COVID-19’s pandemic caused unimaginable hardships to many organizations and businesses around the globe. Lockdowns, social distance, health and security measures and lockdowns have caused many employers to face reduced revenue, increased expenses and disruptions in their operations.
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 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 Employee Retention Credit? Employee Retention Credit Small Business
Employee Retention Credit is a tax credit that can be refunded to businesses and tax-exempt organizations who had employees affected by COVID-19. The ERC was established by the CARES Act of 2020 and extended and modified in subsequent legislations in 2021 and in 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
- 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 the maximum credit vary depending on how long the credit can be claimed. For 2020, the percentage is 50%, and the limit is $5,000 per employee for the entire year. In 2021, 70% of the employees will be eligible for the maximum. The limit per employee is $7,000. For 2023, the percentage is 70% for the first two quarters and 40% for the last two quarters, and the limit is $10,000 per employee per quarter. Employee Retention Credit Small Business
- The credit will be fully refundable if its amount exceeds that of the employer’s payroll taxes.
- 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. Employers who are considered to be recovery startup businesses may also claim this credit, but only for 2023.
- The credit can be claimed by filing an amended employment tax return (Form 941-X) or by reducing employment tax deposits in anticipation of the credit. Employers can request an advance payment by submitting Form 7200.
Criteria for Eligibility
To qualify for Employee Retention credit (ERC), employers must meet either of 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 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.
There is also a special rule that applies to recovery startups, which are businesses that started operations after February 15th 2020 with gross receipts no higher than $1,000,000 on average. These businesses are eligible for the ERC, regardless of whether their business has been suspended or if revenue has declined.
An order of the government can suspend a business or an organization in full or part if it:
- The order limits travel, commerce or group meetings as a result of COVID-19
- The order has a direct impact on the operations of an organization or business
- This order is applicable to any calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021
Examples of government orders which can lead to a suspension of business include:
- Orders to stay at home that prevent non-essential companies from operating
- Certain businesses are subject to curfews which limit their hours of operation
- Limits on the capacity of a business that limit how many customers or clients it can serve
- Travel restrictions or travel bans that limit the ability of businesses to transport products or services
To determine whether an employer’s business was suspended fully or partially by a government directive, the employer must:
- 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 magnitude and impact of the order upon the revenue and expenses of a business
It is considered that a business or organization has experienced a significant drop in gross receipts when:
- 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 revenues for any calendar-quarter in 2021 will be less than 80 percent of the gross revenue in 2019 for that same quarter.
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 are:
- Sales of goods and services
- Dividends, rents, and royalties, as well as interest, are all examples of annuities.
- Gifts, donations, and contributions Employee Retention Credit Small Business
- Membership dues
- Gross business income
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.
- For 2019 and 2020/2021, the same quarters of the calendar year that were used for filing federal employment tax returns on Form 941.
- The same sources as reported in the federal tax return for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
The recovery startup business is one that:
- Begun carrying on any business after February 15th, 2020
- Have average annual gross income of no more than $1 million over the three-year period ending the tax year before the calendar quarter in which the credit is determined
A recovery startup business can qualify for the ERC regardless of whether it meets the criteria of business suspension or revenue decline. Recovery startups are not exempt from certain rules and restrictions.
- Maximum credit per quarter: $50,000
- The credit is only applicable to wages paid for the third and fourth quarters of 2021
- The credit has a cap of 250 million dollars for all startup businesses that are eligible.
Credit Amounts and Calculation
ERC amounts and rules vary for different time periods and employers. The ERC is affected by the following main factors:
- How much an employer’s company was affected by the pandemic.
- What number of employees did the employer have in 2019 and 2020/2021?
- The amount of money paid by the employer to each employee as well as their health insurance during pandemic
In order to receive the ERC from the IRS, the employer will need to complete some forms. The forms must include the total amount paid by the employer to employees, their health insurance coverage and the reasons why they are eligible for the ERC. The IRS will verify the forms, and then give the money to your 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 is 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 Small Business
You can find more information below on ERC calculation and credit amount.
The ERC was introduced, amended, and terminated by different laws in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Credit amounts vary depending on when they are 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 and type of employees can affect the definition and calculation for qualified wages and health care costs. The size of an employer depends on its number of FTEs and the time period. 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 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 salaries also include the costs of providing health coverage to eligible workers, including premiums, copays, deductibles, and coinsurance.
The calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages are dependent on the size of the employer and the time period. This table summarises the rules and provides examples for various scenarios. Employee Retention Credit Small Business
|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
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that employers claim the Employee-Retention Credit by filing a federal income tax return, Form 941, or a modified employment tax form (Form941X), with them. 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 reports the quarterly federal tax liability of an employer, including income tax and Medicare taxes. Form 941 allows the employer also to claim ERCs in current or future quarters. Form 941 can be used by the employer to:
- ERC reduces taxes that employers have to deposit at the IRS.
- Request an advance payment of the ERC if the credit exceeds the taxes that the employer has to deposit Employee Retention Credit Small Business
- You can carry forward any credit balance to subsequent quarters
To avoid making common errors and fill out Form 941 correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest version 941 which reflects updates and changes in the ERC.
- The IRS has provided worksheets to help you calculate the ERC.
- 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 to declare any advance payments received from the IRS.
- Line 24 is the place to ask for an advance payment if you need it.
- Use Line 25 to report any credit excess that can be carried over to the next quarter.
- Sign and date Form 941 and attach any supporting documents or 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
- Check the IRS website for updates, FAQs, and guidance on Form 941 and the ERC
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
Forms 941-X are used to rectify errors or make adjustments to Forms 941 previously submitted. The Form 941X allows the employer retroactively to claim ERC for previous quarters. The employer can use Form 941-X to: Employee Retention Credit Small Business
- 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.
- Correct any mistakes or omissions made on Form 941 that affect the amount of credit claimed
To avoid making common errors and fill out the Form 941-X correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest 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 of Form 941 to indicate which lines are being amended or corrected.
- Use Part 3 for explaining why form 941 has been corrected or adjusted
- Use Line 24 to report any additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Line 25 is the place to enter any additional credit claims for each quarter.
- You can use Line 26 to request a refund or credit due to claiming ERC.
- Sign and date the Form 941 X and add any supporting documents or schedules.
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941X.
- Filter a separate Form 941/X for every quarter that needs to be corrected or adjusted Employee Retention Credit Small Business
- Fill out Form 941-X immediately after you find an error in Form 941
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941X and ERC can be found on the IRS website.
- For clarifications or help, you can contact the IRS.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The deadline to submit Form 941 is usually the last day in the month following each quarter. For example, for Q1 2021 (January-March), Form 941 is due by April 30, 2021. 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. After the end quarter. For example, the Q1 of 2021 is January-March. The Form 941 should be received by May 10th, 2021. Employee Retention Credit Small Business
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 example, Q1 2019 (January to March), Form 941 had to be submitted by April 30, 2019. If the employer has filed Forms 941 and paid tax by April 30th 2020, they have until April 30th 2023 to submit Form 941X. If an employer filed Form 941 on April 30, 2020, and paid the tax on June 15, 2020, the deadline for filing Form 941-X 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 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 may be claimed through IRS Forms 941 and 941X, which require the employer to report the qualified wages paid and the health insurance expenses incurred by each employee.
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 is not available forever and has a deadline and a statute of limitations for claiming it. 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. You can contact the IRS for help or clarification, or you could consult a tax expert.
ERCs can be a huge help to your organization or business and its 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. Stay safe and thank you for reading.
Employee Retention Credit Small Business
What is the ERC?
Employee Retention Credit – This tax credit is available to employers for keeping their employees employed during the COVID-19 epidemic.
The CARES Act was passed in March 2020. It was amended and extended in December 2020 by the CAA Act (Consolidated Appropriations Act) and in March 2021 by the ARPA Act (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021).
Are all ERC applicants eligible?
ERCs are not available to all. Only employers who paid wages and retained employees between March 13, 2019, and December 31, 2020, are eligible.
The criteria for eligibility is also listed above. For the highlights, please see:
- The business or organization was suspended (fully or partially) by government order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 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.
How much does the ERC cost?
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 do I claim my ERC?
To claim the ERC, an employer must file a federal employment tax reform or an adjusted employment tax return (Form 941-X) with the IRS.
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 for Filing the ERC Forms?
The deadlines for filing Forms 941 and 941-X are different.
The deadline for Form 941 is usually the last day in the month after the end of every quarter. While the deadline for the Form 941-X will be three years after you filled out the original Form 941. This can also be up to two years, based on the date when the tax is paid.