Many businesses and organizations have faced unprecedented hardships and challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employers faced decreased revenues, increased costs, and disruptions of operations as a result of lockdowns.
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 first became law in 2020 with the CARES Act. It was then extended and modified in subsequent legislations in 2021 and 2023. 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 Employee Retention Credit (ERC)? How Does Employee Retention Credit Affect Tax Return?
The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a refundable tax credit for businesses and tax-exempt organizations that had employees and were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The ERC was created by the CARES Act in 2020 and was extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 2023. The ERC was created to encourage employers in crisis to keep workers on their payrolls and provide them health insurance.
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 limit will vary depending on when the credit is claimed. In 2020, the 50% percentage and $5,000 limit per employee is applicable for the entire calendar year. 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. How Does Employee Retention Credit Affect Tax Return?
- 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 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.
- Credits can be claimed either by amending your employment tax return (Form 941)-X or by reducing your employment tax deposit in anticipation of receiving the credit. 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 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 can be eligible for ERC regardless of their revenue decline or suspension.
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 has a direct impact on the operations of an organization or business
- Order applies to any calendar year in 2020 or 21
These are some examples:
- Stay-at-home orders restricting non-essential business operations
- Businesses are restricted in their operating hours by curfews
- Capacity limits that reduce the number of customers or clients that can be served by a business
- Travel bans and restrictions that restrict the ability for a company to transport services or goods
An employer should consider the following factors to determine if an order from a government has suspended a business in its entirety or only partially.
- 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 magnitude and impact of the order upon the revenue and expenses of a business
It is considered a significant decrease in gross revenue if a business has:
- The gross receipts of any calendar quarter in 2020 are less than half the gross receipts of the same quarter in 2019.
- The gross revenue for any quarter of 2021 was less than 80% that for the same period in 2019.
Gross receipts refer to the total of all money received or accrued during a company’s annual accounting period. Gross receipts include:
- Sales of goods and Services
- Dividends (rents), royalties and interest
- Contributions, gifts, grants, and donations How Does Employee Retention Credit Affect Tax Return?
- Dues and fees for membership
- Gross profits from trades and businesses
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.
- Use the same calendar quarters as it did for its federal employment tax return (Form 941 ) for 2019 and 2021/2022
- It is the same income sources that were reported on the federal income tax returns for 2019.
Recovery Startup Business
A recovery startup is a business:
- Began carrying on any trade or business after February 15, 2020,
- If you have average annual gross revenues of less than $1 million in any three tax-year period that ends with the tax-year preceding the calendar quarter for credit determination.
It does not matter if a business meets the criteria of revenue decline or business suspension, a recovery-startup business qualifies for the ERC. Recovery Startup Businesses are still subject to some restrictions and special rules.
- The maximum credit available per quarter is $50,000
- The credit is only applicable to wages paid for the third and fourth quarters of 2021
- Credits for recovery startups are subject to a maximum of $250 million.
Credit Amounts and Calculation
ERC amounts and rules vary for different time periods and employers. The main factors that affect the ERC are:
- How much an employer’s company was affected 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 each employee received from their employer and how they were covered by health insurance in the pandemic
To receive the ERC, employers must submit forms to the IRS. The employer has to fill out the forms and show how much he paid his employees, as well their health insurance, to qualify for ERC. The IRS will examine the forms to determine if the employer is eligible and then pay him the money. The money can be used by the employer to pay for health insurance, to pay employees, or refunds on payroll taxes.
The ERC won’t be around forever. The ERC started in March 2020 and ends in September 2022. Employers must claim their ERC before they expire or become unavailable. The employer should also make sure to not waste the money. How Does Employee Retention Credit Affect Tax Return?
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 credit amount depends on the period for which you claim it. 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. The size of an employer depends on its number of FTEs and the time period. 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. Other forms of compensation are also included in qualified wages, such as tips, bonuses and commissions. Qualified wages also include the cost of providing health insurance to eligible employees, such as premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and 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. How Does Employee Retention Credit Affect Tax Return?
|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 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 must declare the wages and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees, as well as the credit amount claimed 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 the Form 941 for:
- ERC reduces the amount that employers must deposit with the IRS in order to pay taxes.
- You can ask for advance payment if your ERC exceeds the amount of taxes you have to pay. How Does Employee Retention Credit Affect Tax Return?
- You can carry forward any credit balance to subsequent quarters
To fill out Form 941 correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest version 941 which reflects updates and changes in the ERC.
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use Line 11c to declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify.
- Use Line 13d to declare the credit amount claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 13f for any advance payment received from IRS.
- If you need to receive an advance payment, use Line 24.
- 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
Some tips and resources for filling out Form 941 are:
- Use online services (e-file or online filing) to submit Form 941, faster and with greater security.
- Visit the IRS website to get the latest updates, FAQs, and guidance regarding Form 941 and ERC.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
The Form 941X can be used to make corrections or adjustments on an earlier Form 941. The Form 941X allows the employer retroactively to claim ERC for previous quarters. The employer may use Form 941 to: How Does Employee Retention Credit Affect Tax Return?
- Claim the ERC to get a refund of taxes that you have overpaid.
- 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
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 instructions and worksheets provided by the IRS for calculating and reporting the ERC
- 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 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 when reporting any refund or credit that you have requested as a result of claiming your ERC
- Sign the form 941-X, date it and include any documents or schedules that you wish to attach.
Some tips and resources for filling out Form 941-X are:
- File a separate Form 941-X for each quarter that is being corrected or adjusted How Does Employee Retention Credit Affect Tax Return?
- Fill out Form 941-X immediately after you find an error in Form 941
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC, Form 941 X, and updates to the IRS website.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The deadline for submitting Form 941 generally falls on the last calendar day of the following month. For example for Q1 (2021) (January – March), Form 941 should be submitted by April 30, 2019. The employer can still file Form 941 if they have deposited their taxes on time. The end of the quarter. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. How Does Employee Retention Credit Affect Tax Return?
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), the Form 941 must be filed by April 30th 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 on June 15, 2020, the deadline for filing Form 941-X is June 15, 2022.
Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC), is a valuable financial benefit that helps employers to keep their employees employed and reduces the impact COVID-19 has on their organization or business.
The ERC is a refundable tax credit. It varies based on time, number of employees, and amount of wages and health insurance paid to eligible employees. 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.
You should not miss the opportunity to benefit from this tax incentive if you are an eligible employer. The ERC cannot be claimed forever. There is a deadline to claim it and a statute that limits its use. 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.
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 that this article helped you to understand more about ERC and the claim process. Thank you for reading. Stay safe.
How Does Employee Retention Credit Affect Tax Return?
What is ERC?
Employee Retention Credit: This is a credit that employers can claim if they retained employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was created by the CARES Act in March 2020 and was later amended and extended by the CAA (Consolidated Appropriations Act) in December 2020, and the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) in March 2021
Is everyone eligible for the ERC?
The ERC is not available to everyone. It is only available to employers who have retained employees and paid their wages to them between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
Below are some details about eligibility.
- A government order imposed a suspension (full or partial) on the business or organization due to COVID-19.
- Their gross revenues for a quarter calendar in 2020 or in 2021 were lower than a percentage compared to their gross revenues for the same period 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 worth?
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. To learn more about how ERCs are calculated, please read the article.
How to claim your 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 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 the Deadline for Filing the ERC Forms?
The deadlines for filing Forms 941 and 941-X are different.
Form 941 deadline is typically the last of the month following each quarter. While the deadline for the Form 941-X will be three years after you filled out the original Form 941. The deadline can be two years after the date the tax was paid. However, the latter date is preferred.