COVID-19, the pandemic that has swept across the globe in recent years, has brought unprecedented challenges and hardships to businesses and organisations around. Due to lockdowns and social distancing as well as health and safety measures, many employers have seen their revenues and expenses drop, while operations are disrupted.
The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC) is a refundable credit that employers can use to offset payroll costs.
The ERC 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 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 Employee Retention Credit? Employee Retention Credit Wages
The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a refundable tax credit for businesses and tax-exempt organizations that had employees and were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The ERC is a refundable tax credit that was created by 2020’s CARES Act and has been extended and changed by subsequent legislations of 2021 and 2023. The ERC’s goal is to encourage employers during a crisis to continue to employ their workers, and to offer them health coverage.
Main Features & Benefits
- Credits are equal to a percent of the qualified wages and costs for health insurance paid to eligible employees up to a limit per employee each quarter.
- The percentage and limit will vary depending on when the credit is claimed. In 2020, 50% of the employees will be eligible for the credit, with a maximum limit of $5,000 per employee. 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 Wages
- The credit is fully refundable, meaning that if the amount of the credit exceeds the employer’s payroll tax liability, the excess will be paid to the employer as a refund.
- The credit can be claimed by employers who experienced a significant decline in gross receipts or a full or partial suspension of operations due to a qualifying government order related 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. Employers can also request an advance payment of the credit by filing Form 7200.
In order to qualify for Employee Recruitment Credit (ERC), a company must meet the following criteria:
- The employer’s business or organisation was suspended in whole or in part by a government decree due to the COVID-19, during a quarter calendar of 2020 or 21
- 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 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 restricts commerce, travel or group meetings because of COVID-19
- The order affects the operations of the business or organization
- This order is applicable to any calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021
Some examples of government orders that can cause a business suspension are:
- Stay-athome orders restrict non-essential enterprises from operating
- Certain businesses are subject to curfews which limit their hours of operation
- Limits to the number of clients or customers that a company can serve
- 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.
- 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 extent and severity of the impact of the order on the revenues and expenses of the business
It is considered a significant decrease in gross revenue if a business has:
- 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 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 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 consist of:
- Sales of Goods & Services
- Interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities
- Contributions, gifts, grants, and donations Employee Retention Credit Wages
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross income from trades or businesses
Employers must use the following formulas to calculate gross receipts and compare them between quarters.
- The same method for accounting (cash-based or accrual-based) that was used to file the federal income Tax return 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 reported on your federal income tax form for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
Recovery startup businesses are those that:
- After February 15, 2020, you can start any business or trade.
- Average annual gross receipts not exceeding $1 million during the three-year period ending on the tax year immediately preceding the calendar quarterly for which the credit will be 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 still subject to some 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 maximum credit available for startup businesses is $250 million.
Credit Amount Calculation
The ERC has different rules and amounts for different periods of time and different types of employers. The main factors that affect the ERC are:
- How much business income dropped compared to 2019.
- Employer’s number of employees in 2019 or 2021, and whether the employee worked or not.
- How much did the employer pay each employee in health insurance?
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 then check the forms before giving the money to employers. 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 will no longer be available. The ERC began in March 2020, and it will end in September 2022. The employer has to claim the ERC before it expires or becomes unavailable. The employer also has to use the money wisely and not waste it. Employee Retention Credit Wages
The following information provides more details on the ERC credit and how it is calculated.
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 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 employed affects how wages are calculated and defined, as well as the health insurance premiums 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 rules and thresholds to determine employer 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 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 definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs depend on the employer size and the time period. The following table provides a summary of the rules for different scenarios. Employee Retention Credit Wages
|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 the Credit and Report It
To claim the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must file a federal employment tax return (Form 941) or an adjusted employment tax return (Form 941-X) with the Internal Revenue Service (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.
Form 941 allows employers to declare their quarterly federal taxes, including income taxes, Medicare and Social Security tax. Form 941 allows employers to claim ERCs for current or future quarterly periods. The employer can use the Form 941 for:
- Reduce the amount of taxes that the employer has to deposit with the IRS by the amount of the ERC
- Request an advance payment of the ERC if the credit exceeds the taxes that the employer has to deposit Employee Retention Credit Wages
- 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 Form 941, which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Line 11c for the amount of qualified wages and health benefits paid to eligible employees
- Report the amount of credit claimed each quarter using Line 13d.
- Line 13f should be used to report any advance payments made by the IRS.
- Use Line 24 if you require an advance credit payment.
- Use Line 25 to report any excess credit that can be carried forward to subsequent quarters
- Sign the form 941, and attach any supporting documents.
Here are some tips and resources to help you fill out Form 941:
- Use electronic filing services (efile) and online services to submit the Form 941 faster, more securely
- Visit the IRS website to get the latest updates, FAQs, and guidance regarding Form 941 and ERC.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
Form 941-X is used to correct errors or make adjustments on a previously filed Form 941. The Form 941X allows the employer retroactively to claim ERC for previous quarters. The employer may use Form 941 to: Employee Retention Credit Wages
- Claim refunds or credits for taxes overpaid due to the ERC
- Report any additional wages or health insurance costs that are paid to employees who are eligible but not reported on Form 951.
- Correct any mistakes or omissions made on Form 941 that affect the amount of credit claimed
To fill out Form 941-X correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest version of Form 941-X that reflects the changes and updates made by the laws that affect the ERC
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Part 2 to indicate which lines of Form 941 are being corrected or adjusted
- Use Part 3 of Form 941 to explain why it is being amended or corrected
- Line 24 should be used to record any additional health insurance and wages paid to employees who qualify.
- Use Line 25 to claim any additional credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 26 for any refunds or credits due to ERC claims.
- 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 Wages
- 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
- 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. Nevertheless, if the employer deposited all taxes due in a given quarter on time, they may file Form 941 before the 10th day. 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 Wages
The deadline for submitting Form 941X depends on the time period. It is generally three or two years, depending on the date when the original Form 941 has been filed. For Q1 2020 (January – March), for example, Form 941 is due on April 30, 2020. If an employer files Form 941 by April 30, 2020 and pays the tax on April 30 2020, then the deadline to file Form 941-X will be April 30, 2023. If an employer files Form 941 in April 2020 and pays the tax on June 15 2020, they have until June 15 2022 to file Form 941.
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 that varies depending on the time period, the number of employees, and the amount of qualified wages and health insurance costs 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.
This tax benefit is available to employers who meet the ERC’s eligibility criteria. The ERC does not last forever. It has a deadline, and there is a statute of limitations for claiming the ERC. Use the resources and tips provided in this article to ensure that you fill out your forms correctly and avoid common mistakes. 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. It can help your business or organization retain workers, maintain cash flow and recover from a pandemic. This article is intended to help you better understand the ERC, and how it can be claimed. Thank you for reading. Stay safe.
Employee Retention Credit Wages
What is ERC?
The Employee Retention Credit is a tax credit for employers who retained their employees in their payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was created by the CARES Act in March 2020 and was later amended and extended by the CAA (Consolidated Appropriations Act) in December 2020, and the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) in March 2021
Can everyone apply for ERC?
The ERC is not available to everyone. It is only available to employers who have retained employees and paid their wages to them between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
More details are available above. But here are some of the highlights.
- The business or organization was suspended (fully or partially) by government order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 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.
- They are a recovery startup business that began operations after February 15, 2020, and has average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million.
What is the ERC worth?
The amount of ERC an organization or business receives depends on several factors.
One of the factors is the length of time the company has been in business, the number and type of employees it has, the amount that qualifies as wages, or the health insurance premiums paid to employees who are eligible. To learn more about how ERCs are calculated, please read the article.
How do I claim my ERC?
To receive the ERC, employers must file with the IRS a Form 941-X (revised employment tax returns) or a Federal Employment Tax Reform.
The employer must provide a quarterly report detailing the wages, health insurance and other costs that are eligible for credit as well as the amount claimed.
When is ERC’s deadline?
The deadlines of Form 941, Form 941X and ERC 941 are different.
For Form 941 is generally the last day of the month following the end of each quarter. While the deadline for the Form 941-X will be three years after you filled out the original Form 941. This can also be up to two years, based on the date when the tax is paid.