started operations after February 15, 2020, and has an average gross revenue of less than $1 million.
How much does the ERC cost?
The amount of ERC an organization or business receives depends on several factors.
Some of these factors include the time period, the number of employees, the number of qualified wages, and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees. For a detailed explanation of ERC, you can read the article mentioned above.
How do I claim my 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 to submit the ERC form?
The deadlines for filing Forms 941 and 941-X are different.
The last day to submit Form 941 for each quarter is the last calendar month. In contrast, the deadline to submit Form 941 X is generally set at three years since the date of the original 941. It is also possible to choose a date of two years following the date on which the tax was paid.