COVID-19 has caused hardships and unprecedented challenges for businesses and organizations all over the world. Many employers have faced reduced revenues, increased expenses, and disrupted operations due to lockdowns, social distancing, and health and safety measures.
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 is a program that was introduced by the CARES Act of 2020. Subsequent legislation was passed in 2021 and in 2023 to extend and modify it. This article will provide an overview of the ERC and its workings, as well as how to apply for it in different time periods.
For a brief reading of what the Employee Retention Credit or ERC is, take a look at this video from the YouTube channel “ERC Specialists”. You can also continue below to read an in-depth explanation of ERC.
What is Employee Retention Credit? Employee Retention Tax Credit Cares Act;
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 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 aims to encourage employers to keep their workers on the payroll and provide them with health benefits during the crisis.
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 amount and percentage vary according to the time period in which it is claimed. 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 will be 70%, and the limit per quarter is $7,000 for each employee. In 2023, 70% of the employees will be eligible for the first two quarterly limits and 40% in the final two. The limit for each employee is $10,000. Employee Retention Tax Credit Cares Act;
- 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 may claim the credit if their gross receipts have declined significantly or they have had to suspend operations in whole or part due to a COVID-19-related government order. Employers who are considered to be recovery startup businesses may also claim this credit, but only for 2023.
- The credit can be claimed by filing an amended employment tax return (Form 941-X) or by reducing employment tax deposits in anticipation of the credit. Employers can also request an advance payment of the credit by filing Form 7200.
Criteria for Eligibility
To qualify as an employer for the Employee retention Credit (ERC), you must meet at least one of the two criteria below:
- 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
- Employer’s gross receipts in a calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021 was less than 50% or 80% of the gross receipts in the same quarter in 2019.
In addition, there is a special rule for recovery startup businesses that began operations after February 15, 2020 and have average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million. These businesses qualify for ERC despite business suspensions or revenue decreases.
A business or organization is considered fully or partially suspended by a government order if:
- The order limits commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19
- The order impacts the operations of a business or organization
- This order is applicable to any calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021
Some examples of orders from the government that could cause a business to be suspended are:
- Stay-athome orders restrict non-essential enterprises from operating
- Certain businesses have curfews that limit their hours of operations
- 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
Employers must take into account the following to determine whether a business has been suspended in full or in part by an order of government:
- The order’s nature, scope, and impact on the business
- The length, frequency, and timing of the order in relation to the quarters of the year.
- The order’s impact on revenues and expenses
It is considered a significant decrease in gross revenue if a business has:
- The gross receipts for any calendar quarter in 2020 were less than 50% of its gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019
- The gross receipts from any calendar quarter during 2021 are less than 80% compared to the same quarter’s gross receipts from 2019.
Gross receipts are the total amount that a business or organization has received or accrued from all sources, during its annual accounting period. Gross receipts consist of:
- Sales of goods & services
- Dividends (rents), royalties and interest
- Gifts, donations, and contributions Employee Retention Tax Credit Cares Act;
- Membership dues
- Gross business income
Employers must use the following formulas to calculate gross receipts and compare them between quarters.
- Use the same method (cash or accrual accounting) as it used when filing its federal income taxes for 2019
- Use the same calendar quarters as it did for its federal employment tax return (Form 941 ) for 2019 and 2021/2022
- It is the same income sources that were reported on the federal income tax returns for 2019.
Recovery Startup Business
A startup that is in recovery can be defined as
- 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
Even if it does not meet the criteria for revenue decline or suspension of business, a recovery startup can still qualify. However, there are some limitations and special rules that apply to recovery startup businesses, such as:
- The maximum amount of credit per quarter is $50,000
- Only wages paid during the third and fourth quarters in 2021 are eligible for this credit
- Credits for recovery startups are subject to a maximum of $250 million.
Credit Amount and Calculation
There are different ERC rules and amounts for different employers and periods of time. The ERC is affected by the following main factors:
- 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
- The number of employees that the employer has in 2019 or 2020/2021 and whether or not they worked during the pandemic
- What the employer paid each employee for their health insurance and during the pandemic
To receive the ERC, employers must submit forms to the IRS. 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 review the forms and pay the money back to the employer. The money can be used by the employer to pay for health insurance, to pay employees, or refunds on payroll taxes.
ERCs are not available forever. It started in March 2020 and will end in September 2022. The employer must claim the ERC prior to its expiration or becoming unavailable. The employer has to spend the money efficiently and not waste. Employee Retention Tax Credit Cares Act;
The following information provides more details on the ERC credit and how it is calculated.
Different laws introduced, amended and terminated the ERC in 2020, 2021 and 2022. 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 and type of employees can affect the definition and calculation for qualified wages and health care costs. According to the time frame and number of full-time equivalents (FTEs), an employer can be classified as a small employer or large employer. The table below summarizes the rules and thresholds for determining employer size in each time period.
|Time Period||Small Employer Threshold||Large Employer Threshold|
|2020||Less than or equal to 100 FTEs in 2019||More than 100 FTEs in 2019|
|Q1-Q2 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in 2019||More than 500 FTEs in 2019|
|Q3-Q4 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not have in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a small eligible employer if it had less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021. For recovery startup businesses, the employer size is irrelevant. For severely financially distressed employers, the employer size is irrelevant if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q2 2021 apply.||More than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not exist in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a large eligible employer if it had more than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021.|
To count FTEs for a given year or quarter, an employer must use the following steps:
- Count the number of employees who worked at least 30 hours per week (or at least 130 hours per month) for each month in the year or quarter
- Add up the total hours worked by all other employees (who are not counted as FTEs) for each month in the year or quarter
- Divide the total hours by120and round down to the nearest whole number
- Add the number of FTEs from Step One and Step Three for each month in the year or quarter
- Calculate the average number of FTEs by adding up the monthly totals and dividing by 12 (for a year) or 3 (for a quarter)
Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages include wages paid to eligible workers during a business suspension or revenue decrease. 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 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 Tax Credit Cares Act;
|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
To claim the Employees Retention Credit, an employer must file with the Internal Revenue Service a federal Employment Tax Return (Form941) or a adjusted Employment Tax return (Form941X). 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. The employer can also claim the ERC in Form 941 for future or current quarters. Form 941 is used by employers to:
- ERC reduces taxes that employers have to deposit at the IRS.
- You can ask for advance payment if your ERC exceeds the amount of taxes you have to pay. Employee Retention Tax Credit Cares Act;
- Carry over any excess credit into the following quarter
To fill out Form 941 correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest version of Form 941 that reflects the changes and updates made by the laws that affect the ERC
- Follow the IRS instructions and worksheets for calculating the ERC and reporting it.
- Use line 11c to report qualified wages paid and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees
- 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.
- You can report excess credit on Line 25 for the following quarters.
- Sign and date Form 941, and include any supporting documents and schedules.
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941.
- Form 941 can be submitted faster and more securely by using electronic filing (efile) or online services
- Visit the IRS website to get the latest updates, FAQs, and guidance regarding Form 941 and ERC.
- 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. The Form 941X allows the employer retroactively to claim ERC for previous quarters. The employer can use the Form 941 X to: Employee Retention Tax Credit Cares Act;
- 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.
- The amount of credit claimed will be affected by any mistakes or omissions in Form 941.
To fill out Form 941-X correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest Form 941-X 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 Part 2 to indicate the lines on Form 941 that are being corrected or adapted.
- Use Part 3 to explain why Form 941 is being corrected or adjusted
- Line 24 is used to report additional wages and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees.
- Use Line 25 for any additional credit claimed each quarter.
- Use Line 26 for any refunds or credits due to ERC claims.
- Attach any supporting documents and schedules to Form 941-X.
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941X.
- You must file a separate 941X form for each quarter you are correcting or adjusting. Employee Retention Tax Credit Cares Act;
- You should fill out Form 941/X as quickly as possible after you have made an adjustment or discovered an error.
- Visit the IRS website to get the latest updates, FAQs, and guidance regarding Form 941-X, the ERC, and other forms.
- For clarifications or help, you can contact the IRS.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The deadline for submitting Form 941 generally falls on the last calendar day of the following month. 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. The end of the quarter. For example, Q1 2020 (January to March) requires that Form 941 be returned by May 10, 2021. Employee Retention Tax Credit Cares Act;
Form 941X must be filed within three years of the original filing date or two from the payment date, whichever comes later. For Q1 of 2020 (January through March), the deadline for Form 941 to be filed was April 30, 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 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.
Do not miss out on this opportunity if you’re an employer that meets the ERC eligibility criteria. The ERC will not be available indefinitely, and it has a set deadline and statute of limitations. 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.
ERCs are a powerful tool that can help your company or organization, as well as 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 should have helped you learn more about ERCs and how to apply for them. We thank you for reading. Please stay safe.
Employee Retention Tax Credit Cares Act;
What is ERC?
Employee Retention Credit – This tax credit is available to employers for keeping their employees employed during the COVID-19 epidemic.
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.
Does everyone qualify for the ERC program?
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.
You can read more about the criteria here. Here are some highlights.
- A government order imposed a suspension (full or partial) on the business or organization due to COVID-19.
- 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.
- The business is a startup that started operations after February 15, 2020, and has an average gross revenue of less than $1 million.
What is the ERC rate?
The amount of ERC that a company will receive depends on a number of 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. The article above provides a detailed explanation on how ERC is calculated.
How to claim 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.
The employer must report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees and the amount of credit claimed for each quarter.
When is ERC’s deadline?
There are two different deadlines to file the ERC Forms: Form 941 (Form 941-X) and Form 941 (941).
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. The deadline can be two years after the date the tax was paid. However, the latter date is preferred.