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.
The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC) is a refundable credit that employers can use to offset payroll costs.
The ERC is a program that was introduced by the CARES Act of 2020. Subsequent legislation was passed in 2021 and in 2023 to extend and modify it. 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 Employee Retention Credit (ERC)? Employee Retention Credit Moratorium
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 is a refundable tax credit that was created by 2020’s CARES Act and has been extended and changed by subsequent legislations of 2021 and 2023. The ERC encourages employers to maintain their workers and to provide health benefits to them during the crisis.
Main Features and Benefits
- The credit is equal to a percentage of qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees, up to a certain limit per employee per quarter.
- The credit amount and percentage vary according to the time period in which it is claimed. 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 Moratorium
- 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 can be claimed by filing an amended employment tax return (Form 941-X) or by reducing employment tax deposits in anticipation of the credit. The credit can be requested in advance by employers using Form 7200.
Criteria for Eligibility
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
- 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 may qualify for ERC regardless of revenue or business suspension.
An order of the government can suspend a business or an organization in full or part if it:
- The order 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
Here are some examples of government orders that can result in a business being suspended:
- Orders to stay at home that prevent non-essential companies from operating
- Certain businesses have curfews that limit their hours of operations
- Limits on the capacity of a business that limit how many customers or clients it can serve
- Travel bans and restrictions that restrict the ability for a company to transport services or goods
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.
- How the nature and scope and the order affect the operation of the business
- The duration and frequency of the order and how it coincides with the calendar quarters
- The impact and magnitude of the order to the business’s revenues and costs
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 for any calendar quarter in 2021 were less than 80% of its gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019
Gross receipts are defined as the total amount received or accrued by a business or organization from all sources during its annual accounting period without any deductions. Gross receipts can include:
- Sales of goods and services
- Interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities
- Contributions, gifts and grants Employee Retention Credit Moratorium
- Membership dues
- Gross profit from business or trade
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 quarters in the calendar year as those used for the federal employment tax returns (Form 941) filed by 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:
- You must have started your business after the 15th of February 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.
If a business is in recovery, it can still qualify for ERC even if the business has been suspended or its revenue has declined. Recovery Startup Businesses are still subject to some restrictions and special rules.
- The maximum credit per quarter will be $50,000
- The credit is only available for wages paid in the third and fourth quarters of 2021
- Credits for recovery startups are subject to a maximum of $250 million.
Credit Amount and 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 business income dropped compared to 2019.
- How many employees an employer had in 2019, 2020/2021 or whether they worked, or did not work during the pandemic
- The amount of money paid by the employer to each employee as well as their health insurance during pandemic
To claim the ERC, the employer must fill out and submit a form to the IRS. The forms have to show how much the employer paid to their employees and their health insurance and why they qualify for the ERC. The IRS will review the forms and pay the money back to the employer. The employer can then use the money for paying their employees, their health insurance and/or to receive refunds or credits on their payroll tax.
The ERC won’t be around forever. The ERC started in March 2020 and ends in September 2022. The employer must claim the ERC prior to its expiration or becoming unavailable. Employers must also use the money well and not waste it. Employee Retention Credit Moratorium
You can find more information below on ERC calculation and credit amount.
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 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 affects the calculation of qualified wages for employees and their health insurance 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)
Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wage is the number of wages that are paid to employees who qualify during a time when a business has been suspended or revenue has decreased. The list of qualified wages includes tips, bonuses, commissions, and severance payments, as well as sick leave, family leave, severance, and other compensation. Qualified wage also includes the cost of health insurance for eligible employees. This may include premiums, deductibles, co-pays, or co-insurance.
The calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages are dependent on the size of the employer and the time period. Table 1 summarizes and gives examples of rules in various scenarios. Employee Retention Credit Moratorium
|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 the Internal Revenue Service to grant the Employee Retention credit (ERC), employers must file either a federal tax return for employment (Form 941), or an amended tax return for employment (Form941-X). 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 is used by employers to:
- ERC reduces the amount that employers must deposit with the IRS in order to pay taxes.
- You can ask for advance payment if your ERC exceeds the amount of taxes you have to pay. Employee Retention Credit Moratorium
- Any excess credit can be carried forward to the next quarter
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the 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 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 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 the form 941, and attach any supporting documents.
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 include:
- Use online services (e-file or online filing) to submit Form 941, faster and with greater security.
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about Form 941, the ERC.
- For clarifications or help, you can contact the IRS.
The Form 941X can be used to make corrections or adjustments on an earlier Form 941. The employer can also claim the ERC retroactively by using Form 941X. Employers can use Form 941/X for Employee Retention Credit Moratorium
- Claim a refund or credit for overpaid taxes due to claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified earnings and health benefits paid to eligible employee that weren’t reported on Form 941.
- The amount of credit claimed will be affected by any mistakes or omissions in Form 941.
To fill out Form 941-X correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest version 941-X to reflect the updated laws and regulations that impact the ERC.
- Follow the IRS instructions and worksheets for calculating the ERC and reporting it.
- 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 for any additional credit claimed each quarter.
- Use Line 26 to report any credit or refund due to the ERC claim.
- Attach any supporting documents and schedules to Form 941-X.
Here are some tips and resources to help you fill out Form 941X:
- For each quarter to be adjusted or corrected, you must submit a different Form 941X. Employee Retention Credit Moratorium
- Fill out Form 941-X immediately after you find an error in Form 941
- 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 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. The employer can still file Form 941 if they have deposited their taxes on time. 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 Moratorium
The deadline for submitting Form 941X is usually three years following the original date of Form 941 or two after the date on which the tax was paid. For Q1 2020, (January-March), the Form 941 must be filed by April 30th 2020. 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 employers filed Forms 941 and paid taxes on June 15, 2019, the deadline is June 15, 2022.
The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a valuable tax benefit that can help employers who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic keep their employees on the payroll and reduce the impact of the pandemic on their businesses or organizations.
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.
If you are an employer who meets the eligibility criteria for the ERC, you should not miss this opportunity to take advantage of this tax benefit. The ERC will not be available indefinitely, and it has a set deadline and statute of limitations. To avoid making common mistakes, you should fill out the forms correctly using the information and tips in this article. For clarifications or help, you can always contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
ERC can have a significant impact on your business, organization, and your employees. It can help your business or organization retain workers, maintain cash flow and recover from 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 Moratorium
What is ERC and what does it do?
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, 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 isn’t available to everyone. Employers only eligible for the ERC are those who have retained and paid wages to their employees between March 14, 2020 and Dec 31, 2021.
Below are some details about eligibility.
- The business or organization was suspended (fully or partially) by government order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 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 ERC?
The amount of ERC an organization or business receives depends on several factors.
These factors include time, the number of employees and the amount of wages that qualify. They also include health insurance costs for eligible employees. To learn more about how ERCs are calculated, please read the article.
How to claim 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 is also possible to choose a date of two years following the date on which the tax was paid.