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 experienced reduced revenues, higher expenses, and disruptions to their operations because of lockdowns, distancing from social media, 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 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 Income Tax Impact
Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC), is a refundable tax credit for organizations and businesses with employees who have been affected by COVID-19. The ERC, created in 2020 by the CARES Act, was then extended and modified through subsequent legislation in both 2021-2023. The ERC is designed to encourage employers to retain their employees and offer them health benefits in times of crisis.
Main Features and Benefits
- The credit is a percentage of wages and health insurance premiums paid by eligible employees. There are limits per employee, per quarter.
- The percentage and the maximum credit vary depending on how long the credit can be claimed. For 2020 the percentage is set at 50%, while the maximum per employee is set at $5,000. For 2021, the percentage will be 70%, and the limit per quarter is $7,000 for each employee. For 2023, the percentage will be 70% for the two first quarters and 40% for the two last quarters. The limit per employee per quarter is $10,000. Employee Retention Credit Income Tax Impact
- The credit is fully refundable. If the amount of credit exceeds an employer’s liability for payroll tax, the excess will then be paid back to the employer.
- 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. For 2023 only, employers that are classified as recovery startup business can 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 can request an advance payment by submitting Form 7200.
To qualify for Employee Retention credit (ERC), employers must meet either of two main criteria.
- A government order suspended the employer’s organization or business in full or part due to COVID-19 for a calendar quarter of 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.
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 qualify for ERC despite business suspensions or revenue decreases.
A government order can either suspend or fully suspend a company or organization if the following conditions are met:
- The order restricts the commerce, travel and group meetings that are prohibited by COVID-19
- The order affects the operations of the business or organization
- The order applies to any calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021
These are some examples:
- Stay-at-home orders prohibiting the operation of non-essential businesses
- Curfews are restrictions on the hours that certain businesses can operate
- Limits to the number of clients or customers that a company can serve
- Travel restrictions or travel bans that limit the ability of businesses to transport products or services
To determine if a business was fully or partially suspended by a government order, an employer must consider:
- The nature and scope of the order and how it affects the operations of the business
- The order’s duration, frequency, and alignment with the calendar quarters
- The magnitude and impact of the order upon the revenue and expenses of a business
It is considered that a business or organization has experienced a significant drop in gross receipts when:
- The gross receipts of any calendar quarter in 2020 are less than half the gross receipts of 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 refer to the total of all money received or accrued during a company’s annual accounting period. Gross receipts are:
- Sales of Goods and Services
- Rents, dividends, and annuities are examples of income streams that include interest, dividends.
- Gifts, donations, and contributions Employee Retention Credit Income Tax Impact
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross income from trades or businesses
Employers must use the following formulas to calculate gross receipts and compare them between quarters.
- The same method of accounting (cash or accrual) that it used to file its federal income tax return for 2019
- The same calendar year quarters that it used to file its federal employment tax returns (Form 941) for 2019 and 2020/2021
- The same sources of revenue that they reported on their federal income tax return in 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A recovery startup business is a business that:
- After February 15, 2020, you can start any business or trade.
- If you have average annual gross revenues of less than $1 million in any three tax-year period that ends with the tax-year preceding the calendar quarter for credit determination.
It does not matter if a business meets the criteria of revenue decline or business suspension, a recovery-startup business qualifies for the ERC. There are certain limitations and rules that apply to recovery startups businesses.
- The maximum credit amount per quarter is $50,000
- The credit will only be available to employees who have paid wages in the third quarter and fourth of 2021
- 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:
- The employer’s business has been affected by the pandemic. This could be due to the government ordering the closure or reduction of operations or a significant drop in income from 2019.
- How many employees an employer had in 2019, 2020/2021 or whether they worked, or did not work 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 employer must provide proof of how much they paid their employees for health insurance as well as the ERC. The IRS will examine the forms to determine if the employer is eligible and then pay him the money. The employer can use the money to pay their employees and their health insurance or to get refunds or credits for their payroll taxes.
The ERC will no longer be available. The ERC began in March 2020, and it will end in September 2022. The employer is required to claim ERCs before they expire, or are no longer available. The employer also has to use the money wisely and not waste it. Employee Retention Credit Income Tax Impact
Here is more information about the ERC and its calculation.
Different laws introduced, amended and terminated the ERC in 2020, 2021 and 2022. The credit amount varies depending on the time period for which it is 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|
The Number of Employees
The number of employees affects the definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs for eligible employees. 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. This table summarizes thresholds and rules to determine the size of an employer for each 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 include wages paid to eligible workers during a business suspension or revenue decrease. Qualified wage includes tips and bonuses, as well as severance, pays, sick leave payments, family leave payments and other types of compensation. Qualified wages include health insurance costs for eligible employees such as co-pays and deductibles.
The definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs depend on the employer size and the time period. This table summarises the rules and provides examples for various scenarios. Employee Retention Credit Income Tax Impact
|Employer Size||Time Period||Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs||Example|
|Small||2020||An employer with 80 FTEs in 2019 paid $8,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in 2020. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 50% in Q2 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q2 2020 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q1-Q3 2021||An employer with 400 FTEs in 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $3,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $15,000.|
|Small||Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter)||A recovery startup business that began operations in March 2020 paid $9,000 in wages and $1,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q3 2021. The business had average annual gross receipts of $800,000. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q3 2021 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||An employer with 600 FTEs in Q2 2019 paid $11,000 in wages and $4,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q4 2021 are $15,000.|
|Large||2020||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 30 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 120 FTEs in 2019 paid $10,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in 2020. The employer had a business suspension due to a government order in April 2020. The employee did not work for two weeks in April 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for April 2020 are $2,308 ($10,000 x2/52+$2,000 x2/52).|
|Large||Q1-Q3 2021||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 90 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 550 FTEs in 2019 paid $15,000 in wages and $5,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The employee did not work for three weeks in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $5,769 ($15,000 x3/13+$5,000 x3/13).|
|Large||Q3-Q4 2021 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (only if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q32021 apply.)||An employer with 700 FTEs in Q4 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $6,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs|
Claim and Report Credit
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 has to report each quarter the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who are eligible and the credit claimed.
Form 941 is used by employers to report their quarterly federal tax liabilities, which includes income tax, Medicare tax, and social security tax. Form 941 also allows the employer to claim the ERC for current or future quarters. Form 941 allows the employer to do:
- Reduce the amount of taxes that the employer has to deposit with the IRS by the amount of the ERC
- If the ERC is greater than the tax that the employer must deposit, you can request an advance payment. Employee Retention Credit Income Tax Impact
- Carry forward any excess credit to subsequent quarters
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the latest version of Form 941 that reflects the changes and updates made by the laws that affect the ERC
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use Line 11c for the amount of qualified wages and health benefits paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 13d to declare the credit amount 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
- Use Line 25 to report any credit excess that can be carried over to the next quarter.
- Sign and date Form 941, attaching any supporting documents, schedules, or schedules.
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out Form 941 here:
- Use electronic filing services (efile) and online services to submit the Form 941 faster, more securely
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about Form 941, the ERC.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
Forms 941-X are used to rectify errors or make adjustments to Forms 941 previously submitted. Form 941-X allows employers to claim ERC retroactively. Form 941-X can be used by the employer to: Employee Retention Credit Income Tax Impact
- Claim a refund or credit for overpaid taxes due to claiming the ERC
- Report any additional wages or health insurance costs that are paid to employees who are eligible but not reported on Form 951.
- Correct any errors or omissions you find on Form 941, which may affect your credit claim.
To fill out Form 941-X correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest form 941X that reflects changes to laws that are applicable to the ERC.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Part 2 of Form 941 to indicate which lines are being amended or corrected.
- Use Part 3 to explain the reason for a correction or adjustment on Form 941
- Line 24 should be used to record any additional health insurance and wages paid to employees who qualify.
- Line 25 should be used to declare any additional amount claimed as a credit each quarter
- Use Line 26 when reporting any refund or credit that you have requested as a result of claiming your ERC
- Sign and date the Form 941 X and add any supporting documents or schedules.
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out the Form 941-X here:
- You must file a separate 941X form for each quarter you are correcting or adjusting. Employee Retention Credit Income Tax Impact
- After making a correction or finding an error, you should file Form 941X.
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC, Form 941 X, and updates to the IRS website.
- For clarifications or help, you can contact the IRS.
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. The employer can still file Form 941 if they have deposited their taxes on time. The end of the quarter. For example, Q1 2020 (January to March) requires that Form 941 be returned by May 10, 2021. Employee Retention Credit Income Tax Impact
Form 941X must be filed within three years of the original filing date or two from the payment date, whichever comes later. For Q1 2020 (January – March), for example, Form 941 is due on April 30, 2020. If an employer files Form 941 by April 30, 2020 and pays the tax on April 30 2020, then the deadline to file Form 941-X will be April 30, 2023. If an employer 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 Tax Credit (ERC), is a valuable financial benefit that helps employers to keep their employees employed and reduces the impact COVID-19 has on their organization or business.
The ERC can be claimed by filing Form 941 or Form 941-X with the IRS and reporting the qualified wages and costs of health insurance paid to eligible workers. 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.
Do not miss out on this opportunity if you’re an employer that meets the ERC eligibility criteria. The ERC is not available forever and has a deadline and a statute of limitations for claiming it. 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 can make a big difference for your business or organization and your employees. You can use it to retain employees, keep your cash flowing, and recover after a pandemic. This article is intended to help you better understand the ERC, and how it can be claimed. Thank you for reading. Stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Income Tax Impact
What is an ERC?
Employee Retention Credit is an employer tax credit available to employers who kept their employees on payroll during COVID-19.
The CARES Act, passed by Congress in March of this year, was amended in December of that year by the CAA Act. In March 2021, the ARPA Act (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021), was extended.
Is everyone eligible for the ERC?
ERC eligibility is not universal. It is only available to employers who have retained employees and paid their wages to them between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
There are also criteria for eligibility; more details can be read above, but here are the highlights:
- A government order suspended the business (fully or partly) because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
- 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.
- 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 that an organization or company receives in ERC will depend on many factors.
One of the factors is the length of time the company has been in business, the number and type of employees it has, the amount that qualifies as wages, or the health insurance premiums paid to employees who are eligible. You can read the article above for a more detailed explanation of how ERC is calculated.
How to claim ERC?
To receive the ERC, employers must file with the IRS a Form 941-X (revised employment tax returns) or a Federal Employment Tax Reform.
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 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. While the deadline for the Form 941-X will be three years after you filled out the original Form 941. It can also be from two years from the date that the tax was paid, with the later date being the more preferred one.