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.
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The ERC, which was originally enacted in 2020 by the CARES Act, was extended and modified later by subsequent legislation in both 2021 & 2023. The ERC will be explained in this article, along with how it works and the different eligibility criteria and time periods for which it can be claimed.
For a brief reading of what the Employee Retention Credit or ERC is, take a look at this video from the YouTube channel “ERC Specialists”. You can also continue below to read an in-depth explanation of ERC.
What is the Employee Retention Credit? Employee Retention Credit Law
Employee Retention Credit is a tax credit that can be refunded to businesses and tax-exempt organizations who had employees affected by COVID-19. The ERC was established by the CARES Act of 2020 and extended and modified in subsequent legislations in 2021 and in 2023. The ERC 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 credit limit and percentage are dependent on the period of time for which you claim the credit. For 2020, the percent is 50%, and the limit is $5,000 for each employee per year. For 2021, the percentage is 70%, and the limit is $7,000 per employee per quarter. 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 Law
- The credit amount is fully refundable, meaning if the credit exceeds your employer’s tax liability on payroll, you will receive the excess as a reimbursement.
- 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 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.
To qualify as an employer for the Employee retention Credit (ERC), you must meet at least one of the two criteria below:
- 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 gross receipts of the employer for a calendar-quarter in 2020 or 2020 were less than 50 percent (for 2020), or 80 percent (for 2021), of their gross receipts during the same calendar 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.
An order of the government can suspend a business or an organization in full or part if it:
- The order restricts the commerce, travel and group meetings that are prohibited by COVID-19
- The order impacts the operations of a business or organization
- Order applies to any calendar year in 2020 or 21
Here are some examples of government orders that can result in a business being suspended:
- Stay-athome orders restrict non-essential enterprises from operating
- Curfews that limit the hours of operation for certain businesses
- 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 whether an employer’s business was suspended fully or partially by a government directive, the employer must:
- The nature and extent of the order, and its impact on the operation of your business
- The length and frequency of your order and the way it corresponds to 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 in any calendar quarter of 2020 will be less than 50% the gross receipts in the same quarter of 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 can include:
- Sales of goods & services
- Rents, dividends, and annuities are examples of income streams that include interest, dividends.
- Contributions, gifts, grants, and donations Employee Retention Credit Law
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross revenue from businesses or trades
Employers must use the following formulas to calculate gross receipts and compare them between quarters.
- The same method of account (cash, accrual or accrual) was used in filing the federal income tax return.
- 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 is a business:
- Began carrying on any trade or business after February 15, 2020,
- 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.
The ERC is available to a recovery startup business regardless of whether or not it meets the criteria for business suspension or revenue decrease. However, there are some limitations and special rules that apply to recovery startup businesses, such as:
- 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
- All recovery startup businesses are subject to an aggregate cap of $250,000,000.
Credit Amounts and Calculation
There are different ERC rules and amounts for different employers and periods of time. The ERC is affected primarily by:
- 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
- The number of employees that the employer has in 2019 or 2020/2021 and whether or not they worked during the pandemic
- What the employer paid each employee for their health insurance and during the pandemic
To claim the ERC, the employer must fill out and submit a form to the IRS. The form must show the amount the employer paid for their employees’ health insurance, and how they qualified for 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 won’t be around forever. It started in March 2020 and will end in September 2022. The employer must claim ERC before the expiration date or when it becomes unavailable. The employer must also spend the money properly and not waste any of it. Employee Retention Credit Law
You can find more information below on ERC calculation and credit amount.
In 2020, 2021, & 2022, different laws were passed to introduce, amend, and terminate the ERC. The credit amount depends on the period for which you claim it. 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 employed affects how wages are calculated and defined, as well as the health insurance premiums for eligible employees. 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 the rules and thresholds for determining employer size in each time period.
|Time Period||Small Employer Threshold||Large Employer Threshold|
|2020||Less than or equal to 100 FTEs in 2019||More than 100 FTEs in 2019|
|Q1-Q2 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in 2019||More than 500 FTEs in 2019|
|Q3-Q4 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not have in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a small eligible employer if it had less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021. For recovery startup businesses, the employer size is irrelevant. For severely financially distressed employers, the employer size is irrelevant if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q2 2021 apply.||More than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not exist in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a large eligible employer if it had more than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021.|
To count FTEs for a given year or quarter, an employer must use the following steps:
- Count the number of employees who worked at least 30 hours per week (or at least 130 hours per month) for each month in the year or quarter
- Add up the total hours worked by all other employees (who are not counted as FTEs) for each month in the year or quarter
- Divide the total hours by120and round down to the nearest whole number
- Add the number of FTEs from Step One and Step Three for each month in the year or quarter
- Calculate the average number of FTEs by adding up the monthly totals and dividing by 12 (for a year) or 3 (for a quarter)
Qualified Wages, Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages refer to wages paid during a period when the business is suspended or revenues are declining. Qualified wage includes tips and bonuses, as well as severance, pays, sick leave payments, family leave payments and other types of compensation. Qualified earnings also include costs associated with providing health insurance coverage to eligible employees. These include premiums as well as deductibles.
The calculation of qualified wages, health insurance costs and employer size depends on the time period. The following table summarizes the rules and examples for different scenarios: Employee Retention Credit Law
|Employer Size||Time Period||Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs||Example|
|Small||2020||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 80 FTEs in 2019 paid $8,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in 2020. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 50% in Q2 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q2 2020 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q1-Q3 2021||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 400 FTEs in 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $3,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $15,000.|
|Small||Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter)||A recovery startup business that began operations in March 2020 paid $9,000 in wages and $1,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q3 2021. The business had average annual gross receipts of $800,000. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q3 2021 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 600 FTEs in Q2 2019 paid $11,000 in wages and $4,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q4 2021 are $15,000.|
|Large||2020||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 30 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 120 FTEs in 2019 paid $10,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in 2020. The employer had a business suspension due to a government order in April 2020. The employee did not work for two weeks in April 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for April 2020 are $2,308 ($10,000 x2/52+$2,000 x2/52).|
|Large||Q1-Q3 2021||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 90 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 550 FTEs in 2019 paid $15,000 in wages and $5,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The employee did not work for three weeks in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $5,769 ($15,000 x3/13+$5,000 x3/13).|
|Large||Q3-Q4 2021 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (only if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q32021 apply.)||An employer with 700 FTEs in Q4 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $6,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs|
Claim and Report the Credit
For an employer to claim the Employee retention credit (ERC), they must submit a federal employment return (Form 951) or a revised employment tax report (Form 941X) to the Internal Revenue Service. 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 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 Form 941 to:
- ERCs can be used to reduce the amount of tax that an employer must pay to the IRS.
- If the ERC is greater than the tax that the employer must deposit, you can request an advance payment. Employee Retention Credit Law
- Carry over any excess credit into the following quarter
To ensure the correct completion of Form 941, and to avoid common errors:
- Use the most recent version of Form 941, which reflects any changes or updates to the ERC laws.
- Follow the instructions and worksheets provided by the IRS for calculating and reporting the ERC
- Use line 11c to report qualified wages paid and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees
- 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 to request an advance payment of the credit if needed
- Report any credit balance that may be carried forward into the next quarter using Line 25
- Sign and date Form 941, attaching any supporting documents, schedules, 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
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about Form 941, the ERC.
- For clarifications or help, you can contact the IRS.
Form 941-X allows you to correct mistakes or make adjustments in Form 941 that has already been filed. Form 941-X allows employers to claim ERC retroactively. The employer can use Form 941-X to: Employee Retention Credit Law
- 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.
- You can correct any errors or omissions that may have affected the credit claimed amount on Form 941.
To avoid making common errors and fill out the Form 941-X correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest Form 941-X which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Part 2 to indicate the lines on Form 941 that are being corrected or adapted.
- Use Part 3 to explain your corrections or adjustments on Form 941.
- Line 24 should be used to record any additional health insurance and wages paid to employees who qualify.
- Use Line 25 to report any additional amount of credit claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 26 to report any refund or credit requested due to claiming the ERC
- Sign and date Form 941-X and attach any supporting documents or schedules
Here are some tips and resources to help you fill out Form 941X:
- You must file a separate 941X form for each quarter you are correcting or adjusting. Employee Retention Credit Law
- 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 for Q1 (2021) (January – March), Form 941 should be submitted by April 30, 2019. Nevertheless, if the employer deposited all taxes due in a given quarter on time, they may file Form 941 before the 10th day. Following 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 Law
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 Q1 2020, (January-March), the Form 941 must be filed by April 30th 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 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 credit (ERC), a valuable benefit under tax law, can help employers who have been affected by COVID-19 keep their staff on payroll and minimize the impact of pandemic.
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 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.
This tax benefit is available to employers who meet the ERC’s eligibility criteria. The ERC cannot be claimed forever. There is a deadline to claim it and a statute that limits its use. To avoid making common mistakes, you should fill out the forms correctly using the information and tips in this article. You can contact the IRS for help or clarification, or you could consult a tax expert.
ERCs are a powerful tool that can help your company or organization, as well as 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 Law
What is the ERC?
The Employee Retention Credit is a tax credit for employers who retained their employees in their payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CARES Act was passed in March 2020. It was amended and extended in December 2020 by the CAA Act (Consolidated Appropriations Act) and in March 2021 by the ARPA Act (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021).
Can everyone apply for ERC?
ERC isn’t available to everyone. The ERC is only available to employers that have paid wages to employees 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 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.
- You are a new business in recovery that has started operating after February 15th, 2020. Your average annual gross sales is no more than $1,000,000.
What is the ERC worth?
The amount that an organization or company receives in ERC will depend on many 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. To learn more about how ERCs are calculated, please read the article.
How to claim ERC
To claim the ERC, an employer must file a federal employment tax reform or an adjusted employment tax return (Form 941-X) 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 for Filing the ERC Forms?
The deadlines for filing ERC forms for Forms 941 and form 941 X are different.
The last day to submit Form 941 for each quarter is the last calendar month. 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.