COVID-19, the pandemic that has swept across the globe in recent years, has brought unprecedented challenges and hardships to businesses and organisations around. 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.
The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC) is a refundable credit that employers can use to offset 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The ERC, which was originally enacted in 2020 by the CARES Act, was extended and modified later by subsequent legislation in both 2021 & 2023. This article will explain what the ERC is, how it works, and how to claim it for different time periods and eligibility criteria.
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 History
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 was created by the CARES Act in 2020 and was extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 2023. The ERC aims to encourage employers to keep their workers on the payroll and provide them with health benefits during the crisis.
Main Features and Benefits
- 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 percentage and limit will vary depending on when the credit is claimed. In 2020, the 50% percentage and $5,000 limit per employee is applicable for the entire calendar year. For 2021, the percentage will be 70%, and the limit per quarter is $7,000 for each employee. For 2023, the percentage is 70% for the first two quarters and 40% for the last two quarters, and the limit is $10,000 per employee per quarter. Employee Retention Credit History
- The credit will be fully refundable if its amount exceeds that of the employer’s payroll taxes.
- Employers can claim this credit if they experienced a significant decrease in gross receipts due to an order from the government relating to COVID-19. Employers who are considered to be recovery startup businesses may also claim this credit, but only for 2023.
- 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.
Employers who wish to qualify for Employee Retention Credit (ERC) must meet 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 employer’s gross revenues for a quarterly calendar period in 2020, 2021 or both were less that 50% (for the 2020 quarter) or 80% (2021 quarter) of its gross revenue for the same year-ago quarter.
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 prohibits travel, group meetings, and commerce due to COVID-19
- The order impacts the operations of a business or organization
- The order will apply to any calendar month in 2020 or even 2021
Some examples of orders from the government that could cause a business to be suspended are:
- Stay-athome orders restrict non-essential enterprises from operating
- Certain businesses are subject to curfews which limit their hours of operation
- Limits to the number of clients or customers that a company 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 order’s duration, frequency, and alignment with the calendar quarters
- The extent and severity of the impact of the order on the revenues and expenses of the business
It is considered a significant decrease in gross revenue if a business has:
- 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 receipts of any quarter in calendar 2021 were below 80% of the gross receipts in the same quarter for 2019.
Gross receipts can be defined as all the money received by an organization or business from any source during their annual accounting period, without deductions. Gross receipts include:
- Sales of Goods & Services
- Dividends (rents), royalties and interest
- Contributions are gifts, donations and grants Employee Retention Credit History
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross business income
To compare gross revenues for different quarters an employer can use:
- It should use the same method of accounting, either cash or accrual, that it used for its federal income tax returns 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
The recovery startup business is one that:
- Begun carrying on any business after February 15th, 2020
- The average annual gross receipts for the three tax years ending in the year preceding the quarter for which credit is calculated cannot exceed $1 million
If a business is in recovery, it can still qualify for ERC even if the business has been suspended or its revenue has declined. 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
- Credits for recovery startups are subject to a maximum of $250 million.
Credit Amount and Calculation
ERCs have different rules and amounts depending on the length of time and type of employer. The ERC is primarily affected by:
- How much an employer’s company was affected by the pandemic.
- How many employees the employer had in 2019 or 2020/2021, and whether they worked or not during the pandemic
- How much each employee received from their employer and how they were covered by health insurance in the pandemic
The employer has to fill out some forms and send them to the IRS to claim the ERC. The forms must include the total amount paid by the employer to employees, their health insurance coverage and the reasons why they are eligible for the ERC. The IRS will then check the forms before giving the money to employers. The employer may use the money in order to pay their employees’ health insurance premiums, or get refunds for their payroll tax.
The ERC will no longer be available. It started in March 2020 and will end in September 2022. The employer is required to claim ERCs before they expire, or are no longer available. The employer must also spend the money properly and not waste any of it. Employee Retention Credit History
Here is more information about the ERC and its calculation.
Different laws introduced, amended and terminated the ERC in 2020, 2021 and 2022. The amount of credit depends on the time frame for which it’s claimed. The following table summarizes the key features and differences of the ERC for each time period:
|Time Period||Law||Eligible Employers||Credit Rate||Qualified Wages|
|2020||CARES Act||Employers with business suspension or revenue decline of more than 50%||50% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per year||Wages paid from March 13 to December 31, 2020|
|Q1-Q3 2021||CAA and ARPA||Employers with business suspension or revenue decline of more than 20%||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter||Wages paid from January 1 to September 30, 2021|
|Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||ARPA||Recovery startup businesses with average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million,||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter),||Wages paid from July 1 to December 31, 2021,|
|Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||ARPA and IIJA||Employers with a revenue decline of more than 90%||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter||Wages paid from October 1, 2021, to September 30, 2022|
Number of Employees
The number affects the calculation of qualified wages for employees and their health insurance costs. A small employer or a large employer is determined by the number of employees who worked full-time (FTEs) in 2019 and the time period. 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)
Earnings and Costs of Health Insurance
Qualified wages refer to wages paid during a period when the business is suspended or revenues are declining. The list of qualified wages includes tips, bonuses, commissions, and severance payments, as well as sick leave, family leave, severance, and other compensation. Qualified salaries also include the costs of providing health coverage to eligible workers, including premiums, copays, deductibles, and coinsurance.
The calculation of qualified wages, health insurance costs and employer size depends on the time period. Table 1 summarizes and gives examples of rules in various scenarios. Employee Retention Credit History
|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
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that employers claim the Employee-Retention Credit by filing a federal income tax return, Form 941, or a modified employment tax form (Form941X), with them. The employer will need to declare the qualified wages paid and the health insurance expenses paid for eligible employees. They must also report the credit claimed.
Form 941 allows employers to declare their quarterly federal taxes, including income taxes, Medicare and Social Security tax. The employer can also claim the ERC in Form 941 for future or current quarters. The employer can use the Form 941 for:
- ERCs can be used to reduce the amount of tax that an employer must pay to the IRS.
- Request an advance payment of the ERC if the credit exceeds the taxes that the employer has to deposit Employee Retention Credit History
- Carry forward any excess credit to subsequent quarters
To avoid making common errors and fill out Form 941 correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest version 941 which reflects updates and changes in the ERC.
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use Line 11c to declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify.
- Use Line 13d to report the amount of credit claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 13f for any advance payment received from IRS.
- Use Line 24 to request an advance payment of the credit if needed
- Line 25 is the place to enter any excess credit which can be carried to a subsequent quarter.
- Sign and date Form 941, and include any supporting documents and schedules.
Here are some tips and resources to help you fill out Form 941:
- Use online services (e-file or online filing) to submit Form 941, faster and with greater security.
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about Form 941, the ERC.
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarifications and assistance if you need it.
The Form 941 X is used for corrections and adjustments to a Form 941. Form 941 X also allows for the employer to claim ERC retroactively. The employer can use the Form 941 X to: Employee Retention Credit History
- Claim your refund or credit due to overpaid taxes by claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified wages paid and health insurance premiums paid to eligible workers that have not been reported on Form 941
- 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 941-X to reflect the updated laws and regulations that impact the ERC.
- Follow the instructions and worksheets provided by the IRS for calculating and reporting the ERC
- Use Part 2 to indicate which lines of Form 941 are being corrected or adjusted
- Use Part 3 to explain the reason for a correction or adjustment on Form 941
- Line 24 is used to report additional wages and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees.
- Use Line 25 to claim any additional credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 26 to report any credit or refund due to the ERC claim.
- Sign and date the Form 941 X and add any supporting documents or schedules.
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941X.
- Filter a separate Form 941/X for every quarter that needs to be corrected or adjusted Employee Retention Credit History
- You should fill out Form 941/X as quickly as possible after you have made an adjustment or discovered an error.
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC, Form 941 X, and updates to 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 for Q1 (2021) (January – March), Form 941 should be submitted by April 30, 2019. If an employer has made all the required deposits for the quarter in a timely manner, they can file Forms 941 on the 10th of the second month. Following the end of the quarter. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. Employee Retention Credit History
The deadline for submitting Form 941X depends on the time period. It is generally three or two years, depending on the date when the original Form 941 has been filed. 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 employer filed form 941 on April 30 2020 and paid the tax by June 15, 2020, then the deadline to file Form 941-X will be June 15, 2022.
Employee Retention (ERC) Credit is an important tax benefit which can help employers that were affected by COVID-19 to retain their employees, and lessen the impact the pandemic had on their organizations or businesses.
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 can be claimed by filing Form 941 or Form 941-X with the IRS and reporting the qualified wages and health insurance costs and the amount of credit claimed for each quarter.
Don’t miss this chance to get a tax break if your employer meets the ERC criteria. The ERC does not last forever. It has a deadline, and there is a statute of limitations for claiming the ERC. The forms should be filed as soon as you can. You can use the resources and advice provided in this post to avoid common mistakes and fill them out correctly. If needed, you can also reach out to the IRS or a professional tax advisor for clarification or help.
ERC can have a significant impact on your business, organization, and your employees. It can help you retain your workers, maintain your cash flow, and recover from the pandemic. We hope that this article helped you to understand more about ERC and the claim process. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit History
What is ERC and what does it do?
Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a tax incentive for employers that retained their employees on their payrolls during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The CARES Act created the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 in March 2021. Later, the CAA (Consolidated Appropriations Act), in December 2020, was amended and expanded by ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021), in March 2021.
Does everyone qualify for the ERC program?
Not everyone is eligible for the ERC. 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.
There are also criteria for eligibility; more details can be read above, but here are the highlights:
- A government order suspended the business (fully or partly) because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
- 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 does the ERC cost?
The amount of ERC that a company will receive depends on a number of factors.
Among these factors are the time period, employee count, amount of qualifying wages and health insurance cost paid to eligible workers. If you want a more detailed explanation, read the above article.
How to claim 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 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 to file the ERC Forms
The deadline for filing the ERC forms is different for Form 941 and Form 941-X.
For Form 941 is generally the last day of the month following the end of each quarter. Meanwhile, the deadline for Form 941-X is generally three years from the date that the original Form 941 was filled. It can be as late as two years after you paid the tax, but the later date is the preferred date.