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.
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 has been in place since 2020 when the CARES Act was passed. Later, in 2021 and again in 2023, it was modified and extended by new legislation. This article will describe what the ERC does, how it operates, and explain how to claim it.
For a brief reading of what the Employee Retention Credit or ERC is, take a look at this video from the YouTube channel “ERC Specialists”. You can also continue below to read an in-depth explanation of ERC.
What is the Employee Retention Credit? Employee Retention Credit Legislation
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’s goal is to encourage employers during a crisis to continue to employ their workers, and to offer them health coverage.
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, it is 70%. The limit is $7,000 per quarter per employee. For 2023, there will be a 70 percent percentage for the initial two quarters of the year and a 40 percent percentage for the last two. There will also be a limit of $10,000 per employee each quarter. Employee Retention Credit Legislation
- 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 may claim the credit if their gross receipts have declined significantly or they have had to suspend operations in whole or part due to a COVID-19-related government order. 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 can also request an advance payment of the credit by filing 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
- 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 can qualify for the ERC regardless of business suspension or revenue decline.
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 affects the operations of the business or organization
- The order applies to any calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021
Examples of government orders which can lead to a suspension of business include:
- Stay-at-home orders that restrict non-essential businesses from operating
- Certain businesses have curfews that limit their hours of operations
- Limits in capacity that restrict the number or clients that a business can serve
- Travel 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 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 impact of an order on revenue and expenses
A business or organization is considered to have experienced a significant decline in gross receipts if:
- The gross receipts from any quarter in 2020 is less than 50% its gross receipts from the same calendar quarter in 2019.
- The gross revenue for any quarter of 2021 was less than 80% that for the same period in 2019.
Gross receipts are the total sums that an organization or a business has accrued or received from all its sources in a given accounting year, without any deductions. Gross receipts consist of:
- Sales of Goods & Services
- Interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities
- Contributions are gifts, donations and grants Employee Retention Credit Legislation
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross profits from trades and businesses
Employers must use the following formulas to calculate gross receipts and compare them between quarters.
- Use the same method (cash or accrual accounting) as it used when filing its federal income taxes 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.
- The same sources of revenue that they reported on their federal income tax return in 2019
Recovery Startup Business
The recovery startup business is one that:
- You must have started your business after the 15th of February 2020
- Has average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million for the three-tax-year period ending with the tax year that precedes the calendar quarter for which the credit is determined
It does not matter if a business meets the criteria of revenue decline or business suspension, a recovery-startup business qualifies for the ERC. Recovery Startup Businesses are still subject to some restrictions and special rules.
- 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
- The credit has a cap of 250 million dollars for all startup businesses that are eligible.
Credit Amounts and Calculation
There are different ERC rules and amounts for different employers and periods of time. The ERC’s main influences are:
- How much an employer’s company was affected by the pandemic.
- The number of employees that the employer has in 2019 or 2020/2021 and whether or not they worked during the pandemic
- How much each employee received from their employer and how they were covered by health insurance in the pandemic
To receive the ERC, employers must submit forms to the IRS. 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 won’t be around forever. The ERC will expire in September 2022. The employer has to claim the ERC before it expires or becomes unavailable. The employer has to spend the money efficiently and not waste. Employee Retention Credit Legislation
The following information provides more details on the ERC credit and how it is calculated.
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 summarises the main features and differences between the ERCs of 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 and type of employees can affect the definition and calculation for qualified wages and health care 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. 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)
Earnings and Costs of Health Insurance
Qualified Wages are wages that eligible employees receive during periods of suspension or decline in revenue. 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 calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages are dependent on the size of the employer and the time period. The table below summarizes rules and examples in different scenarios. Employee Retention Credit Legislation
|Employer Size||Time Period||Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs||Example|
|Small||2020||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 80 FTEs in 2019 paid $8,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in 2020. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 50% in Q2 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q2 2020 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q1-Q3 2021||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 400 FTEs in 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $3,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $15,000.|
|Small||Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter)||A recovery startup business that began operations in March 2020 paid $9,000 in wages and $1,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q3 2021. The business had average annual gross receipts of $800,000. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q3 2021 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 600 FTEs in Q2 2019 paid $11,000 in wages and $4,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q4 2021 are $15,000.|
|Large||2020||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 30 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 120 FTEs in 2019 paid $10,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in 2020. The employer had a business suspension due to a government order in April 2020. The employee did not work for two weeks in April 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for April 2020 are $2,308 ($10,000 x2/52+$2,000 x2/52).|
|Large||Q1-Q3 2021||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 90 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 550 FTEs in 2019 paid $15,000 in wages and $5,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The employee did not work for three weeks in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $5,769 ($15,000 x3/13+$5,000 x3/13).|
|Large||Q3-Q4 2021 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (only if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q32021 apply.)||An employer with 700 FTEs in Q4 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $6,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs|
Claim and Report the Credit
To claim the Employees Retention Credit, an employer must file with the Internal Revenue Service a federal Employment Tax Return (Form941) or a adjusted Employment Tax return (Form941X). The employer is required to report the qualified wages, health insurance costs and credit claimed by each quarter.
Form 941 reports the quarterly federal tax liability of an employer, including income tax and Medicare taxes. Form 941 also allows the employer to claim the ERC for current or future quarters. The employer can use the Form 941 for:
- Reduce the amount of taxes that the employer has to deposit with the IRS by the amount of the ERC
- The employer can request an advanced payment of the ERC credit if it exceeds taxes that they have to deposit. Employee Retention Credit Legislation
- You can carry forward any credit balance to subsequent quarters
To fill out Form 941 correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest Form 941, which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- 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
- 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 or electronic filing to submit Form 941 more quickly and securely
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC and Form 941.
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarifications and assistance if you need it.
Forms 941-X are used to rectify errors or make adjustments to Forms 941 previously submitted. The employer can also claim the ERC retroactively by using Form 941X. Form 941-X can be used by the employer to: Employee Retention Credit Legislation
- Claim a refund or credit for overpaid taxes due to claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees that were not reported on Form 941
- Correct any mistakes or omissions made on Form 941 that affect the amount of credit 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.
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- 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
- Line 24 is used to report additional wages and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees.
- Line 25 should be used to declare any additional amount claimed as a credit each quarter
- Use Line 26 for any refunds or credits due to ERC claims.
- Sign and date the Form 941 X and add any supporting documents or schedules.
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 X include:
- Filter a separate Form 941/X for every quarter that needs to be corrected or adjusted Employee Retention Credit Legislation
- Fill out Form 941-X immediately after you find an error in Form 941
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941X and ERC can be found on the IRS website.
- For clarifications or help, you can contact the IRS.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
Form 941 must be filed by the last date of the month that follows the end 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 end of the quarter. For example, Q1 2020 (January to March) requires that Form 941 be returned by May 10, 2021. Employee Retention Credit Legislation
Form 941X must be filed within three years of the original filing date or two from the payment date, whichever comes later. 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 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 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. 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.
This tax benefit is available to employers who meet the ERC’s eligibility criteria. The ERC will not be available indefinitely, and it has a set deadline and statute of limitations. 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. You can also contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed.
ERCs can be a huge help to your organization or business and its employees. It can help your business or organization retain workers, maintain cash flow and recover from a pandemic. We hope this article has helped you understand more about the ERC and how to claim it. Stay safe and thank you for reading.
Employee Retention Credit Legislation
What is ERC?
Employee Retention Credit: This is a credit that employers can claim if they retained employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was created by the CARES Act in March 2020 and was later amended and extended by the CAA (Consolidated Appropriations Act) in December 2020, and the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) in March 2021
Can everyone apply for ERC?
ERCs are not available to all. Only employers who paid wages and retained employees between March 13, 2019, and December 31, 2020, are eligible.
The criteria for eligibility is also listed above. For the highlights, please see:
- A government order has suspended the business or organization (wholly or partially) due to COVID-19.
- The gross receipts they had for a calendar-quarter in 2020, 2021 or both were less than 10% of their gross receipts during the same quarter last year.
- 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.
How much is the ERC?
The amount that an organization or company receives in ERC will depend on many factors.
Some of these factors include the time period, the number of employees, the number of qualified wages, and health insurance costs paid 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.
The employer must report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees and the amount of credit claimed for each quarter.
What is the deadline for submitting the ERC forms?
The deadlines for filing ERC forms for Forms 941 and form 941 X are different.
The last day for Form 941 in most cases is the last month following the end each quarter. The deadline for Forms 941-X, however, is usually three years after the date the original Form was completed. The deadline can be two years after the date the tax was paid. However, the latter date is preferred.