COVID-19 has caused hardships and unprecedented challenges for businesses and organizations all over the world. Many employers have faced reduced revenues, increased expenses, and disrupted operations due to lockdowns, social distancing, and health and safety measures.
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 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 the Employee Retention Credit? How Do I Know If I Qualify For The Employee Retention Credit
Employee Retention Credit is a tax credit that can be refunded to businesses and tax-exempt organizations who had employees 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.
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 limit and percentage are dependent on the period of time for which you claim the credit. In 2020, 50% of the employees will be eligible for the credit, with a maximum limit of $5,000 per employee. For 2021, it is 70%. The limit is $7,000 per quarter per employee. For 2023, the percentage will be 70% for the two first quarters and 40% for the two last quarters. The limit per employee per quarter is $10,000. How Do I Know If I Qualify For The Employee Retention Credit
- The credit is fully refundable, meaning that if the amount of the credit exceeds the employer’s payroll tax liability, the excess will be paid to the employer as a refund.
- The credit can be claimed by employers who experienced a significant decline in gross receipts or a full or partial suspension of operations due to a qualifying government order related to COVID-19. In addition, employers who qualify as recovery-startup businesses for 2023 can also claim the credits.
- Credits may be obtained by filing a revised employment tax form (Form 941X) or reducing employment deposit amounts in anticipation. Employers can request an advance payment by submitting 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 employer’s gross receipts for a calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021 were less than 50% (for 2020) or 80% (for 2021) of its gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019
A special rule is in place for businesses that have started operating after February 15, 2020, and whose average gross receipts per year are no more than one million dollars. These businesses 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 limits commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19
- The order impacts the operations of a business or organization
- This order is applicable to any calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021
Examples of government orders which can lead to a suspension of business include:
- Orders to stay at home that prevent non-essential companies from operating
- Certain businesses are subject to curfews which limit their hours of operation
- Capacity limitations that reduce the amount of customers or clientele that a firm can service
- Travel restrictions or travel bans that limit the ability of businesses to transport products or services
To determine if a business was fully or partially suspended by a government order, an employer must consider:
- The scope and nature of the order as well as how it impacts the business.
- The length and frequency of your order and the way it corresponds to the calendar quarters
- The magnitude and impact of the order upon the revenue and expenses of a business
A business or organization is considered to have experienced a significant decline in gross receipts if:
- The gross receipts in any calendar quarter of 2020 will be less than 50% the gross receipts in the same quarter of 2019.
- The gross revenue for any quarter of 2021 was less than 80% that for the same period in 2019.
Gross receipts are the total sums that an organization or a business has accrued or received from all its sources in a given accounting year, without any deductions. Gross receipts include:
- Sales of Goods & Services
- Dividends (rents), royalties and interest
- Gifts, donations, and contributions How Do I Know If I Qualify For The Employee Retention Credit
- Membership dues
- Gross profit from business or trade
To compare gross receipts between different quarters of the year, employers must use:
- The same method of account (cash, accrual or accrual) was used in filing the federal income tax return.
- The same calendar year quarters that it used to file its federal employment tax returns (Form 941) for 2019 and 2020/2021
- The same sources as reported in the federal tax return for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A recovery startup business is a business 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
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 credit available per quarter is $50,000
- The credit is only available for wages paid in the third and fourth quarters of 2021
- The credit has a cap of 250 million dollars for all startup businesses that are eligible.
Credit Amounts Calculation
There are different ERC rules and amounts for different employers and periods of time. The ERC’s main influences are:
- How much of the employer’s income was affected in 2019 by the pandemic.
- How many employees the employer had in 2019 or 2020/2021, and whether they worked or not during the pandemic
- 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 employer must provide proof of how much they paid their employees for health insurance as well as the ERC. The IRS will then check the forms before giving the money to employers. 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. The ERC began in March 2020, and it will end in September 2022. The employer must claim ERC before the expiration date or when it becomes unavailable. The employer also has to use the money wisely and not waste it. How Do I Know If I Qualify For The Employee Retention Credit
Here is more information about the ERC and its calculation.
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 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 of eligible employees will affect the calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages. A small employer or a large employer is determined by the number of employees who worked full-time (FTEs) in 2019 and the time period. 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)
Earnings and Costs of Health Insurance
Qualified Wages are wages that eligible employees receive during periods of suspension or decline in revenue. Qualified wage includes tips and bonuses, as well as severance, pays, sick leave payments, family leave payments and other types of compensation. Qualified wage also includes the cost of health insurance for eligible employees. This may include premiums, deductibles, co-pays, or co-insurance.
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: How Do I Know If I Qualify For The Employee Retention 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
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 allows the employer also to claim ERCs in current or future quarters. Form 941 can be used by the employer to:
- Reduce the amount of taxes that the employer has to deposit with the IRS by the amount of the ERC
- Request an advance payment of the ERC if the credit exceeds the taxes that the employer has to deposit How Do I Know If I Qualify For The Employee Retention Credit
- Carry forward any excess credit to subsequent quarters
To avoid making common errors and fill out Form 941 correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest version 941 which reflects updates and changes in the ERC.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Line 11c for the amount of qualified wages and health benefits 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 to request an advance payment of the credit if needed
- Report any credit balance that may be carried forward into the next quarter using Line 25
- Sign and date Form 941, and include any supporting documents and schedules.
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out Form 941 here:
- 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
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
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 may use Form 941 to: How Do I Know If I Qualify For The Employee Retention Credit
- Claim your refund or credit due to overpaid taxes by claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified wages paid and health insurance premiums paid to eligible workers that have not been reported on Form 941
- You can correct any errors or omissions that may have affected the credit claimed amount on Form 941.
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 to indicate the lines on Form 941 that are being corrected or adapted.
- Use Part 3 for explaining why form 941 has been corrected or adjusted
- Line 24 is used to report additional wages and health insurance premiums 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-X and attach any supporting documents or schedules
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out the Form 941-X here:
- Filter a separate Form 941/X for every quarter that needs to be corrected or adjusted How Do I Know If I Qualify For The Employee Retention Credit
- 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
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
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. If an employer has made all the required deposits for the quarter in a timely manner, they can file Forms 941 on the 10th of the second month. Following the end of the quarter. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. How Do I Know If I Qualify For The Employee Retention Credit
The deadline for filing Form 941-X is generally three years from the date that the original Form 941 was filed or two years from the date that the tax was paid, whichever is later. For Q1 2020 (January – March), for example, Form 941 is due on April 30, 2020. If an employee filed Form 941 in April 2020 and paid their tax in April 2020, the deadline to file the 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 credit (ERC), a valuable benefit under tax law, can help employers who have been affected by COVID-19 keep their staff on payroll and minimize the impact of pandemic.
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. You can claim the ERC by submitting Form 941 to the IRS. This form will ask you for the number of employees, the amount paid in qualified wages and insurance costs each quarter, and how much credit is being claimed.
Do not miss out on this opportunity if you’re an employer that meets the ERC eligibility criteria. The ERC has a time limit and deadline for claiming. Use the resources and tips provided in this article to ensure that you fill out your forms correctly and avoid common mistakes. If needed, you can also reach out to the IRS or a professional tax advisor for clarification or help.
The ERC is a great tool for both your business and employees. It can help you retain your workers, maintain your cash flow, and recover from the pandemic. This article should have helped you learn more about ERCs and how to apply for them. Thank you for reading. Stay safe.
How Do I Know If I Qualify For The Employee Retention Credit
What is ERC?
Employee Retention Credit is an employer tax credit available to employers who kept their employees on payroll during COVID-19.
It was created in March of 2020 by the CARES Act and later extended and amended by the CAA Act of December 2020 (Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021).
Does everyone qualify for the ERC program?
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.
Below are some details about eligibility.
- 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.
- 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 ERC received by a business or organization will depend upon several factors.
Some of these factors include the time period, the number of employees, the number of qualified wages, and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees. You can read the article above for a more detailed explanation of how ERC is calculated.
How to claim the ERC?
To receive the ERC, employers must file with the IRS a Form 941-X (revised employment tax returns) or a Federal Employment Tax Reform.
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.
What is the deadline for submitting the ERC forms?
There are two different deadlines to file the ERC Forms: Form 941 (Form 941-X) and Form 941 (941).
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 also be from two years from the date that the tax was paid, with the later date being the more preferred one.