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.
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 has been in place since 2020 when the CARES Act was passed. Later, in 2021 and again in 2023, it was modified and extended by new legislation. This article will describe what the ERC does, how it operates, and explain how to claim it.
For a brief reading of what the Employee Retention Credit or ERC is, take a look at this video from the YouTube channel “ERC Specialists”. You can also continue below to read an in-depth explanation of ERC.
What is the Employee Retention Credit? Employee Retention Tax Credit Disaster Areas
Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a refundable credit available to tax-exempt and for-profit organizations and businesses that have employees who were affected by COVID-19. The ERC was created by the CARES Act in 2020 and was extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 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 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 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. For 2021, it is 70%. The limit is $7,000 per quarter per employee. 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 Tax Credit Disaster Areas
- The credit amount is fully refundable, meaning if the credit exceeds your employer’s tax liability on payroll, you will receive the excess as a reimbursement.
- 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. In addition, employers who qualify as recovery-startup businesses for 2023 can also claim the credits.
- Credits are available by submitting an amended employment return (Form 951) or by reducing deposits for employment taxes in anticipation. Employers may also request an advanced payment of the credit using Form 7200.
Employers who wish to qualify for Employee Retention Credit (ERC) must meet 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 gross receipts of the employer for a calendar-quarter in 2020 or 2020 were less than 50 percent (for 2020), or 80 percent (for 2021), of their gross receipts during the same calendar quarter in 2019.
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.
A government order can either suspend or fully suspend a company or organization if the following conditions are met:
- The order limits commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19
- The order has an impact on the business or organization
- The order applies to all calendar quarters in 2020 and 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 restrictions or bans that impact the ability of an organization to transport goods and services
To determine whether an employer’s business was suspended fully or partially by a government directive, the employer must:
- The nature and scope of the order and how it affects the operations of 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
A business or organization is considered to have experienced a significant decline in gross receipts if:
- The gross receipts of any calendar quarter in 2020 are less than half the gross receipts of the same quarter 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 & services
- Interest, dividends rents royalties and annuities
- Contributions, gifts and grants Employee Retention Tax Credit Disaster Areas
- Membership dues
- Gross income from trades or businesses
To compare gross revenues for different quarters an employer can use:
- The same method of accounting (cash or accrual) that it used to file its federal income tax return for 2019
- The same quarters in the calendar year as those used for the federal employment tax returns (Form 941) filed by 2019 and 2020/2021
- The same sources reported on your federal income tax form for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
Recovery startup businesses are those that:
- You must have started your business after the 15th of February 2020
- 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
It does not matter if a business meets the criteria of revenue decline or business suspension, a recovery-startup business qualifies for the ERC. Recovery startups are not exempt from certain rules and restrictions.
- The maximum credit available per quarter is $50,000
- The credit will only be available to employees who have paid wages in the third quarter and fourth of 2021
- All recovery startup businesses are subject to an aggregate cap of $250,000,000.
Credit Amounts and 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.
- How many employees an employer had in 2019, 2020/2021 or whether they worked, or did not work during the pandemic
- How much the employer paid to each employee and their health insurance during the pandemic
Employers must complete and send IRS forms to claim ERC. The form must show the amount the employer paid for their employees’ health insurance, and how they qualified for the ERC. The IRS will then check the forms before giving the money to employers. The employer may use the money in order to pay their employees’ health insurance premiums, or get refunds for their payroll tax.
The ERC won’t be around forever. The ERC will expire in September 2022. The employer must claim the ERC prior to its expiration or becoming unavailable. Employers must also use the money well and not waste it. Employee Retention Tax Credit Disaster Areas
The following information provides more details on the ERC credit and how it is calculated.
The ERC has been introduced, modified, and terminated in different laws between 2020 and 2021. The credit amount varies depending on the time period for which it is claimed. The table below summarises key features and differences for the ERC in each time frame:
|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|
The 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 following table summarizes the thresholds and rules for determining the employer size for each time period:
|Time Period||Small Employer Threshold||Large Employer Threshold|
|2020||Less than or equal to 100 FTEs in 2019||More than 100 FTEs in 2019|
|Q1-Q2 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in 2019||More than 500 FTEs in 2019|
|Q3-Q4 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not have in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a small eligible employer if it had less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021. For recovery startup businesses, the employer size is irrelevant. For severely financially distressed employers, the employer size is irrelevant if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q2 2021 apply.||More than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not exist in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a large eligible employer if it had more than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021.|
To count FTEs for a given year or quarter, an employer must use the following steps:
- Count the number of employees who worked at least 30 hours per week (or at least 130 hours per month) for each month in the year or quarter
- Add up the total hours worked by all other employees (who are not counted as FTEs) for each month in the year or quarter
- Divide the total hours by120and round down to the nearest whole number
- Add the number of FTEs from Step One and Step Three for each month in the year or quarter
- Calculate the average number of FTEs by adding up the monthly totals and dividing by 12 (for a year) or 3 (for a quarter)
Qualified Wages, Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages are wages paid to eligible employees during a period of business suspension or revenue decline. The list of qualified wages includes tips, bonuses, commissions, and severance payments, as well as sick leave, family leave, severance, and other compensation. Qualified wages also include the cost of providing health insurance to eligible employees, such as premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance.
The definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs depend on the employer size and the time period. The table below summarizes rules and examples in different scenarios. Employee Retention Tax Credit Disaster Areas
|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 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 must declare the wages and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees, as well as the credit amount claimed each quarter.
Form 941 is a quarterly tax return that the employer must file to show his federal tax liabilities. This includes income taxes, Medicare tax and Social Security taxes. Form 941 allows employers to claim ERCs for current or future quarterly periods. The employer can use Form 941 to:
- ERC – Reduce the amount the employer is required to pay in taxes.
- You can ask for advance payment if your ERC exceeds the amount of taxes you have to pay. Employee Retention Tax Credit Disaster Areas
- You can carry forward any credit balance to subsequent quarters
The employer should:
- Use the latest version 941 which reflects updates and changes in the ERC.
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use Line 11c for the amount of qualified wages and health benefits 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 attach any supporting documents or schedules
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 include:
- Use online services (e-file or online filing) to submit Form 941, faster and with greater security.
- Check the IRS website for updates, FAQs, and guidance on Form 941 and the 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. Form 941-X also allows the employer to claim the ERC retroactively for past quarters. The employer can use the Form 941 X to: Employee Retention Tax Credit Disaster Areas
- Claim a refund or credit for overpaid taxes due to claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible employees which were not reported in Form 941
- The amount of credit claimed will be affected by any mistakes or omissions in Form 941.
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 for indicating which lines of the Form 941 need to be 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 to report any credit or refund due to the ERC claim.
- Sign the form 941-X, date it and include any documents or schedules that you wish to attach.
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 Tax Credit Disaster Areas
- If you discover an error on Form 941 or make an adjustment, file Form 941X as soon as you can.
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about the ERC and Form 941X.
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
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 example for Q1 (2021) (January – March), Form 941 should be submitted by April 30, 2019. If an employer has made all the required deposits for the quarter in a timely manner, they can file Forms 941 on the 10th of the second month. The end of the quarter. For example, for Q1 2021 (January-March), Form 941 is due by May 10, 2021, Employee Retention Tax Credit Disaster Areas
The deadline for submitting Form 941X is usually three years following the original date of Form 941 or two after the date on which the tax was paid. For Q1 of 2020 (January through March), the deadline for Form 941 to be filed was 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 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.
Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC), is a valuable financial benefit that helps employers to keep their employees employed and reduces the impact COVID-19 has on their organization or business.
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 is claimed by filing IRS Form 941 or 941-X and reporting qualified wages, health insurance costs, and the credit amount claimed for each quarter.
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. Use the resources and tips provided in this article to ensure that you fill out your forms correctly and avoid common mistakes. 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 help you retain your workers, maintain your cash flow, and recover from the 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 Tax Credit Disaster Areas
What is ERC and what does it do?
Employee Retention Credit is an employer tax credit available to employers who kept their employees on payroll during COVID-19.
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:
- 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.
- These businesses are recovery startups that have been in operation since February 15, 2020. They also generate gross revenues of no more than $1 million on average per year.
What is the ERC rate?
The amount of ERC a company or organization receives will depend on several factors.
Among these factors are the time period, employee count, amount of qualifying wages and health insurance cost paid to eligible workers. The article above provides a detailed explanation on how ERC is calculated.
How to claim the 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 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 ERC’s deadline?
There are two different deadlines to file the ERC Forms: Form 941 (Form 941-X) and Form 941 (941).
The last day to submit Form 941 for each quarter is the last calendar month. While the deadline for the Form 941-X will be three years after you filled out the original Form 941. It can be as late as two years after you paid the tax, but the later date is the preferred date.