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.
Employee Retention Credit is a refundable income tax credit available to eligible employers that helps them retain their employees while providing health benefits.
The ERC first became law in 2020 with the CARES Act. It was then extended and modified in subsequent legislations in 2021 and 2023. This article will explain what the ERC is, how it works, and how to claim it for different time periods and eligibility criteria.
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 Under Section 3134
Employee Retention Credit (ERC), a refundable tax credits, is available for tax-exempt businesses or organizations with employees that were affected in any way by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The ERC was created by the CARES Act in 2020 and was extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 2023. The ERC aims to encourage employers to keep their workers on the payroll and provide them with health benefits during the crisis.
The Main Features and Benefits
- The credit is 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 limit and percentage are dependent on the period of time for which you claim the credit. For 2020 the percentage is set at 50%, while the maximum per employee is set at $5,000. In 2021, 70% of the employees will be eligible for the maximum. The limit per employee is $7,000. For 2023, there 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 Under Section 3134
- The credit is fully refundable. If the amount of credit exceeds an employer’s liability for payroll tax, the excess will then be paid back to the employer.
- 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. Alternatively, for 2023 only, employers who are considered recovery startup businesses can also claim the credit.
- 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. By submitting Form 7020, employers can request an early payment of their credit.
To qualify for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must meet one of the following two main criteria:
- The employer’s business or organization was fully or partially suspended by a government order due to COVID-19 during a calendar quarter in 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.
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 qualify for ERC despite business suspensions or revenue decreases.
A government order can either suspend or fully suspend a company or organization if the following conditions are met:
- The order prohibits travel, group meetings, and commerce due to COVID-19
- The order has a direct impact on the operations of an organization or business
- Order applies to any calendar year in 2020 or 21
Some examples of orders from the government that could cause a business to be suspended are:
- Stay-at-home orders that restrict non-essential businesses from operating
- Certain businesses are subject to curfews which limit their hours of operation
- 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
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 length, frequency, and timing of the order in relation to the quarters of the year.
- The impact and magnitude of the order to the business’s revenues and costs
It is considered that a business or organization has experienced a significant drop in gross receipts when:
- 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 for any calendar quarter in 2021 were less than 80% of its gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019
Gross receipts refer to the total of all money received or accrued during a company’s annual accounting period. Gross receipts can include:
- Sales of goods and Services
- Interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities
- Gifts, donations, and contributions Employee Retention Credit Under Section 3134
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross profit from business or trade
To compare gross revenues for different quarters an employer can use:
- It should use the same method of accounting, either cash or accrual, that it used for its federal income tax returns for 2019.
- It will use the same calendar year quarters for 2019/2021 as it did to file its federal Employment Tax Returns (Form 941).
- The same sources of revenue that they reported on their federal income tax return in 2019
Recovery Startup Business
Recovery startup businesses are those that:
- After February 15, 2020, you can start any business or trade.
- 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
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 startups are not exempt from certain rules and restrictions.
- The maximum credit available per quarter is $50,000
- Only wages paid during the third and fourth quarters in 2021 are eligible for this credit
- The credit is subject to an overall cap of $250 million for all recovery startup businesses
Credit Amount and Calculation
ERCs have different rules and amounts depending on the length of time and type of employer. The ERC is affected primarily by:
- The employer’s business has been affected by the pandemic. This could be due to the government ordering the closure or reduction of operations or a significant drop in income from 2019.
- The number of employees that the employer has in 2019 or 2020/2021 and whether or not they worked during the pandemic
- How much the employer paid to each employee and their health insurance during the pandemic
In order to receive the ERC from the IRS, the employer will need to complete some forms. 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 verify the forms, and then give the money to your employer. The employer can use the money to pay their employees and their health insurance or to get refunds or credits for their payroll taxes.
The ERC won’t be around forever. It started in March 2020 and will end in September 2022. The employer is required to claim ERCs before they expire, or are no longer available. The employer has to spend the money efficiently and not waste. Employee Retention Credit Under Section 3134
You can find more information below on ERC calculation and credit amount.
The ERC has been introduced, modified, and terminated in different laws between 2020 and 2021. The credit amount depends on the period for which you claim it. 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|
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. 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, Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages include wages paid to eligible workers during a business suspension or revenue decrease. Qualified wages include tips, commissions, bonuses, severance pay, sick leave pay, family leave pay, and other forms of compensation. Qualified wages also include the cost of providing health insurance to eligible employees, such as premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance.
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 summarizes the rules and examples for different scenarios: Employee Retention Credit Under Section 3134
|Employer Size||Time Period||Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs||Example|
|Small||2020||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||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)||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 an employer to claim the Employee retention credit (ERC), they must submit a federal employment return (Form 951) or a revised employment tax report (Form 941X) to the Internal Revenue Service. 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 is used by the employer to claim ERC for the current quarter or future. 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 Under Section 3134
- Carry over any excess credit into the following quarter
The employer should:
- Use the most recent version of Form 941, which reflects any changes or updates to the ERC laws.
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use Line 11c to report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 13d to declare the credit amount claimed for each quarter
- Line 13f should be used to report any advance payments made by the IRS.
- If you need to receive an advance payment, use Line 24.
- You can report excess credit on Line 25 for the following quarters.
- Sign and date Form 941, and include any supporting documents and schedules.
Some tips and resources for filling out Form 941 are:
- Use electronic filing services (efile) and online services to submit the Form 941 faster, more securely
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC and Form 941.
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarifications and assistance if you need it.
The Form 941X can be used to make corrections or adjustments on an earlier Form 941. Form 941 X also allows for the employer to claim ERC retroactively. Form 941-X can be used by the employer to: Employee Retention Credit Under Section 3134
- Claim the ERC to get a refund of taxes that you have overpaid.
- 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
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 X and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the latest form 941X that reflects changes to laws that are applicable to the ERC.
- Follow the instructions and worksheets provided by the IRS for calculating and reporting the ERC
- Use Part 2 of Form 941 to indicate which lines are being amended or corrected.
- Use Part 3 to explain why Form 941 is being corrected or adjusted
- Use Line 24 to report any additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 25 to claim any additional credit for each quarter.
- You can use Line 26 to request a refund or credit due to claiming ERC.
- Attach any supporting documents and schedules to Form 941-X.
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 Under Section 3134
- 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
- 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 Q1 2021 (January-March), the Form 941 must be filed by April 30th, 2021. 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 Under Section 3134
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), for example, Form 941 is due on 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 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, a refundable credit, varies according to the time period and number of employees as well as the amount of qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to employees who are eligible. The ERC 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.
Don’t miss this chance to get a tax break if your employer meets the ERC criteria. The ERC does not last forever. It has a deadline, and there is a statute of limitations for claiming the ERC. The forms should be filed as soon as you can. You can use the resources and advice provided in this post to avoid common mistakes and fill them out correctly. For clarifications or help, you can always contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
The ERC can make a big difference for your business or organization and your employees. It can be used to help retain your employees, maintain your cash flow, and recover in the event of a pandemic. This article is intended to help you better understand the ERC, and how it can be claimed. Thank you for reading. Stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Under Section 3134
What is ERC?
Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a tax incentive for employers that retained their employees on their payrolls during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The CARES Act created the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 in March 2021. Later, the CAA (Consolidated Appropriations Act), in December 2020, was amended and expanded by ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021), in March 2021.
Are all ERC applicants eligible?
The ERC is not available to everyone. The ERC is only available to employers that have paid wages to employees between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
The criteria for eligibility is also listed above. For the highlights, please see:
- A government order suspended the business (fully or partly) because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
- Their gross receipts in a quarter of 2020 or 2021 are less than the percentage of their gross revenue in the same quarter of 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.
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 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.
Employers are required to report each quarter the total amount claimed as a credit and the wages and insurance premiums paid by eligible employees.
When is the deadline to file the ERC Forms
The deadlines for filing Forms 941 and 941-X are different.
For Form 941 is generally the last day of the month following the end of each quarter. In contrast, the deadline to submit Form 941 X is generally set at three years since the date of the original 941. This can also be up to two years, based on the date when the tax is paid.