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 Qualifying Quarters
Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a refundable credit available to tax-exempt and for-profit organizations and businesses that have employees who were 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
- Credit is a fixed percentage of qualifying wages and health care costs paid by employers to employees.
- The credit limit and percentage are dependent on the period of time for which you claim the credit. In 2020, 50% of the employees will be eligible for the credit, with a maximum limit of $5,000 per employee. For 2021, the percentage is 70%, and the limit is $7,000 per employee per quarter. 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 Qualifying Quarters
- The credit is fully refundable, which means that if it exceeds the employer’s payroll tax liability the excess amount will be returned to the employer.
- 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. The credit can be claimed by employers who have been classified as recovery startups only until 2023.
- The credit may be claimed by filing a modified employment tax return (941-X), or by reducing the employment tax deposits to prepare for the credit. The credit can be requested in advance by employers using Form 7200.
Employers who wish to qualify for Employee Retention Credit (ERC) must meet 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 employer’s gross revenues for a quarterly calendar period in 2020, 2021 or both were less that 50% (for the 2020 quarter) or 80% (2021 quarter) of its gross revenue for the same year-ago quarter.
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 can be eligible for ERC regardless of their revenue decline or suspension.
A government order will either fully or partially suspend an organization or business if:
- The order limits travel, commerce or group meetings as a result of COVID-19
- The order will affect the operation of the business or the organization
- The order will apply to any calendar month in 2020 or even 2021
Here are some examples of government orders that can result in a business being suspended:
- Stay-athome orders restrict non-essential enterprises 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
To determine if the business was partially or fully suspended by an official order, employers must consider:
- The order’s nature, scope, and impact on the business
- The length and frequency of your order and the way it corresponds to 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 revenue for any calendar-quarter in 2020 was less than 50 percent of the gross revenues for the same period in 2019.
- The gross receipts of any quarter in calendar 2021 were below 80% of the gross receipts in the same quarter for 2019.
Gross receipts 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 and Services
- Dividends (rents), royalties and interest
- Donations, contributions, grants and gifts Employee Retention Credit Qualifying Quarters
- Membership dues
- Gross income from trades or businesses
Employers must use the following formulas to calculate gross receipts and compare them between quarters.
- It should use the same method of accounting, either cash or accrual, that it used for its federal income tax returns for 2019.
- 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 as reported in the federal tax return for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A recovery startup is a business:
- Begun carrying on any business after February 15th, 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
Even if it does not meet the criteria for revenue decline or suspension of business, a recovery startup can still qualify. Recovery startup businesses are subject to certain restrictions and special rules.
- The maximum credit available per quarter is $50,000
- The credit can only be used for wages paid between the third and the fourth quarters of 2020
- The credit is subject to an overall cap of $250 million for all recovery startup businesses
Credit Amount and Calculation
For different lengths of time, different types of employers and different amounts of ERC, the ERC has different rules. The main factors that affect the ERC are:
- How much the employer’s business was affected by the pandemic, either by having to close or reduce operations due to government orders or by having a big drop in income compared to 2019
- How many employees an employer had in 2019, 2020/2021 or whether they worked, or did not work during the pandemic
- What the employer paid each employee for their health insurance and during the pandemic
Employers must complete and send IRS forms to claim ERC. The employer has to fill out the forms and show how much he paid his employees, as well their health insurance, to qualify for 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.
ERCs are not available forever. The ERC will expire in September 2022. Employers must claim their ERC before they expire or become unavailable. The employer also has to use the money wisely and not waste it. Employee Retention Credit Qualifying Quarters
Below is more detailed information on the credit amount and calculation of ERC.
In 2020, 2021, & 2022, different laws were passed to introduce, amend, and terminate the ERC. The amount of credit depends on the time frame for which it’s claimed. The following table summarizes and compares the ERC’s main features for each 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. An employer is considered a small or large employer depending on the time period and the number of full-time employees (FTEs) it had in 2019. The following table summarizes the thresholds and rules for determining the employer size for 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)
Earnings and Costs of Health Insurance
Qualified wages refer to wages paid during a period when the business is suspended or revenues are declining. 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 employer size, the time period and the calculation of the qualified wage and health insurance cost will affect the calculation. The following table summarizes the rules and examples for different scenarios: Employee Retention Credit Qualifying Quarters
|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 to report the employer’s quarterly federal tax liability, including income tax, social security tax, and Medicare tax. Form 941 allows employers to claim ERCs for current or future quarterly periods. Form 941 can be used by the employer to:
- ERC – Reduce the amount the employer is required to pay in taxes.
- You can ask for advance payment if your ERC exceeds the amount of taxes you have to pay. Employee Retention Credit Qualifying Quarters
- Carry over any excess credit into the following quarter
To avoid making common errors and fill out Form 941 correctly, employers should:
- Use the most recent version of Form 941, which reflects any changes or updates to the ERC laws.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Line 11c to declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify.
- Use Line 13d when reporting the credit for each quarter.
- Line 13f should be used to report any advance payments made by the IRS.
- Line 24 is the place to ask for an advance payment if you need it.
- Report any credit balance that may be carried forward into the next quarter using Line 25
- Sign and date Form 941, and include any supporting documents and schedules.
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 include:
- 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.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
The Form 941 X is used for corrections and adjustments to a Form 941. Form 941-X also allows the employer to claim the ERC retroactively for past quarters. The employer can use Form 941-X to: Employee Retention Credit Qualifying Quarters
- Claim your refund or credit due to overpaid taxes by claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified earnings and health benefits paid to eligible employee that weren’t reported on Form 941.
- You can correct any errors or omissions that may have affected the credit claimed amount on Form 941.
To avoid making common errors and fill out the Form 941-X correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest Form 941-X which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- 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.
- Use Line 24 to declare any additional qualified wages or health insurance costs paid by eligible employees.
- Use Line 25 to claim any additional credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 26 to report any refund or credit requested due to claiming the ERC
- Sign and date Form 941-X and attach any supporting documents or schedules
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 Qualifying Quarters
- After making a correction or finding an error, you should file Form 941X.
- Visit the IRS website to get the latest updates, FAQs, and guidance regarding Form 941-X, the ERC, and other forms.
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarification or additional assistance.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The last day to file Form 941 usually falls on the last month after the end of each quarterly period. For Q1 2021 (January-March), the Form 941 must be filed by April 30th, 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. For Q1 2021 (January-March), form 941 must be submitted by May 10, 2020, Employee Retention Credit Qualifying Quarters
Form 941X must be filed within three years of the original filing date or two from the payment date, whichever comes later. For Q1 2020, (January-March), the Form 941 must be filed by April 30th 2020. If an employee filed Form 941 in April 2020 and paid their tax in April 2020, the deadline to file the 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.
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 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 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 will not be available indefinitely, and it has a set deadline and statute of limitations. It is important to file your forms quickly and correctly. This article provides tips and resources that will help you avoid common errors. If you need clarification or assistance, you can contact the IRS.
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. We hope this article has helped you understand more about the ERC and how to claim it. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Qualifying Quarters
What is an ERC?
Employee Retention Credit – This tax credit is available to employers for keeping their employees employed during the COVID-19 epidemic.
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).
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.
More details are available above. But here are some of the highlights.
- A government order imposed a suspension (full or partial) on the business or organization 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.
- It is a recovery-startup business that has been operating since after February 15, 2020. Their average annual gross receipts are no more than one million dollars.
How much is ERC?
The amount of ERC an organization or business receives depends on several factors.
Some of these include the time period and number of employees. Others are the amount paid in qualified wages or health insurance to eligible employees. For a detailed explanation of ERC, you can read the article mentioned above.
How do I claim my ERC?
For an employer to claim the ERC, they must file either a federal reform of employment tax or an amended employment tax return (941-X).
Employers must submit quarterly reports detailing the amounts of the tax credit, the wages paid and the health insurance premiums that they have claimed to be reimbursed.
When is ERC’s deadline?
The deadline for filing the ERC forms is different for Form 941 and Form 941-X.
The last day for Form 941 in most cases is the last month following the end each quarter. While the deadline for the Form 941-X will be three years after you filled out the original Form 941. It can be as late as two years after you paid the tax, but the later date is the preferred date.