COVID-19’s pandemic caused unimaginable hardships to many organizations and businesses around the globe. Many employers have experienced reduced revenues, higher expenses, and disruptions to their operations because of lockdowns, distancing from social media, and health-and-safety measures.
In order to help employers retain employees and offer them health benefits in this tough time, the U.S. Government has introduced the Employee retention credit (ERC), which is a tax credit refundable that can be used by eligible employers to offset some payroll costs.
The ERC 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. This article will provide an overview of the ERC and its workings, as well as how to apply for it in different time periods.
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 Program Qualifications
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 was created to encourage employers in crisis to keep workers on their payrolls and provide them health insurance.
Main Features and Benefits
- Credit is a fixed percentage of qualifying wages and health care costs paid by employers to employees.
- The percentage and the limit vary depending on the time period for which the credit is claimed. For 2020 the percentage is set at 50%, while the maximum per employee is set at $5,000. For 2021, the percentage will be 70%, and the limit per quarter is $7,000 for each employee. 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 Program Qualifications
- 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 may also request an advanced payment of the credit using Form 7200.
Criteria for Eligibility
In order to qualify for Employee Recruitment Credit (ERC), a company must meet the following criteria:
- 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.
A special rule is in place for businesses that have started operating after February 15, 2020, and whose average gross receipts per year are no more than one million dollars. These businesses may qualify for ERC regardless of revenue or business suspension.
A government order may suspend a business, or even partially suspend it.
- The order restricts commerce, travel or group meetings because of COVID-19
- The order affects the operations of the business or organization
- The order will apply to any calendar month in 2020 or even 2021
Some examples of government orders that can cause a business suspension are:
- Stay-athome orders restrict non-essential enterprises from operating
- Curfews that limit the hours of operation for certain businesses
- Capacity limitations that reduce the amount of customers or clientele that a firm can service
- Travel bans or restrictions that affect the ability of a business to transport goods or services
To determine whether an employer’s business was suspended fully or partially by a government directive, the employer must:
- The nature and scope of the order and how it affects the operations of the 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 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 receipts from any calendar quarter during 2021 are less than 80% compared to the same quarter’s gross receipts from 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 can include:
- Sales of goods & services
- Dividends, rents, and royalties, as well as interest, are all examples of annuities.
- Contributions, gifts, grants, and donations Employee Retention Credit Program Qualifications
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross income from trades or businesses
To compare gross revenues for different quarters an employer can use:
- 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
- It is the same income sources that were reported on the federal income tax returns for 2019.
Recovery Startup Business
Recovery startup businesses are those that:
- Start any new business or occupation after February 15, 2019,
- The average annual gross receipts for the three tax years ending in the year preceding the quarter for which credit is calculated cannot exceed $1 million
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 amount per quarter is $50,000
- The credit is only available for wages paid in the third and fourth quarters of 2021
- The credit has a cap of 250 million dollars for all startup businesses that are eligible.
Credit Amount Calculation
The ERC has different rules and amounts for different periods of time and different types of employers. The ERC is affected primarily by:
- How much of the employer’s income was affected in 2019 by the pandemic.
- What number of employees did the employer have in 2019 and 2020/2021?
- 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 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 examine the forms to determine if the employer is eligible and then pay him the money. The employer could use this money to pay health insurance for employees or to get refunds and credits for payroll taxes.
ERCs are not available forever. The ERC will expire in September 2022. The employer must claim the ERC prior to its expiration or becoming unavailable. The employer must also spend the money properly and not waste any of it. Employee Retention Credit Program Qualifications
Here is more information about the ERC and its calculation.
The ERC was introduced, amended, and terminated by different laws in 2020, 2021, and 2022. The credit amount varies depending on the time period for which it is 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 eligible employees will affect the calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages. 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 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 and 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 and definition of health insurance and qualified wages are dependent on the size of the employer and the time period. The following table provides a summary of the rules for different scenarios. Employee Retention Credit Program Qualifications
|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 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. The employer can also claim the ERC in Form 941 for future or current quarters. Form 941 allows the employer to do:
- ERC reduces the amount that employers must deposit with the IRS in order to pay taxes.
- Employers can request a payment in advance if their ERC is higher than the taxes they are required to pay. Employee Retention Credit Program Qualifications
- You can carry forward any credit balance to subsequent quarters
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the latest Form 941, which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- Follow the IRS instructions and worksheets for calculating the ERC and reporting it.
- Use Line 11c to declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify.
- Use Line 13d to report the amount of credit claimed for each 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
- Use Line 25 to report any excess credit that can be carried forward to subsequent quarters
- Sign and date Form 941, and include any supporting documents and schedules.
Some tips and resources for filling out Form 941 are:
- Use online services (e-file or online filing) to submit Form 941, faster and with greater security.
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941, the ERC, and other IRS forms can be found on the IRS website.
- Need clarification? Contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
The Form 941 X is used for corrections and adjustments to a Form 941. 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 Program Qualifications
- Claim the ERC to get a refund of taxes that you have overpaid.
- Report additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible employees which were not reported in Form 941
- Correction of errors or omissions on Form 941 which affect credit amount claimed
Employers can avoid common mistakes by filling in Form 941X correctly.
- Use the latest Form 941-X which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- 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 of Form 941 to explain why it is being amended or corrected
- Use Line 24 for any additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible workers
- Use Line 25 for any additional credit claimed each quarter.
- Use Line 26 to report any credit or refund due to the ERC claim.
- Sign and date Form 941, and attach any supporting documentation or schedules
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 X include:
- Fill out a separate form 941-X per quarter being corrected or recalculated Employee Retention Credit Program Qualifications
- Fill out Form 941-X immediately after you find an error in Form 941
- Check the IRS website for updates, FAQs, and guidance on Form 941-X and the ERC
- Need clarification? Contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
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, for Q1 2021 (January-March), Form 941 is due by April 30, 2021. If an employer has made all the required deposits for the quarter in a timely manner, they can file Forms 941 on the 10th of the second month. After the end of the quarterly period. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. Employee Retention Credit Program Qualifications
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 of 2020 (January through March), the deadline for Form 941 to be filed was April 30, 2020. 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 is a valuable tax credit that can assist employers affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic to keep their employees and reduce the impact on their business or organization.
The ERC is a refundable tax credit. It varies based on time, number of employees, and amount of wages and health insurance paid to eligible employees. The ERC can be claimed by filing Form 941 or Form 941-X with the IRS and reporting the qualified wages and health insurance costs and the amount of credit claimed for each quarter.
Do not miss out on this opportunity if you’re an employer that meets the ERC 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.
The ERC is a great tool for both your business and employees. It will help you to keep your employees, maintain a healthy cash flow, as well as recover from pandemic. This article is intended to help you better understand the ERC, and how it can be claimed. Thanks for reading and please stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Program Qualifications
What is ERC?
Employee Retention Credit is an employer tax credit available to employers who kept their employees on payroll during COVID-19.
It was created in March of 2020 by the CARES Act and later extended and amended by the CAA Act of December 2020 (Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021).
Are all ERC applicants eligible?
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.
You can read more about the criteria here. Here are some highlights.
- A government order suspended the business (fully or partly) because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
- Their gross revenues for a quarter calendar in 2020 or in 2021 were lower than a percentage compared to their gross revenues for the same period in 2019.
- 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 rate?
The amount of ERC a company or organization receives will depend 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 the ERC?
To claim the ERC an employer must submit a federal employment reform (Form 941)-X or a revised employment tax return to 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.
When is the deadline to submit the ERC form?
There are two different deadlines to file the ERC Forms: Form 941 (Form 941-X) and Form 941 (941).
The deadline for Form 941 is usually the last day in the month after the end of every quarter. In contrast, the deadline to submit Form 941 X is generally set at three years since the date of the original 941. It can also be from two years from the date that the tax was paid, with the later date being the more preferred one.