COVID-19’s pandemic caused unimaginable hardships to many organizations and businesses around the globe. 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.
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? Expanded Employee Retention Tax Credit
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 was established by the CARES Act of 2020 and extended and modified in subsequent legislations in 2021 and in 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 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. Expanded Employee Retention Tax Credit
- The credit will be fully refundable if its amount exceeds that of the employer’s payroll taxes.
- The credit is available to employers who suffered a significant reduction in gross revenues or a partial or full suspension of operations because of an eligible government order relating COVID-19. In addition, employers who qualify as recovery-startup businesses for 2023 can also claim the credits.
- The credit may be claimed by filing a modified employment tax return (941-X), or by reducing the employment tax deposits to prepare for the credit. Employers may also request an advanced payment of the credit using Form 7200.
To qualify for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must meet one of the following two main criteria:
- A government order has suspended or halted the business or organization of an employer due to COVID-19 in a calendar year 2020 or 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.
The recovery startup rule also applies to businesses that began operating after February 14, 2020 and had average annual gross receipts not exceeding $1 million. These businesses may qualify for ERC regardless of revenue or business 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 impacts the operations of a business or organization
- Order applies to any calendar year in 2020 or 21
Examples of government orders which can lead to a suspension of business include:
- Stay-athome orders restrict non-essential enterprises from operating
- Businesses are restricted in their operating hours by curfews
- Limits in capacity that restrict the number or clients that a business can serve
- Bans on travel or restrictions on the ability to transport goods or service by a business
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 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 revenue for any calendar-quarter in 2020 was less than 50 percent of the gross revenues for the same period 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 are defined as the total amount received or accrued by a business or organization from all sources during its annual accounting period without any deductions. Gross receipts include:
- Sales of goods and services
- Interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities
- Contributions are gifts, donations and grants Expanded Employee Retention Tax Credit
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross revenue from businesses or trades
To calculate and compare gross receipts for different quarters, an employer must use:
- It should use the same method of accounting, either cash or accrual, that it used for its federal income tax returns for 2019.
- It will use the same calendar year quarters for 2019/2021 as it did to file its federal Employment Tax Returns (Form 941).
- The same sources as reported in the federal tax return for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A startup that is in recovery can be defined as
- You must have started your business after the 15th of February 2020
- Has average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million for the three-tax-year period ending with the tax year that precedes the calendar quarter for which the credit is 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. However, there are some limitations and special rules that apply to recovery startup businesses, such as:
- The maximum credit available per quarter is $50,000
- Only wages paid during the third and fourth quarters in 2021 are eligible for this credit
- The credit has a cap of 250 million dollars for all startup businesses that are eligible.
Credit Amount and Calculation
ERCs have different rules and amounts depending on the length of time and type of employer. The ERC is affected primarily by:
- How much business income dropped 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
- How much did the employer pay each employee in health insurance?
Employers must complete and send IRS forms to claim ERC. The forms have to show how much the employer paid to their employees and their health insurance and why they qualify for the ERC. The IRS will then check the forms before giving the money to employers. The employer can then use the money for paying their employees, their health insurance and/or to receive refunds or credits on their payroll tax.
ERCs are not available forever. The ERC will expire in September 2022. Employers must claim their ERC before they expire or become unavailable. The employer must also spend the money properly and not waste any of it. Expanded Employee Retention Tax Credit
Below is more detailed information on the credit amount and calculation of ERC.
The ERC has been introduced, modified, and terminated in different laws between 2020 and 2021. The amount of the credit varies according to the time period that it is applied for. The following table summarises the main features and differences between the ERCs of each time period:
|Time Period||Law||Eligible Employers||Credit Rate||Qualified Wages|
|2020||CARES Act||Employers with business suspension or revenue decline of more than 50%||50% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per year||Wages paid from March 13 to December 31, 2020|
|Q1-Q3 2021||CAA and ARPA||Employers with business suspension or revenue decline of more than 20%||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter||Wages paid from January 1 to September 30, 2021|
|Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||ARPA||Recovery startup businesses with average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million,||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter),||Wages paid from July 1 to December 31, 2021,|
|Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||ARPA and IIJA||Employers with a revenue decline of more than 90%||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter||Wages paid from October 1, 2021, to September 30, 2022|
Number of Employees
The number employed affects how wages are calculated and defined, as well as the health insurance premiums for eligible employees. An employer is considered a small or large employer depending on the time period and the number of full-time employees (FTEs) it had in 2019. The following table summarizes rules and thresholds to determine employer size.
|Time Period||Small Employer Threshold||Large Employer Threshold|
|2020||Less than or equal to 100 FTEs in 2019||More than 100 FTEs in 2019|
|Q1-Q2 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in 2019||More than 500 FTEs in 2019|
|Q3-Q4 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not have in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a small eligible employer if it had less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021. For recovery startup businesses, the employer size is irrelevant. For severely financially distressed employers, the employer size is irrelevant if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q2 2021 apply.||More than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not exist in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a large eligible employer if it had more than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021.|
To count FTEs for a given year or quarter, an employer must use the following steps:
- Count the number of employees who worked at least 30 hours per week (or at least 130 hours per month) for each month in the year or quarter
- Add up the total hours worked by all other employees (who are not counted as FTEs) for each month in the year or quarter
- Divide the total hours by120and round down to the nearest whole number
- Add the number of FTEs from Step One and Step Three for each month in the year or quarter
- Calculate the average number of FTEs by adding up the monthly totals and dividing by 12 (for a year) or 3 (for a quarter)
Qualified Wages & Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages refer to wages paid during a period when the business is suspended or revenues are declining. The list of qualified wages includes tips, bonuses, commissions, and severance payments, as well as sick leave, family leave, severance, and other compensation. Qualified wage also includes the cost of health insurance for eligible employees. This may include premiums, deductibles, co-pays, or co-insurance.
The employer size, the time period and the calculation of the qualified wage and health insurance cost will affect the calculation. The table below summarizes rules and examples in different scenarios. Expanded Employee Retention Tax Credit
|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 must report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees and the amount of credit claimed for each quarter.
Form 941 is used by employers to report their quarterly federal tax liabilities, which includes income tax, Medicare tax, and social security tax. Form 941 also allows the employer to claim the ERC for current or future quarters. The employer can use Form 941 to:
- ERCs can be used to reduce the amount of tax that an employer must pay to the IRS.
- If the ERC is greater than the tax that the employer must deposit, you can request an advance payment. Expanded Employee Retention Tax Credit
- Carry forward any excess credits to future quarters
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the newest version of the Form 941, which reflects changes to laws that impact the ERC.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Line 11c to declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify.
- Use Line 13d when reporting the credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 13f to report any advance payments of the credit received from 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 the form 941, and attach any supporting documents.
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out Form 941 here:
- Use electronic filing (e-file) or online services to submit Form 941 faster and more securely
- Visit the IRS website to get the latest updates, FAQs, and guidance regarding Form 941 and ERC.
- For clarifications or help, you can contact the IRS.
Form 941-X is used to correct errors or make adjustments on a previously filed Form 941. Form 941-X allows employers to claim ERC retroactively. The employer can use the Form 941 X to: Expanded Employee Retention Tax Credit
- Claim a credit or refund for the taxes you overpaid by claiming ERC
- Report additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible employees which were not reported in Form 941
- Correct any mistakes or omissions made on Form 941 that affect the amount of credit claimed
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 X and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the latest version of Form 941-X 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 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
- Use Line 24 to report any additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 25 for any additional credit claimed each quarter.
- You can use Line 26 to request a refund or credit due to claiming ERC.
- Sign and date Form 941, and attach any supporting documentation 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. Expanded Employee Retention Tax Credit
- File Form 941-X as soon as possible after discovering an error or making an 0adjustment on Form 941
- Check the IRS website for updates, FAQs, and guidance on Form 941-X and the ERC
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The deadline for filing Form 941 is generally the last day of the month following the end of each quarter. For example, Form 941 for Q1 of 2021 (January to March) is due April 30, 2020. In the event that an employer has deposited the taxes due on time for a particular quarter, Form 941 can be filed by the 10th date of the following month. After the end of the quarterly period. For Q1 2021 (January-March), form 941 must be submitted by May 10, 2020, Expanded Employee Retention Tax Credit
The deadline to file Form 941-X generally is three years after the date the original Form 941 is filed, or two years after the date the tax is paid. For example, Q1 2019 (January to March), Form 941 had to be submitted by April 30, 2019. 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 filed form 941 on April 30 2020 and paid the tax by June 15, 2020, then the deadline to file Form 941-X will be 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 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 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.
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 will not be available indefinitely, and it has a set deadline and statute of limitations. You should file your forms as soon as possible and use the tips and resources provided in this article to fill them out correctly and avoid common errors. You can contact the IRS for help or clarification, or you could consult a tax expert.
The ERC can make a big difference for your business or organization and your employees. You can use it to retain employees, keep your cash flowing, and recover after a pandemic. We hope this article has helped you understand more about the ERC and how to claim it. Stay safe and thank you for reading.
Expanded Employee Retention Tax Credit
What is the ERC?
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.
Can everyone apply for ERC?
ERC isn’t available to everyone. Employers only eligible for the ERC are those who have retained and paid wages to their employees between March 14, 2020 and Dec 31, 2021.
The criteria for eligibility is also listed above. For the highlights, please see:
- A government order has suspended the business or organization (wholly or partially) due to COVID-19.
- The gross receipts of a calendar quarter for 2020 or 2021 were less than a percent of the gross receipts from a similar quarter 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.
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. The article above provides a detailed explanation on how ERC is calculated.
How to claim ERC
For an employer to claim the ERC, they must file either a federal reform of employment tax or an amended employment tax return (941-X).
Employers must submit quarterly reports detailing the amounts of the tax credit, the wages paid and the health insurance premiums that they have claimed to be reimbursed.
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. The deadline for Forms 941-X, however, is usually three years after the date the original Form was completed. It is also possible to choose a date of two years following the date on which the tax was paid.