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.
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 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 The Employee Retention Credit Works
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 created by the CARES Act in 2020 and was extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 2023. The ERC is designed to encourage employers to retain their employees and offer them health benefits in times of crisis.
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. 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. In 2023, 70% of the employees will be eligible for the first two quarterly limits and 40% in the final two. The limit for each employee is $10,000. How The Employee Retention Credit Works
- 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.
- Employers may claim the credit if their gross receipts have declined significantly or they have had to suspend operations in whole or part due to a COVID-19-related government order. For 2023 only, employers that are classified as recovery startup business can claim the credit.
- Credits may be obtained by filing a revised employment tax form (Form 941X) or reducing employment deposit amounts in anticipation. The credit can be requested in advance by employers using Form 7200.
To qualify for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must meet one of the following two main criteria:
- The employer’s business or organization was fully or partially suspended by a government order due to COVID-19 during a calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021
- Gross receipts of an employer for a quarter calendar in 2020 or in 2021 are less than half (for 2020) and 80% (for 2021) their gross receipts from the same period in 2019.
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 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 restricts the commerce, travel and group meetings that are prohibited by 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 have curfews that limit their hours of operations
- Limits on the capacity of a business that limit how many customers or clients it can serve
- Travel bans or restrictions that affect the ability of a business to transport goods or services
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 and frequency of your order and the way it corresponds to the calendar quarters
- The impact of an order on revenue and expenses
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 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 can include:
- Sales of Goods & Services
- Interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities
- Contributions, gifts, grants, and donations How The Employee Retention Credit Works
- Dues and fees for membership
- Gross profits from trades and businesses
To compare gross receipts between different quarters of the year, employers must use:
- The same method for accounting (cash-based or accrual-based) that was used to file the federal income Tax return for 2019
- The same quarters in the calendar year as those used for the federal employment tax returns (Form 941) filed by 2019 and 2020/2021
- It is the same income sources that were reported on the federal income tax returns for 2019.
Recovery Startup Business
A startup that is in recovery can be defined as
- Begun carrying on any business after February 15th, 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.
If a business is in recovery, it can still qualify for ERC even if the business has been suspended or its revenue has declined. Recovery startups are not exempt from certain rules and restrictions.
- The maximum credit per quarter will be $50,000
- The credit is only available for wages paid in the third and fourth quarters of 2021
- The maximum credit available for startup businesses is $250 million.
Credit Amounts and Calculation
For different lengths of time, different types of employers and different amounts of ERC, the ERC has different rules. The ERC is affected primarily by:
- 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
- What the employer paid each employee for their health insurance and during the pandemic
In order to receive the ERC from the IRS, the employer will need to complete some forms. 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 examine the forms to determine if the employer is eligible and then pay him the money. The employer could use this money to pay health insurance for employees or to get refunds and credits for payroll taxes.
The ERC will no longer be available. The ERC started in March 2020 and ends in September 2022. The employer is required to claim ERCs before they expire, or are no longer available. The employer also has to use the money wisely and not waste it. How The Employee Retention Credit Works
You can find more information below on ERC calculation and credit amount.
In 2020, 2021, & 2022, different laws were passed to introduce, amend, and terminate the ERC. The amount of the credit varies according to the time period that it is applied for. The following table summarizes the key features and differences of the ERC for 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 affects the calculation of qualified wages for employees and their health insurance costs. The size of an employer depends on its number of FTEs and the time period. This table summarizes thresholds and rules to determine the size of an employer for each period.
|Time Period||Small Employer Threshold||Large Employer Threshold|
|2020||Less than or equal to 100 FTEs in 2019||More than 100 FTEs in 2019|
|Q1-Q2 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in 2019||More than 500 FTEs in 2019|
|Q3-Q4 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not have in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a small eligible employer if it had less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021. For recovery startup businesses, the employer size is irrelevant. For severely financially distressed employers, the employer size is irrelevant if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q2 2021 apply.||More than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not exist in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a large eligible employer if it had more than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021.|
To count FTEs for a given year or quarter, an employer must use the following steps:
- Count the number of employees who worked at least 30 hours per week (or at least 130 hours per month) for each month in the year or quarter
- Add up the total hours worked by all other employees (who are not counted as FTEs) for each month in the year or quarter
- Divide the total hours by120and round down to the nearest whole number
- Add the number of FTEs from Step One and Step Three for each month in the year or quarter
- Calculate the average number of FTEs by adding up the monthly totals and dividing by 12 (for a year) or 3 (for a quarter)
Earnings and Costs of Health Insurance
Qualified wages are wages paid to eligible employees during a period of business suspension or revenue decline. Qualified wages include tips, commissions, bonuses, severance pay, sick leave pay, family leave pay, and other forms of compensation. Qualified earnings also include costs associated with providing health insurance coverage to eligible employees. These include premiums as well as deductibles.
The employer size, the time period and the calculation of the qualified wage and health insurance cost will affect the calculation. This table summarises the rules and provides examples for various scenarios. How The Employee Retention Credit Works
|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
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 allows employers to declare their quarterly federal taxes, including income taxes, Medicare and Social Security tax. Form 941 allows the employer also to claim ERCs in current or future quarters. The employer can use Form 941 to:
- ERC reduces the amount that employers must deposit with the IRS in order to pay taxes.
- Request an advance payment of the ERC if the credit exceeds the taxes that the employer has to deposit How The Employee Retention Credit Works
- 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 most recent version of Form 941, which reflects any changes or updates to the ERC laws.
- Follow the IRS instructions and worksheets for calculating the ERC and reporting it.
- Use Line 1c to report on the health insurance and wages that eligible employees have received.
- Use Line 13d to declare the credit amount claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 13f for any advance payment received from IRS.
- Use Line 24 to request an advance payment of the credit if needed
- Use Line 25 to report any credit excess that can be carried over to the next quarter.
- Sign and date Form 941, and include any supporting documents and schedules.
Some tips and resources for filling out Form 941 are:
- Form 941 can be submitted faster and more securely by using electronic filing (efile) or online services
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC and Form 941.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
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 The Employee Retention Credit Works
- Claim a refund or credit for overpaid taxes due to claiming the 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 can avoid common mistakes by filling in Form 941X 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 for indicating which lines of the Form 941 need to be corrected or adjusted
- Use Part 3 to explain why Form 941 is being corrected or adjusted
- Line 24 is used to report additional wages and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees.
- Line 25 should be used to declare any additional amount claimed as a credit each quarter
- Use Line 26 to report any refund or credit requested due to claiming the 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:
- Filter a separate Form 941/X for every quarter that needs to be corrected or adjusted How The Employee Retention Credit Works
- Fill out Form 941-X immediately after you find an error in Form 941
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about the ERC and Form 941X.
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
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, for Q1 2021 (January-March), Form 941 is due by April 30, 2021. Nevertheless, if the employer deposited all taxes due in a given quarter on time, they may file Form 941 before the 10th day. Following the end of the quarter. For example, for Q1 2021 (January-March), Form 941 is due by May 10, 2021, How The Employee Retention Credit Works
The deadline for submitting Form 941X depends on the time period. It is generally three or two years, depending on the date when the original Form 941 has been filed. For Q1 of 2020 (January through March), the deadline for Form 941 to be filed was April 30, 2020. If an employer files Form 941 by April 30, 2020 and pays the tax on April 30 2020, then the deadline to file Form 941-X will be April 30, 2023. If an employers filed Forms 941 and paid taxes on June 15, 2019, the deadline 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 (Eligible Employees Credit) is a tax credit that can vary depending on the time frame, the number and type of employees employed, and the amount paid in wages and insurance to employees eligible for the credit. The ERC may be claimed through IRS Forms 941 and 941X, which require the employer to report the qualified wages paid and the health insurance expenses incurred by each employee.
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. 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.
ERCs are a powerful tool that can help your company or organization, as well as your 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.
How The Employee Retention Credit Works
What is the ERC?
Employee Retention Credit: This is a credit that employers can claim if they retained employees 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.
Are all ERC applicants eligible?
The ERC is not available to everyone. Only employers who paid wages and retained employees between March 13, 2019, and December 31, 2020, are eligible.
More details are available above. But here are some of the highlights.
- The business or organization was suspended (fully or partially) by government order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 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.
How much is the ERC?
The amount that an organization or company receives in ERC will depend on many factors.
Among these factors are the time period, employee count, amount of qualifying wages and health insurance cost paid to eligible workers. For a detailed explanation of ERC, you can read the article mentioned above.
How to claim the 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.
The employer must report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees and the amount of credit claimed for each quarter.
What is the deadline for submitting the ERC forms?
The deadline for filing the ERC forms is different for Form 941 and Form 941-X.
For Form 941 is generally the last day of the month following the end of each quarter. For Form 941X, the deadline is three years following the date on which the original form 941 was filed. The deadline can be two years after the date the tax was paid. However, the latter date is preferred.