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 have experienced reduced revenues, higher expenses, and disruptions to their operations because of lockdowns, distancing from social media, and health-and-safety measures.
To help employers retain their employees and provide them with health benefits during this difficult time, the U.S. government has introduced the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), a refundable tax credit that can offset some of the payroll costs for eligible employers.
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? Federally Mandated Employee Retention 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 was created to encourage employers in crisis to keep workers on their payrolls and provide them health insurance.
The 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 amount and percentage vary according to the time period in which it is claimed. For 2020, the percentage is 50%, and the limit is $5,000 per employee for the entire year. For 2021, there is a 70% percentage and a limit of $7,000 per employee per quarter. 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. Federally Mandated Employee Retention Credit
- The credit will be fully refundable if its amount exceeds that of the employer’s payroll taxes.
- Employers who have experienced a significant drop in gross receipts or a complete or partial suspension of their operations as a result of a government order relating to COVID-19 can claim the credit. The credit can be claimed by employers who have been classified as recovery startups only until 2023.
- 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.
In order to qualify for Employee Recruitment Credit (ERC), a company must meet the following criteria:
- 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
- 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 qualify for ERC despite business suspensions or revenue decreases.
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 will affect the operation of the business or the organization
- The order will apply to any calendar month in 2020 or even 2021
Here are some examples of government orders that can result in a business being suspended:
- Orders to stay at home that prevent non-essential companies from operating
- 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
- Bans on travel or restrictions on the ability to transport goods or service by a business
To determine if a business was fully or partially suspended by a government order, an employer must consider:
- The order’s nature, scope, and impact on the business
- The length and frequency of your order and the way it corresponds to the calendar quarters
- The impact of an order on revenue and expenses
It is considered a significant decrease in gross revenue if a business has:
- The gross receipts in any calendar quarter of 2020 will be less than 50% the gross receipts in the same quarter of 2019.
- The gross revenues for any calendar-quarter in 2021 will be less than 80 percent of the gross revenue in 2019 for that same quarter.
Gross receipts are the total amount that a business or organization has received or accrued from all sources, during its annual accounting period. Gross receipts consist of:
- Sales of goods and services
- Rents, dividends, and annuities are examples of income streams that include interest, dividends.
- Contributions are gifts, donations and grants Federally Mandated Employee Retention Credit
- Membership dues
- Gross profits from trades and businesses
To compare gross revenues for different quarters an employer can use:
- The same method of account (cash, accrual or accrual) was used in filing the federal income tax return.
- For 2019 and 2020/2021, the same quarters of the calendar year that were used for filing federal employment tax returns on Form 941.
- It is the same income sources that were reported on the federal income tax returns for 2019.
Recovery Startup Business
Recovery startup businesses are those 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
If a business is in recovery, it can still qualify for ERC even if the business has been suspended or its revenue has declined. There are certain limitations and rules that apply to recovery startups businesses.
- The maximum credit per quarter will be $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
ERC amounts and rules vary for different time periods and employers. The main factors that affect the ERC are:
- The employer’s business has been affected by the pandemic. This could be due to the government ordering the closure or reduction of operations or a significant drop in income from 2019.
- The number of employees that the employer has in 2019 or 2020/2021 and whether or not they worked during the pandemic
- What the employer paid each employee for their health insurance and during the pandemic
To receive the ERC, employers must submit forms to the IRS. The forms must include the total amount paid by the employer to employees, their health insurance coverage and the reasons why they are eligible for the ERC. The IRS will review the forms and pay the money back to the employer. The employer could use this money to pay health insurance for employees or to get refunds and credits for payroll taxes.
The ERC is not available forever. The ERC began in March 2020, and it will end in September 2022. The employer must claim the ERC prior to its expiration or becoming unavailable. The employer should also make sure to not waste the money. Federally Mandated Employee Retention Credit
You can find more information below on ERC calculation and credit amount.
The ERC was implemented, amended, or terminated by various laws in 2020. The credit amount depends on the period for which you claim it. 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 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 table below summarizes the rules and thresholds for determining employer size in each time period.
|Time Period||Small Employer Threshold||Large Employer Threshold|
|2020||Less than or equal to 100 FTEs in 2019||More than 100 FTEs in 2019|
|Q1-Q2 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in 2019||More than 500 FTEs in 2019|
|Q3-Q4 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not have in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a small eligible employer if it had less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021. For recovery startup businesses, the employer size is irrelevant. For severely financially distressed employers, the employer size is irrelevant if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q2 2021 apply.||More than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not exist in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a large eligible employer if it had more than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021.|
To count FTEs for a given year or quarter, an employer must use the following steps:
- Count the number of employees who worked at least 30 hours per week (or at least 130 hours per month) for each month in the year or quarter
- Add up the total hours worked by all other employees (who are not counted as FTEs) for each month in the year or quarter
- Divide the total hours by120and round down to the nearest whole number
- Add the number of FTEs from Step One and Step Three for each month in the year or quarter
- Calculate the average number of FTEs by adding up the monthly totals and dividing by 12 (for a year) or 3 (for a quarter)
Qualified Wages, Health Insurance Costs
Qualified Wages are wages that eligible employees receive during periods of suspension or decline in revenue. Qualified wages can include severance payment, bonuses, severance tips, sick pay, family pay and other forms compensation. Qualified wages include health insurance costs for eligible employees such as co-pays and deductibles.
The size of an employer’s business and the period in which they operate will determine the definition and calculation for qualified wages and health care costs. The following table summarizes the rules and examples for different scenarios: Federally Mandated Employee Retention Credit
|Employer Size||Time Period||Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs||Example|
|Small||2020||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||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)||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 the Credit and Report It
For the Internal Revenue Service to grant the Employee Retention credit (ERC), employers must file either a federal tax return for employment (Form 941), or an amended tax return for employment (Form941-X). 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 reports the quarterly federal tax liability of an employer, including income tax and Medicare taxes. Form 941 allows the employer also to claim ERCs in current or future quarters. The employer can use the Form 941 for:
- ERC reduces taxes that employers have to deposit at the IRS.
- Request an advance payment of the ERC if the credit exceeds the taxes that the employer has to deposit Federally Mandated Employee Retention Credit
- Any excess credit can be carried forward to the next quarter
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 the qualified wages and health insurance costs 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.
- Use Line 24 if you require an advance credit payment.
- Report any credit balance that may be carried forward into the next quarter using Line 25
- Sign and date Form 941 and attach any supporting documents or schedules
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
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941, the ERC, and other IRS forms can be found on the IRS website.
- Need clarification? Contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
Forms 941-X are used to rectify errors or make adjustments to Forms 941 previously submitted. The employer can also claim the ERC retroactively by using Form 941X. The employer can use Form 941-X to: Federally Mandated Employee Retention Credit
- Claim refunds or credits for taxes overpaid due to the ERC
- Report additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible employees which were not reported in Form 941
- Correction of errors or omissions on Form 941 which affect credit amount claimed
To fill out Form 941-X correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest version 941-X to reflect the updated laws and regulations that impact the ERC.
- The IRS has provided worksheets to help you calculate the ERC.
- Use Part 2 of Form 941 to indicate which lines are being amended or corrected.
- Use Part 3 to explain your corrections or adjustments on Form 941.
- Line 24 is used to report additional wages and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees.
- Use Line 25 to report any additional amount of credit claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 26 for any refunds or credits due to ERC claims.
- Sign and date the Form 941 X and add any supporting documents or schedules.
Here are some tips and resources to help you fill out Form 941X:
- You must file a separate 941X form for each quarter you are correcting or adjusting. Federally Mandated Employee Retention Credit
- If you discover an error on Form 941 or make an adjustment, file Form 941X as soon as you can.
- Visit the IRS website to get the latest updates, FAQs, and guidance regarding Form 941-X, the ERC, and other forms.
- Need clarification? Contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
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. However, if an employer made timely deposits of all taxes due for a quarter, it can file Form 941 by the 10th day of the second month. The following quarter. For example, the Q1 of 2021 is January-March. The Form 941 should be received by May 10th, 2021. Federally Mandated Employee Retention 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, for Q1 2020 (January-March), Form 941 was due by April 30, 2020. If the employer has filed Forms 941 and paid tax by April 30th 2020, they have until April 30th 2023 to submit Form 941X. 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.
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, a refundable credit, varies according to the time period and number of employees as well as the amount of qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to employees who are eligible. The ERC credit can be claimed with IRS Forms 941 or 941X by reporting to them the qualified health insurance and wages costs as well as the amount claimed 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 cannot be claimed forever. There is a deadline to claim it and a statute that limits its use. 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. If you need clarification or assistance, you can contact the IRS.
ERCs can be a huge help to your organization or business and its employees. You can use it to retain employees, keep your cash flowing, and recover after a pandemic. This article aims to provide you with more information about the ERC. Thanks for reading and please stay safe.
Federally Mandated Employee Retention Credit
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.
Is everyone eligible for the ERC?
Not everyone is eligible for the ERC. It is only available to employers who have retained employees and paid their wages to them between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
The criteria for eligibility is also listed above. For the highlights, please see:
- A government order imposed a suspension (full or partial) on the business or organization due to COVID-19.
- Their gross receipts in a quarter of 2020 or 2021 are less than the percentage of their gross revenue in the same quarter of 2019.
- 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 worth?
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. To learn more about how ERCs are calculated, please read the article.
How to claim your ERC?
To claim the ERC an employer must submit a federal employment reform (Form 941)-X or a revised employment tax return to 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?
The deadline for filing the ERC forms is different for Form 941 and Form 941-X.
The deadline for Form 941 is usually the last day in the month after the end of every quarter. 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.