The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges and hardships for many businesses and organizations around the world. 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.
Employee Retention Credit is a refundable income tax credit available to eligible employers that helps them retain their employees while providing health benefits.
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 the ERC, how it functions, and how you can 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 Employee Retention Credit (ERC)? Employee Retention Credit Limitation
Employee Retention Credit (ERC), a refundable tax credits, is available for tax-exempt businesses or organizations with employees that were affected in any way by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The ERC was created by the CARES Act in 2020 and was extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 2023. The ERC aims to encourage employers to keep their workers on the payroll and provide them with health benefits during the crisis.
The 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 limit will vary depending on when the credit is claimed. For 2020 the percentage is set at 50%, while the maximum per employee is set at $5,000. In 2021, 70% of the employees will be eligible for the maximum. The limit per employee is $7,000. For 2023, there is a 70% percentage for the first 2 quarters followed by 40% for the second two quarters. There is a $10,000 limit per employee. Employee Retention Credit Limitation
- The credit is fully refundable, meaning that if the amount of the credit exceeds the employer’s payroll tax liability, the excess will be paid to the employer as a refund.
- The credit is available to employers who suffered a significant reduction in gross revenues or a partial or full suspension of operations because of an eligible government order relating 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 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.
- The employer’s company or organization has been suspended, either fully or partly, by an order of the government due to COVID-19 at a particular calendar quarter in 2020/2021
- The employer’s gross receipts for a calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021 were less than 50% (for 2020) or 80% (for 2021) of its gross receipts for the same 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 may qualify for ERC regardless of revenue or business suspension.
A business or organization is considered fully or partially suspended by a government order if:
- The order prohibits travel, group meetings, and commerce due to COVID-19
- The order has a direct impact on the operations of an organization or business
- This order is applicable to any calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021
Some examples of orders from the government that could cause a business to be suspended are:
- Stay-athome orders restrict non-essential enterprises from operating
- Businesses are restricted in their operating hours by curfews
- Limits to the number of clients or customers that a company can serve
- Travel bans or restrictions that affect the ability of a business to transport goods or services
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 length, frequency, and timing of the order in relation to the quarters of the year.
- The order’s impact on revenues 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 can be defined as all the money received by an organization or business from any source during their annual accounting period, without deductions. Gross receipts include the following:
- 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 Limitation
- Membership dues
- Gross profits from trades and businesses
To calculate and compare gross revenue for different quarters using the following:
- It should use the same method of accounting, either cash or accrual, that it used for its federal income tax returns for 2019.
- It will use the same calendar year quarters for 2019/2021 as it did to file its federal Employment Tax Returns (Form 941).
- The same sources reported on your federal income tax form for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A recovery startup business is a business that:
- Start any new business or occupation after February 15, 2019,
- Average annual gross receipts not exceeding $1 million during the three-year period ending on the tax year immediately preceding the calendar quarterly for which the credit will be 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 credit per quarter will be $50,000
- The credit will only be available to employees who have paid wages in the third quarter and fourth of 2021
- The credit has a cap of 250 million dollars for all startup businesses that are eligible.
Credit Amount Calculation
There are different ERC rules and amounts for different employers and periods of time. The ERC is affected by the following main factors:
- How much of the employer’s income was affected in 2019 by the pandemic.
- How many employees an employer had in 2019, 2020/2021 or whether they worked, or did not work during the pandemic
- How much the employer paid to each employee and their health insurance during 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 check the forms and give the money to the employer. The employer may use the money in order to pay their employees’ health insurance premiums, or get refunds for their payroll tax.
ERCs are not available forever. The ERC started in March 2020 and ends in September 2022. The employer must claim ERC before the expiration date or when it becomes unavailable. The employer also has to use the money wisely and not waste it. Employee Retention Credit Limitation
Below you will find detailed information on ERC, including the amount of credit and the calculation.
The ERC has been introduced, modified, and terminated in different laws between 2020 and 2021. 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 of employees affects the definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs for eligible employees. Employers are classified as small or large employers based on their number of full-time workers (FTEs), and the period in which they were employed. The table below summarizes all the rules and thresholds that determine an employer’s size.
|Time Period||Small Employer Threshold||Large Employer Threshold|
|2020||Less than or equal to 100 FTEs in 2019||More than 100 FTEs in 2019|
|Q1-Q2 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in 2019||More than 500 FTEs in 2019|
|Q3-Q4 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not have in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a small eligible employer if it had less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021. For recovery startup businesses, the employer size is irrelevant. For severely financially distressed employers, the employer size is irrelevant if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q2 2021 apply.||More than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not exist in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a large eligible employer if it had more than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021.|
To count FTEs for a given year or quarter, an employer must use the following steps:
- Count the number of employees who worked at least 30 hours per week (or at least 130 hours per month) for each month in the year or quarter
- Add up the total hours worked by all other employees (who are not counted as FTEs) for each month in the year or quarter
- Divide the total hours by120and round down to the nearest whole number
- Add the number of FTEs from Step One and Step Three for each month in the year or quarter
- Calculate the average number of FTEs by adding up the monthly totals and dividing by 12 (for a year) or 3 (for a quarter)
Qualified Wages & Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages refer to wages paid during a period when the business is suspended or revenues are declining. Other forms of compensation are also included in qualified wages, such as tips, bonuses and commissions. Qualified wages include health insurance costs for eligible employees such as co-pays and 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 Limitation
|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 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 must declare the wages and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees, as well as the credit amount claimed each quarter.
Form 941 is a quarterly tax return that the employer must file to show his federal tax liabilities. This includes income taxes, Medicare tax and Social Security taxes. The employer can also claim the ERC in Form 941 for future or current quarters. Form 941 can be used by the employer to:
- ERCs can be used to reduce the amount of tax that an employer must pay to the IRS.
- Request an advance payment of the ERC if the credit exceeds the taxes that the employer has to deposit Employee Retention Credit Limitation
- Carry forward any excess credits to future quarters
To avoid making common errors and fill out Form 941 correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest Form 941, which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use Line 11c to declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify.
- Use Line 13d to declare the credit amount claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 13f to declare any advance payments received from the IRS.
- Line 24 is the place to ask for an advance payment if you need it.
- 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.
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
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC and Form 941.
- 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 also allows the employer to claim the ERC retroactively for past quarters. The employer can use the Form 941 X to: Employee Retention Credit Limitation
- 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
- Correction of errors or omissions on Form 941 which affect credit amount claimed
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.
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use Part 2 to indicate the lines on Form 941 that are being corrected or adapted.
- Use Part 3 of Form 941 to explain why it is being amended or corrected
- Line 24 is used to report additional wages and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees.
- Use Line 25 to claim any additional credit for each quarter.
- You can use Line 26 to request a refund or credit due to claiming ERC.
- Attach any supporting documents and schedules to Form 941-X.
Here are some tips and resources to help you fill out Form 941X:
- File a separate Form 941-X for each quarter that is being corrected or adjusted Employee Retention Credit Limitation
- You should fill out Form 941/X as quickly as possible after you have made an adjustment or discovered an error.
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC, Form 941 X, and updates to the IRS website.
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarification or additional assistance.
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. However, if an employer made timely deposits of all taxes due for a quarter, it can file Form 941 by the 10th day of the second month. Following the end of the quarter. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. Employee Retention Credit Limitation
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 an employer filed Form 941 on April 30, 2020, and paid the tax on April 30, 2020, the deadline for filing Form 941-X is 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, 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.
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. You should file your forms as soon as possible and use the tips and resources provided in this article to fill them out correctly and avoid common errors. For clarifications or help, you can always contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
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 is intended to help you better understand the ERC, and how it can be claimed. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Limitation
What is the ERC?
Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a tax incentive for employers that retained their employees on their payrolls during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The CARES Act, 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.
Does everyone qualify for the ERC program?
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.
Below are some details about eligibility.
- A government-issued order temporarily or permanently suspended the organization or business due to COVID-19.
- Their gross receipts for a calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021 were less than a percentage of their gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019.
- They are a recovery startup business that began operations after February 15, 2020, and has average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million.
What is the ERC rate?
The amount that an organization or company receives in ERC will depend on many factors.
Among these factors are the time period, employee count, amount of qualifying wages and health insurance cost paid to eligible workers. For a detailed explanation of ERC, you can read the article mentioned above.
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 deadlines for filing ERC forms for Forms 941 and form 941 X are different.
For Form 941 is generally the last day of the month following the end of each quarter. Meanwhile, the deadline for Form 941-X is generally three years from the date that the original Form 941 was filled. It can be as late as two years after you paid the tax, but the later date is the preferred date.