COVID-19, the pandemic that has swept across the globe in recent years, has brought unprecedented challenges and hardships to businesses and organisations around. Many employers have faced reduced revenues, increased expenses, and disrupted operations due to lockdowns, social distancing, and health and safety measures.
To help employers keep their employees, and to provide them with health insurance during these difficult times, the U.S. federal government has created the Employee Retention credit (ERC), an refundable tax credits that can offset some of payroll costs for employers who qualify.
The ERC, which was originally enacted in 2020 by the CARES Act, was extended and modified later by subsequent legislation in both 2021 & 2023.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 Employee Retention Credit? Employee Retention Credit Incentive Program
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 is a refundable tax credit that was created by 2020’s CARES Act and has been extended and changed by subsequent legislations of 2021 and 2023. The ERC is designed to encourage employers to retain their employees and offer them health benefits in times of crisis.
The Main Features and Benefits
- Credit is a fixed percentage of qualifying wages and health care costs paid by employers to employees.
- 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. For 2021, it is 70%. The limit is $7,000 per quarter per 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 Incentive Program
- 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 who have experienced a significant drop in gross receipts or a complete or partial suspension of their operations as a result of a government order relating to COVID-19 can claim the credit. Employers who are considered to be recovery startup businesses may also claim this credit, but only for 2023.
- 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. 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.
- Gross receipts of an employer for a quarter calendar in 2020 or in 2021 are less than half (for 2020) and 80% (for 2021) their gross receipts from the same period in 2019.
The recovery startup rule also applies to businesses that began operating after February 14, 2020 and had average annual gross receipts not exceeding $1 million. These businesses may qualify for ERC regardless of revenue or business suspension.
An order of the government can suspend a business or an organization in full or part if it:
- The order limits travel, commerce or group meetings as a result of COVID-19
- The order has a direct impact on the operations of an organization or business
- The order will apply to any calendar month in 2020 or even 2021
Examples of government orders which can lead to a suspension of business include:
- Stay-at-home orders prohibiting the operation of non-essential businesses
- Certain businesses have curfews that limit their hours of operations
- Capacity limits that reduce the number of customers or clients that can be served by a business
- Travel restrictions or bans that impact the ability of an organization to transport goods and services
An employer should consider the following factors to determine if an order from a government has suspended a business in its entirety or only partially.
- The scope and nature of the order as well as how it impacts the business.
- The length, frequency, and timing of the order in relation to the quarters of the year.
- The impact and magnitude of the order to the business’s revenues and costs
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 from any calendar quarter during 2021 are less than 80% compared to the same quarter’s gross receipts from 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 include the following:
- Sales of goods and Services
- Interest, dividends rents royalties and annuities
- Contributions, gifts and grants Employee Retention Credit Incentive Program
- Membership dues
- Gross profit from business or trade
To calculate and compare gross revenue for different quarters using the following:
- Use the same method (cash or accrual accounting) as it used when filing its federal income taxes for 2019
- Use the same calendar quarters as it did for its federal employment tax return (Form 941 ) for 2019 and 2021/2022
- The same sources as reported in the federal tax return for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
Recovery startup businesses are those that:
- Start any new business or occupation after February 15, 2019,
- 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
A recovery startup business can qualify for the ERC regardless of whether it meets the criteria of business suspension or revenue decline. Recovery startups are not exempt from certain rules and restrictions.
- The maximum credit available 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 Calculation
For different lengths of time, different types of employers and different amounts of ERC, the ERC has different rules. The ERC is affected by the following main factors:
- How much the employer’s business was affected by the pandemic, either by having to close or reduce operations due to government orders or by having a big drop in income compared to 2019
- How many employees the employer had in 2019 or 2020/2021, and whether they worked or not during the pandemic
- How much did the employer pay each employee in health insurance?
In order to receive the ERC from the IRS, the employer will need to complete some forms. 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 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 won’t be around forever. The ERC began in March 2020, and it will end in September 2022. The employer must claim the ERC prior to its expiration or becoming unavailable. The employer must also spend the money properly and not waste any of it. Employee Retention Credit Incentive Program
Here is more information about the ERC and its calculation.
In 2020, 2021, & 2022, different laws were passed to introduce, amend, and terminate the ERC. The amount of credit depends on the time frame for which it’s 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 affects the calculation of qualified wages for employees and their health insurance costs. An employer is considered a small or large employer depending on the time period and the number of full-time employees (FTEs) it had in 2019. The following table summarizes the thresholds and rules for determining the employer size for 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 wages refer to wages paid during a period when the business is suspended or revenues are declining. Qualified wages include tips, commissions, bonuses, severance pay, sick leave pay, family leave pay, and other forms of compensation. Qualified earnings also include costs associated with providing health insurance coverage to eligible employees. These include premiums as well as deductibles.
The calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages are dependent on the size of the employer and the time period. This table summarises the rules and provides examples for various scenarios. Employee Retention Credit Incentive Program
|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 the Credit
To claim the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must file a federal employment tax return (Form 941) or an adjusted employment tax return (Form 941-X) with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). 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 by employers to report their quarterly federal tax liabilities, which includes income tax, Medicare tax, and social security tax. Form 941 is used by the employer to claim ERC for the current quarter or future. The employer can use Form 941 to:
- ERC reduces taxes that employers have to deposit at the IRS.
- You can ask for advance payment if your ERC exceeds the amount of taxes you have to pay. Employee Retention Credit Incentive Program
- Any excess credit can be carried forward to the next quarter
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the most recent version of Form 941, which reflects any changes or updates to the ERC laws.
- The IRS has provided worksheets to help you calculate the ERC.
- Use Line 1c to report on the health insurance and wages that eligible employees have received.
- Use Line 13d to report the amount of credit claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 13f to report any advance payments of the credit received from the IRS
- Line 24 is the place to ask for an advance payment if you need it.
- Use Line 25 to report any excess credit that can be carried forward to subsequent quarters
- 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 Form 941-X to: Employee Retention Credit Incentive Program
- Claim a refund or credit for overpaid taxes due to claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible employees which were not reported in Form 941
- Correction of errors or omissions on Form 941 which affect credit amount claimed
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.
- Follow the IRS instructions and worksheets for calculating the ERC and reporting it.
- Use the Part 2 to indicate on which lines you are correcting or adjusting Form 941
- Use Part 3 to explain why Form 941 is being corrected or adjusted
- Use Line 24 for any additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible workers
- Use Line 25 to claim any additional credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 26 to report any refund or credit requested due to claiming the ERC
- Sign and date Form 941, and attach any supporting documentation or schedules
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 Incentive Program
- If you discover an error on Form 941 or make an adjustment, file Form 941X as soon as you can.
- Visit the IRS website to get the latest updates, FAQs, and guidance regarding Form 941-X, the ERC, and other forms.
- Need clarification? Contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The deadline for filing Form 941 is generally the last day of the month following the end of each quarter. 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 following quarter. For example, Q1 2020 (January to March) requires that Form 941 be returned by May 10, 2021. Employee Retention Credit Incentive Program
Form 941X must be filed within three years of the original filing date or two from the payment date, whichever comes later. For example, for Q1 2020 (January-March), Form 941 was due by April 30, 2020. If an employee filed Form 941 in April 2020 and paid their tax in April 2020, the deadline to file the Form 941 X is April 30 2023. If an employer files Form 941 in April 2020 and pays the tax on June 15 2020, they have until June 15 2022 to file Form 941.
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, a refundable credit, varies according to the time period and number of employees as well as the amount of qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to employees who are eligible. 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.
If you are an employer who meets the eligibility criteria for the ERC, you should not miss this opportunity to take advantage of this tax benefit. The ERC will not be available indefinitely, and it has a set deadline and statute of limitations. To avoid making common mistakes, you should fill out the forms correctly using the information and tips in this article. If you need clarification or assistance, you can contact the IRS.
The ERC is a great tool for both your business and employees. You can use it to retain employees, keep your cash flowing, and recover after a pandemic. This article aims to provide you with more information about the ERC. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Incentive Program
What is ERC and what does it do?
Employee Retention Credit is an employer tax credit available to employers who kept their employees on payroll during COVID-19.
It was created in March of 2020 by the CARES Act and later extended and amended by the CAA Act of December 2020 (Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021).
Does everyone qualify for the ERC program?
The ERC is not available to everyone. The ERC is only available to employers that have paid wages to employees between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
More details are available above. But here are some of the highlights.
- A government order imposed a suspension (full or partial) on the business or organization due to COVID-19.
- Their gross revenues for a quarter calendar in 2020 or in 2021 were lower than a percentage compared to their gross revenues for the same period 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 is ERC?
The amount of ERC an organization or business receives depends on several factors.
These factors include time, the number of employees and the amount of wages that qualify. They also include health insurance costs for eligible employees. To learn more about how ERCs are calculated, please read the article.
How to claim the ERC?
To claim ERC benefits, an employer needs to file Form 941X or federal employment tax reform with the IRS.
The employer must report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees and the amount of credit claimed for each quarter.
When is ERC’s deadline?
The deadlines of Form 941, Form 941X and ERC 941 are different.
For Form 941 is generally the last day of the month following the end of each quarter. For Form 941X, the deadline is three years following the date on which the original form 941 was filed. The deadline can be two years after the date the tax was paid. However, the latter date is preferred.