The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges and hardships for many businesses and organizations around the world. 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.
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 was first enacted by the CARES Act in 2020 and was later extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 2023. This article will explain the ERC, how it functions, and how you can 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 Employee Retention Credit? Employee Retention Tax Credit Faq
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, created in 2020 by the CARES Act, was then extended and modified through subsequent legislation in both 2021-2023. The ERC is designed to encourage employers to retain their employees and offer them health benefits in times of crisis.
Main Features & Benefits
- Credits are equal in percentage to the wages and insurance costs that employees who qualify for them have paid, but there is a maximum per employee.
- The percentage and the maximum credit vary depending on how long the credit can be claimed. 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, 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 Faq
- The credit is fully refundable. If the amount of credit exceeds an employer’s liability for payroll tax, the excess will then be paid back to the employer.
- Employers can claim this credit if they experienced a significant decrease in gross receipts due to an order from the government relating to COVID-19. Alternatively, for 2023 only, employers who are considered recovery startup businesses can also claim the credit.
- Credits may be obtained by filing a revised employment tax form (Form 941X) or reducing employment deposit amounts in anticipation. By submitting Form 7020, employers can request an early payment of their credit.
To qualify for Employee Retention credit (ERC), employers must meet either of 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
- Gross receipts of an employer for a quarter calendar in 2020 or in 2021 are less than half (for 2020) and 80% (for 2021) their gross receipts from the same period in 2019.
Additionally, there is an additional rule that only applies to startups who began operating on or after February 15, 2021, and have gross receipts totaling no more than $1.0 million. These businesses can qualify for the ERC regardless of business suspension or revenue decline.
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 has a direct impact on the operations of an organization or business
- Order applies to any calendar year in 2020 or 21
Some examples of orders from the government that could cause a business to be suspended are:
- Stay-at-home orders prohibiting the operation of non-essential businesses
- 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
To determine whether an employer’s business was suspended fully or partially by a government directive, the employer must:
- How the nature and scope and the order affect the operation of the business
- The length, frequency, and timing of the order in relation to the quarters of the year.
- The extent and severity of the impact of the order on the revenues and expenses of the business
A significant decline in gross revenues is experienced by a business or organization 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 of any quarter in calendar 2021 were below 80% of the gross receipts in the same quarter for 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 are:
- Sales of Goods and Services
- Rents, dividends, and annuities are examples of income streams that include interest, dividends.
- Gifts, donations, and contributions Employee Retention Tax Credit Faq
- Membership dues
- Gross income from trades or businesses
To compare gross revenues for different quarters an employer can use:
- Use the same method (cash or accrual accounting) as it used when filing its federal income taxes 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 of income that it reported on its federal income tax return for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
Recovery startup businesses are those that:
- Began carrying on any trade or business after February 15, 2020,
- Have average annual gross income of no more than $1 million over the three-year period ending the tax year before the calendar quarter in which the credit is determined
A recovery startup business can qualify for the ERC regardless of whether it meets the criteria of business suspension or revenue decline. Recovery startup businesses are subject to certain restrictions and special rules.
- 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
- Credits for recovery startups are subject to a maximum of $250 million.
Credit Amount and Calculation
The ERC has different rules and amounts for different periods of time and different types of employers. The ERC is primarily affected by:
- How much an employer’s company was affected by the pandemic.
- What number of employees did the employer have in 2019 and 2020/2021?
- 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 form must show the amount the employer paid for their employees’ health insurance, and how they qualified for the ERC. The IRS will verify the forms, and then give the money to your employer. The money can be used by the employer to pay for health insurance, to pay employees, or refunds on payroll taxes.
The ERC will not be available indefinitely. It started in March 2020 and will end in September 2022. The employer is required to claim ERCs before they expire, or are no longer available. The employer also has to use the money wisely and not waste it. Employee Retention Tax Credit Faq
You can find more information below on ERC calculation and credit amount.
The ERC was introduced, amended, and terminated by different laws in 2020, 2021, and 2022. The amount of the credit varies according to the time period that it is applied for. The following table summarizes and compares the ERC’s main features for each period:
|Time Period||Law||Eligible Employers||Credit Rate||Qualified Wages|
|2020||CARES Act||Employers with business suspension or revenue decline of more than 50%||50% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per year||Wages paid from March 13 to December 31, 2020|
|Q1-Q3 2021||CAA and ARPA||Employers with business suspension or revenue decline of more than 20%||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter||Wages paid from January 1 to September 30, 2021|
|Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||ARPA||Recovery startup businesses with average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million,||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter),||Wages paid from July 1 to December 31, 2021,|
|Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||ARPA and IIJA||Employers with a revenue decline of more than 90%||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter||Wages paid from October 1, 2021, to September 30, 2022|
Number of Employees
The number of employees affects the definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs 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. This table summarizes thresholds and rules to determine the size of an employer for each period.
|Time Period||Small Employer Threshold||Large Employer Threshold|
|2020||Less than or equal to 100 FTEs in 2019||More than 100 FTEs in 2019|
|Q1-Q2 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in 2019||More than 500 FTEs in 2019|
|Q3-Q4 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not have in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a small eligible employer if it had less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021. For recovery startup businesses, the employer size is irrelevant. For severely financially distressed employers, the employer size is irrelevant if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q2 2021 apply.||More than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not exist in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a large eligible employer if it had more than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021.|
To count FTEs for a given year or quarter, an employer must use the following steps:
- Count the number of employees who worked at least 30 hours per week (or at least 130 hours per month) for each month in the year or quarter
- Add up the total hours worked by all other employees (who are not counted as FTEs) for each month in the year or quarter
- Divide the total hours by120and round down to the nearest whole number
- Add the number of FTEs from Step One and Step Three for each month in the year or quarter
- Calculate the average number of FTEs by adding up the monthly totals and dividing by 12 (for a year) or 3 (for a quarter)
Qualified Wages, Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wage is the number of wages that are paid to employees who qualify during a time when a business has been suspended or revenue has decreased. Other forms of compensation are also included in qualified wages, such as tips, bonuses and commissions. Qualified salaries also include the costs of providing health coverage to eligible workers, including premiums, copays, deductibles, and coinsurance.
The calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages are dependent on the size of the employer and the time period. The following table provides a summary of the rules for different scenarios. Employee Retention Tax Credit Faq
|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|
Claiming and Reporting the Credit
For an employer to claim the Employee retention credit (ERC), they must submit a federal employment return (Form 951) or a revised employment tax report (Form 941X) to the Internal Revenue Service. The employer will need to declare the qualified wages paid and the health insurance expenses paid for eligible employees. They must also report the credit claimed.
Form 941 reports the quarterly federal tax liability of an employer, including income tax and Medicare taxes. Form 941 also allows the employer to claim the ERC for current or future quarters. Form 941 allows the employer to do:
- ERC reduces the amount that employers must deposit with the IRS in order to pay taxes.
- If the ERC is greater than the tax that the employer must deposit, you can request an advance payment. Employee Retention Tax Credit Faq
- Carry forward any excess credit to subsequent quarters
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the latest Form 941, which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- Follow the instructions and worksheets provided by the IRS for calculating and reporting the ERC
- 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 is used to report any advance payment of credit received by the IRS
- Use Line 24 if you require an advance credit payment.
- Line 25 is the place to enter any excess credit which can be carried to a subsequent quarter.
- Sign and date Form 941 and attach any supporting documents or schedules
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941.
- Use online services or electronic filing to submit Form 941 more quickly and securely
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about Form 941, the ERC.
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarifications and assistance if you need it.
Form 941-X is used to correct errors or make adjustments on a previously filed Form 941. Form 941 X also allows for the employer to claim ERC retroactively. Form 941-X can be used by the employer to: Employee Retention Tax Credit Faq
- Claim a credit or refund for the taxes you overpaid by claiming 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
Employers can avoid common mistakes by filling in Form 941X correctly.
- Use the latest form 941X that reflects changes to laws that are applicable to the ERC.
- Follow the instructions and worksheets provided by the IRS for calculating and reporting the ERC
- Use Part 2 of Form 941 to indicate which lines are being amended or corrected.
- Use Part 3 to explain why Form 941 is being corrected or adjusted
- Use Line 24 to declare any additional qualified wages or health insurance costs paid by eligible employees.
- Line 25 is the place to enter any additional credit claims for each quarter.
- Use Line 26 to report any refund or credit requested due to claiming the ERC
- Attach any supporting documents and schedules to Form 941-X.
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 X include:
- File a separate Form 941-X for each quarter that is being corrected or adjusted Employee Retention Tax Credit Faq
- 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
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The deadline for submitting Form 941 generally falls on the last calendar day of the following month. For example, Form 941 for Q1 of 2021 (January to March) is due April 30, 2020. Nevertheless, if the employer deposited all taxes due in a given quarter on time, they may file Form 941 before the 10th day. After the end of the quarterly period. For Q1 2021 (January-March), form 941 must be submitted by May 10, 2020, Employee Retention Tax Credit Faq
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 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 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.
If you are an employer who meets the eligibility criteria for the ERC, you should not miss this opportunity to take advantage of this tax benefit. 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 also contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed.
ERC can have a significant impact on your business, organization, and your employees. It can be used to help retain your employees, maintain your cash flow, and recover in the event of a pandemic. This article aims to provide you with more information about the ERC. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Employee Retention Tax Credit Faq
What is ERC and what does it do?
The Employee Retention Credit is a tax credit for employers who retained their employees in their payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The CARES Act, passed by Congress in March of this year, was amended in December of that year by the CAA Act. In March 2021, the ARPA Act (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021), was extended.
Who is eligible for the ERC?
ERC isn’t available to everyone. Only employers who paid wages and retained employees between March 13, 2019, and December 31, 2020, are eligible.
You can read more about the criteria here. Here are some highlights.
- A government order suspended the business (fully or partly) because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
- The gross receipts they had for a calendar-quarter in 2020, 2021 or both were less than 10% of their gross receipts during the same quarter last year.
- You are a new business in recovery that has started operating after February 15th, 2020. Your average annual gross sales is no more than $1,000,000.
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.
Employers must declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify and the credit claimed each quarter.
When is ERC’s deadline?
The deadlines for filing Forms 941 and 941-X are different.
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.