COVID-19, the pandemic that has swept across the globe in recent years, has brought unprecedented challenges and hardships to businesses and organisations around. Many employers faced decreased revenues, increased costs, and disruptions of operations as a result of lockdowns.
To help employers keep their employees, and to provide them with health insurance during these difficult times, the U.S. federal government has created the Employee Retention credit (ERC), an refundable tax credits that can offset some of payroll costs for employers who qualify.
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 (ERC)? Employee Retention Tax Credit Explained
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 was established by the CARES Act of 2020 and extended and modified in subsequent legislations in 2021 and in 2023. The ERC encourages employers to maintain their workers and to provide health benefits to them during the crisis.
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 the limit vary depending on the time period for which the credit is claimed. 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, 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 Tax Credit Explained
- The credit will be fully refundable if its amount exceeds that of the employer’s payroll taxes.
- Employers can claim this credit if they experienced a significant decrease in gross receipts due to an order from the government relating to COVID-19. In addition, employers who qualify as recovery-startup businesses for 2023 can also claim the credits.
- Credits may be obtained by filing a revised employment tax form (Form 941X) or reducing employment deposit amounts in anticipation. Employers may also request an advanced payment of the credit using Form 7200.
To qualify as an employer for the Employee retention Credit (ERC), you must meet at least one of the two criteria below:
- A government order suspended the employer’s organization or business in full or part due to COVID-19 for a calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021
- 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.
There is also a special rule that applies to recovery startups, which are businesses that started operations after February 15th 2020 with gross receipts no higher than $1,000,000 on average. These businesses can be eligible for ERC regardless of their revenue decline or suspension.
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 has an impact on the business or organization
- This order is applicable to any calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021
These are some examples:
- Stay-at-home orders prohibiting the operation of non-essential businesses
- Businesses are restricted in their operating hours by curfews
- Limits to the number of clients or customers that a company can serve
- Travel bans and restrictions that restrict the ability for a company to transport services or goods
To determine if the business was partially or fully suspended by an official order, employers must consider:
- The nature and extent of the order, and its impact on the operation of your business
- The length, frequency, and timing of the order in relation to the quarters of the year.
- The magnitude and impact of the order upon the revenue and expenses of a business
It is considered a significant decrease in gross revenue if a business has:
- 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 from any calendar quarter during 2021 are less than 80% compared to the same quarter’s gross receipts from 2019.
Gross receipts refer to the total of all money received or accrued during a company’s annual accounting period. Gross receipts include the following:
- Sales of Goods & Services
- Rents, dividends, and annuities are examples of income streams that include interest, dividends.
- Contributions are gifts, donations and grants Employee Retention Tax Credit Explained
- Dues and fees for membership
- Gross income from trades or businesses
To compare gross receipts between different quarters of the year, employers must use:
- The same method of accounting (cash or accrual) that it used to file its federal income tax return for 2019
- The same calendar year quarters that it used to file its federal employment tax returns (Form 941) for 2019 and 2020/2021
- It is the same income sources that were reported on the federal income tax returns for 2019.
Recovery Startup Business
The recovery startup business is one that:
- Began carrying on any trade or business after February 15, 2020,
- 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
The ERC is available to a recovery startup business regardless of whether or not it meets the criteria for business suspension or revenue decrease. Recovery startup businesses are subject to certain restrictions and special rules.
- The maximum amount of credit per quarter is $50,000
- The credit is only applicable to wages paid for the third and fourth quarters of 2021
- The credit is subject to an overall cap of $250 million for all recovery startup businesses
Credit Amount and Calculation
For different lengths of time, different types of employers and different amounts of ERC, the ERC has different rules. The ERC is primarily affected by:
- 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 each employee received from their employer and how they were covered by health insurance in the pandemic
In order to receive the ERC from the IRS, the employer will need to complete some forms. The employer must provide proof of how much they paid their employees for health insurance as well as the ERC. The IRS will examine the forms to determine if the employer is eligible and then pay him the money. The money can be used by the employer to pay for health insurance, to pay employees, or refunds on payroll taxes.
The ERC is not available forever. It started in March 2020 and will end in September 2022. Employers must claim their ERC before they expire or become unavailable. The employer should also make sure to not waste the money. Employee Retention Tax Credit Explained
Below is more detailed information on the credit amount and calculation of ERC.
Different laws introduced, amended and terminated the ERC in 2020, 2021 and 2022. The amount of the credit varies according to the time period that it is applied for. 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|
Number of Employees
The number employed affects how wages are calculated and defined, as well as the health insurance premiums for eligible employees. 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 include wages paid to eligible workers during a business suspension or revenue decrease. Qualified wage includes tips and bonuses, as well as severance, pays, sick leave payments, family leave payments and other types of compensation. Qualified wages include health insurance costs for eligible employees such as co-pays and deductibles.
The definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs depend on the employer size and the time period. The following table summarizes the rules and examples for different scenarios: Employee Retention Tax Credit Explained
|Employer Size||Time Period||Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs||Example|
|Small||2020||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 80 FTEs in 2019 paid $8,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in 2020. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 50% in Q2 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q2 2020 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q1-Q3 2021||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 400 FTEs in 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $3,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $15,000.|
|Small||Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter)||A recovery startup business that began operations in March 2020 paid $9,000 in wages and $1,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q3 2021. The business had average annual gross receipts of $800,000. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q3 2021 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 600 FTEs in Q2 2019 paid $11,000 in wages and $4,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q4 2021 are $15,000.|
|Large||2020||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 30 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 120 FTEs in 2019 paid $10,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in 2020. The employer had a business suspension due to a government order in April 2020. The employee did not work for two weeks in April 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for April 2020 are $2,308 ($10,000 x2/52+$2,000 x2/52).|
|Large||Q1-Q3 2021||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 90 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 550 FTEs in 2019 paid $15,000 in wages and $5,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The employee did not work for three weeks in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $5,769 ($15,000 x3/13+$5,000 x3/13).|
|Large||Q3-Q4 2021 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (only if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q32021 apply.)||An employer with 700 FTEs in Q4 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $6,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs|
Claim and Report the Credit
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that employers claim the Employee-Retention Credit by filing a federal income tax return, Form 941, or a modified employment tax form (Form941X), with them. The employer has to report each quarter the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who are eligible and the credit claimed.
Form 941 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 the employer also to claim ERCs in current or future quarters. Form 941 is used by employers to:
- ERC – Reduce the amount the employer is required to pay in taxes.
- The employer can request an advanced payment of the ERC credit if it exceeds taxes that they have to deposit. Employee Retention Tax Credit Explained
- Carry forward any excess credit to subsequent quarters
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 1c to report on the health insurance and wages that eligible employees have received.
- Use Line 13d to declare the credit amount claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 13f for any advance payment received from IRS.
- Use Line 24 to request an advance payment of the credit if needed
- Line 25 is the place to enter any excess credit which can be carried to a subsequent quarter.
- Sign Form 941, date it and attach any documents or schedules that you wish to include.
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
- 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.
Forms 941-X are used to rectify errors or make adjustments to Forms 941 previously submitted. Form 941 X also allows for the employer to claim ERC retroactively. The employer can use the Form 941 X to: Employee Retention Tax Credit Explained
- Claim the ERC to get a refund of taxes that you have overpaid.
- Report additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees that were not reported on Form 941
- The amount of credit claimed will be affected by any mistakes or omissions in Form 941.
To avoid making common errors and fill out the Form 941-X correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest version of Form 941-X that reflects the changes and updates made by the laws that affect the ERC
- Follow the instructions and worksheets provided by the IRS for calculating and reporting the ERC
- Use the Part 2 to indicate on which lines you are correcting or adjusting Form 941
- 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 and date Form 941-X and attach any supporting documents or schedules
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941X.
- For each quarter to be adjusted or corrected, you must submit a different Form 941X. Employee Retention Tax Credit Explained
- Fill out Form 941-X immediately after you find an error in Form 941
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941X and ERC can be found on the IRS website.
- Need clarification? Contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The deadline to submit Form 941 is usually the last day in the month following each quarter. For example, Q1 2020 (January-March) Form 941 will be due on April 30, 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 Q1 2021 (January-March), form 941 must be submitted by May 10, 2020, Employee Retention Tax Credit Explained
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 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 employee filed Form 941 April 30, 2020 and paid tax June 15, 2020 the deadline for submitting Form 941 X is June 15, 222.
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 can be claimed by filing Form 941 or Form 941-X with the IRS and reporting the qualified wages and costs of health insurance paid to eligible workers. 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. You can contact the IRS for help or clarification, or you could consult a tax expert.
ERCs are a powerful tool that can help your company or organization, as well as your 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 Tax Credit Explained
What is the ERC?
Employee Retention Credit is an employer tax credit available to employers who kept their employees on payroll during COVID-19.
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?
Not everyone is eligible for the ERC. The ERC is only available to employers that have paid wages to employees between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
There are also criteria for eligibility; more details can be read above, but here are the highlights:
- A government-issued order temporarily or permanently suspended the organization or business due to COVID-19.
- 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.
- It is a recovery-startup business that has been operating since after February 15, 2020. Their average annual gross receipts are no more than one million dollars.
What is the ERC rate?
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. You can read the article above for a more detailed explanation of how ERC is calculated.
How to claim the ERC?
To claim ERC benefits, an employer needs to file Form 941X or federal employment tax reform with the IRS.
Employers must declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify and the credit claimed each quarter.
When is the deadline to submit the ERC form?
There are two different deadlines to file the ERC Forms: Form 941 (Form 941-X) and Form 941 (941).
Form 941 deadline is typically the last of the month following each quarter. For Form 941X, the deadline is three years following the date on which the original form 941 was filed. The deadline can be two years after the date the tax was paid. However, the latter date is preferred.