COVID-19’s pandemic caused unimaginable hardships to many organizations and businesses around the globe. Many employers have faced reduced revenues, increased expenses, and disrupted operations due to lockdowns, social distancing, and health and safety measures.
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. 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 Fraud
Employee Retention Credit (ERC), a refundable tax credits, is available for tax-exempt businesses or organizations with employees that were affected in any way by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The ERC was established by the CARES Act of 2020 and extended and modified in subsequent legislations in 2021 and in 2023. The ERC is designed to encourage employers to retain their employees and offer them health benefits in times of crisis.
Main Features and Advantages
- Credits are equal to a percent of the qualified wages and costs for health insurance paid to eligible employees up to a limit per employee each quarter.
- The credit amount and percentage vary according to the time period in which it is claimed. For 2020, the percentage is 50%, and the limit is $5,000 per employee for the entire year. For 2021, the percentage will be 70%, and the limit per quarter is $7,000 for each employee. 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 Fraud
- The credit will be fully refundable if its amount exceeds that of the employer’s payroll taxes.
- 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. In addition, employers who qualify as recovery-startup businesses for 2023 can also claim the credits.
- The credit may be claimed by filing a modified employment tax return (941-X), or by reducing the employment tax deposits to prepare for the credit. By submitting Form 7020, employers can request an early payment of their credit.
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
- Employer’s gross receipts in a calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021 was less than 50% or 80% of the gross receipts in the same 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 qualify for ERC despite business suspensions or revenue decreases.
A government order may suspend a business, or even partially suspend it.
- The order limits commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19
- The order has a direct impact on the operations of an organization or business
- This order is applicable to any calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021
Some examples of orders from the government that could cause a business to be suspended are:
- Orders to stay at home that prevent non-essential companies from operating
- Certain businesses have curfews that limit their hours of operations
- 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 whether an employer’s business was suspended fully or partially by a government directive, the employer must:
- How the nature and scope and the order affect the operation of the business
- The duration and frequency of the order and how it coincides with 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 for any calendar quarter in 2020 were less than 50% of its gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019
- The gross revenues for any calendar-quarter in 2021 will be less than 80 percent of the gross revenue in 2019 for that same quarter.
Gross receipts are defined as the total amount received or accrued by a business or organization from all sources during its annual accounting period without any deductions. Gross receipts include:
- Sales of goods and Services
- Interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities
- Contributions, gifts and grants Employee Retention Credit Fraud
- 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
- The same quarters in the calendar year as those used for the federal employment tax returns (Form 941) filed by 2019 and 2020/2021
- The same sources reported on your federal income tax form for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
Recovery startup businesses are those that:
- After February 15, 2020, you can start any business or trade.
- 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
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
- 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 Calculation
ERCs have different rules and amounts depending on the length of time and type of employer. The ERC is affected primarily by:
- How much of the employer’s income was affected in 2019 by the pandemic.
- 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
Employers must complete and send IRS forms to claim ERC. The employer has to fill out the forms and show how much he paid his employees, as well their health insurance, to qualify for ERC. The IRS will then check the forms before giving the money to employers. The employer 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. The employer has to spend the money efficiently and not waste. Employee Retention Credit Fraud
Here is more information about the ERC and its calculation.
The ERC was implemented, amended, or terminated by various laws in 2020. The credit amount varies depending on the time period for which it is 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 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 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 and 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. Other forms of compensation are also included in qualified wages, such as tips, bonuses and commissions. Qualified wages include health insurance costs for eligible employees such as co-pays and deductibles.
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 Fraud
|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
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 has to report each quarter the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who are eligible and the credit claimed.
Form 941 allows employers to declare their quarterly federal taxes, including income taxes, Medicare and Social Security tax. Form 941 also allows the employer to claim the ERC for current or future quarters. The employer can use the Form 941 for:
- ERC reduces the amount that employers must deposit with the IRS in order to pay taxes.
- The employer can request an advanced payment of the ERC credit if it exceeds taxes that they have to deposit. Employee Retention Credit Fraud
- Carry over any excess credit into the following quarter
To fill out Form 941 correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest Form 941, which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- Follow the instructions and worksheets provided by the IRS for calculating and reporting the ERC
- Use Line 11c to declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify.
- Use Line 13d for the credit claim amount per quarter
- Use Line 13f to report any advance payments of the credit received from 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 and attach any supporting documents or schedules
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 include:
- Form 941 can be submitted faster and more securely by using electronic filing (efile) or online services
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC and Form 941.
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarifications and assistance if you need it.
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. Employers can use Form 941/X for Employee Retention Credit Fraud
- 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.
- The amount of credit claimed will be affected by any mistakes or omissions in Form 941.
Employers can avoid common mistakes by filling in Form 941X correctly.
- Use the latest version of Form 941-X that reflects the changes and updates made by the laws that affect 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 of Form 941 to explain why it is being amended or corrected
- Use Line 24 to report any additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 25 to claim any additional credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 26 for any refunds or credits due to ERC claims.
- Attach any supporting documents and schedules to Form 941-X.
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941X.
- For each quarter to be adjusted or corrected, you must submit a different Form 941X. Employee Retention Credit Fraud
- If you discover an error on Form 941 or make an adjustment, file Form 941X as soon as you can.
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941X and ERC can be found on the IRS website.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The last day to file Form 941 usually falls on the last month after the end of each quarterly period. 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 end of the quarter. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. Employee Retention Credit Fraud
The deadline to file Form 941-X generally is three years after the date the original Form 941 is filed, or two years after the date the tax is paid. For example, Q1 2019 (January to March), Form 941 had to be submitted by April 30, 2019. If an employer filed Form 941 on April 30, 2020, and paid the tax on April 30, 2020, the deadline for filing Form 941-X is April 30, 2023. If an employers filed Forms 941 and paid taxes on June 15, 2019, the deadline is June 15, 2022.
Employee Retention Credit is a valuable tax credit that can assist employers affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic to keep their employees and reduce the impact on their business or organization.
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 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.
You should not miss the opportunity to benefit from this tax incentive if you are an eligible employer. The ERC will not be available indefinitely, and it has a set deadline and statute of limitations. Use the resources and tips provided in this article to ensure that you fill out your forms correctly and avoid common mistakes. You can also contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed.
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 should have helped you learn more about ERCs and how to apply for them. Thanks for reading and please stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Fraud
What is the ERC?
Employee Retention Credit is an employer tax credit available to employers who kept their employees on payroll during COVID-19.
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).
Are all ERC applicants eligible?
The ERC is not 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.
You can read more about the criteria here. Here are some highlights.
- The business or organization was suspended (fully or partially) by government order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Their gross receipts in a quarter of 2020 or 2021 are less than the percentage of their gross revenue in the same quarter of 2019.
- It is a recovery-startup business that has been operating since after February 15, 2020. Their average annual gross receipts are no more than one million dollars.
What is the ERC rate?
The amount of ERC a company or organization receives will depend 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. The article above provides a detailed explanation on how ERC is calculated.
How to claim ERC?
To claim ERC benefits, an employer needs to file Form 941X or federal employment tax reform with the IRS.
Employers must declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify and the credit claimed each quarter.
When is the deadline to submit the ERC form?
There are two different deadlines to file the ERC Forms: Form 941 (Form 941-X) and Form 941 (941).
Form 941 deadline is typically the last of the month following each quarter. While the deadline for the Form 941-X will be three years after you filled out the original Form 941. The deadline can be two years after the date the tax was paid. However, the latter date is preferred.