Many businesses and organizations have faced unprecedented hardships and challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 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 is a program that was introduced by the CARES Act of 2020. Subsequent legislation was passed in 2021 and in 2023 to extend and modify it. The ERC will be explained in this article, along with how it works and the different eligibility criteria and time periods for which it can be claimed.
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 To Account 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 was established by the CARES Act of 2020 and extended and modified in subsequent legislations in 2021 and in 2023. The ERC’s goal is to encourage employers during a crisis to continue to employ their workers, and to offer them health coverage.
Main Features & Benefits
- Credit is a fixed percentage of qualifying wages and health care costs paid by employers to employees.
- The percentage and the limit vary depending on the time period for which the credit is claimed. In 2020, 50% of the employees will be eligible for the credit, with a maximum limit of $5,000 per employee. In 2021, 70% of the employees will be eligible for the maximum. The limit per employee is $7,000. 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 To Account For The Employee Retention Credit
- The credit is fully refundable. If the amount of credit exceeds an employer’s liability for payroll tax, the excess will then be paid back to the employer.
- 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. 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. Employers may also request an advanced payment of the credit using Form 7200.
To qualify as an employer for the Employee retention Credit (ERC), you must meet at least one of the two criteria below:
- The employer’s business or organisation was suspended in whole or in part by a government decree due to the COVID-19, during a quarter calendar of 2020 or 21
- 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
There is also a special rule that applies to recovery startups, which are businesses that started operations after February 15th 2020 with gross receipts no higher than $1,000,000 on average. 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 prohibits travel, group meetings, and commerce 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
These are some examples:
- Stay-at-home orders prohibiting the operation of non-essential businesses
- Curfews that limit the hours of operation for certain businesses
- Limits in capacity that restrict the number or clients that a business can serve
- Travel bans or restrictions that affect the ability of a business to transport goods or services
Employers must take into account the following to determine whether a business has been suspended in full or in part by an order of government:
- How the nature and scope and the order affect the operation of the business
- The duration, frequency of the orders and their alignment with the four quarters calendar.
- The impact and magnitude of the order to the business’s revenues and costs
It is considered that a business or organization has experienced a significant drop in gross receipts when:
- The gross receipts of any calendar quarter in 2020 are less than half the gross receipts of the same quarter in 2019.
- The gross receipts of any quarter in calendar 2021 were below 80% of the gross receipts in the same quarter for 2019.
Gross receipts can be defined as all the money received by an organization or business from any source during their annual accounting period, without deductions. Gross receipts include:
- Sales of goods and Services
- Interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities
- Donations, contributions, grants and gifts How To Account For The Employee Retention Credit
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross revenue from businesses or trades
To compare gross revenues for different quarters an employer can use:
- The same method for accounting (cash-based or accrual-based) that was used to file the federal income Tax return for 2019
- It will use the same calendar year quarters for 2019/2021 as it did to file its federal Employment Tax Returns (Form 941).
- The same sources reported on your federal income tax form for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A startup that is in recovery can be defined as
- Begun carrying on any business after February 15th, 2020
- Has average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million for the three-tax-year period ending with the tax year that precedes the calendar quarter for which the credit is determined
A recovery startup business can qualify for the ERC regardless of whether it meets the criteria of business suspension or revenue decline. There are certain limitations and rules that apply to recovery startups businesses.
- The maximum credit per quarter will be $50,000
- The credit will only be available to employees who have paid wages in the third quarter and fourth of 2021
- The credit is subject to an overall cap of $250 million for all recovery startup businesses
Credit Amount and Calculation
The ERC has different rules and amounts for different periods of time and different types of employers. 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
- How much the employer paid to each employee and their health insurance during the pandemic
Employers must complete and send IRS forms to claim ERC. The form must show the amount the employer paid for their employees’ health insurance, and how they qualified for the ERC. The IRS will review the forms and pay the money back to the employer. The employer can use the money to pay their employees and their health insurance or to get refunds or credits for their payroll taxes.
The ERC will not be available indefinitely. The ERC began in March 2020, and it will end in September 2022. Employers must claim their ERC before they expire or become unavailable. The employer has to spend the money efficiently and not waste. How To Account For The Employee Retention Credit
The following information provides more details on the ERC credit and how it is calculated.
Different laws introduced, amended and terminated the ERC in 2020, 2021 and 2022. The credit amount varies depending on the time period for which it is claimed. 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 of eligible employees will affect the calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages. According to the time frame and number of full-time equivalents (FTEs), an employer can be classified as a small employer or large employer. 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)
Qualified Wages, Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages refer to wages paid during a period when the business is suspended or revenues are declining. Qualified wage includes tips and bonuses, as well as severance, pays, sick leave payments, family leave payments and other types of compensation. Qualified salaries also include the costs of providing health coverage to eligible workers, including premiums, copays, deductibles, and coinsurance.
The employer size, the time period and the calculation of the qualified wage and health insurance cost will affect the calculation. The following table summarizes the rules and examples for different scenarios: How To Account 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|
Claiming and Reporting the Credit
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that employers claim the Employee-Retention Credit by filing a federal income tax return, Form 941, or a modified employment tax form (Form941X), with them. The employer has to report each quarter the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who are eligible and the credit claimed.
Form 941 allows employers to declare their quarterly federal taxes, including income taxes, Medicare 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:
- Reduce the amount of taxes that the employer has to deposit with the IRS by the amount of the ERC
- Employers can request a payment in advance if their ERC is higher than the taxes they are required to pay. How To Account For The Employee Retention Credit
- Carry forward any excess credits to future quarters
To ensure the correct completion of Form 941, and to avoid common errors:
- Use the latest version of Form 941 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 Line 11c for the amount of qualified wages and health benefits paid to eligible employees
- Report the amount of credit claimed each quarter using Line 13d.
- Line 13f should be used to report any advance payments made by the IRS.
- If you need to receive an advance payment, use Line 24.
- 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.
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 include:
- 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.
Form 941-X is used to correct errors or make adjustments on a previously filed Form 941. Form 941-X also allows the employer to claim the ERC retroactively for past quarters. The employer can use Form 941-X to: How To Account For The Employee Retention Credit
- Claim the ERC to get a refund of taxes that you have overpaid.
- Report additional qualified earnings and health benefits paid to eligible employee that weren’t reported on Form 941.
- Correct any mistakes or omissions made on Form 941 that affect the amount of credit claimed
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 X and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the most recent version of Form 941X, which reflects any changes or updates to the ERC laws.
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- 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.
- Use Line 24 for any additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible workers
- Use Line 25 for any additional credit claimed each quarter.
- Use Line 26 for any refunds or credits due to ERC claims.
- Sign and date Form 941-X and attach any supporting documents or schedules
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941X.
- For each quarter to be adjusted or corrected, you must submit a different Form 941X. How To Account For The Employee Retention Credit
- You should fill out Form 941/X as quickly as possible after you have made an adjustment or discovered an error.
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about the ERC and Form 941X.
- 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, for Q1 2021 (January-March), Form 941 is due by April 30, 2021. 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. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. How To Account For The Employee Retention Credit
Form 941X must be filed within three years of the original filing date or two from the payment date, whichever comes later. For example, for Q1 2020 (January-March), Form 941 was due by April 30, 2020. If an employer filed Form 941 on April 30, 2020, and paid the tax on April 30, 2020, the deadline for filing Form 941-X is April 30, 2023. If an employer files Form 941 in April 2020 and pays the tax on June 15 2020, they have until June 15 2022 to file Form 941.
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 is a refundable tax credit. It varies based on time, number of employees, and amount of wages and health insurance paid to eligible employees. 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.
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 is not available forever and has a deadline and a statute of limitations for claiming it. It is important to file your forms quickly and correctly. This article provides tips and resources that will help you avoid common errors. You can also contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed.
The ERC is a great tool for both your business and employees. It can be used to help retain your employees, maintain your cash flow, and recover in the event of a pandemic. This article is intended to help you better understand the ERC, and how it can be claimed. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
How To Account For The Employee Retention Credit
What is the ERC?
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 was passed in March 2020. It was amended and extended in December 2020 by the CAA Act (Consolidated Appropriations Act) and in March 2021 by the ARPA Act (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021).
Is everyone eligible for the ERC?
ERC eligibility is not universal. Employers only eligible for the ERC are those who have retained and paid wages to their employees between March 14, 2020 and Dec 31, 2021.
Below are some details about eligibility.
- A government order suspended the business (fully or partly) because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
- Their gross receipts for a calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021 were less than a percentage of their gross receipts for the same 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 ERC?
The amount ERC received by a business or organization will depend upon several factors.
One of the factors is the length of time the company has been in business, the number and type of employees it has, the amount that qualifies as wages, or the health insurance premiums paid to employees who are eligible. To learn more about how ERCs are calculated, please read the article.
How to claim ERC?
For an employer to claim the ERC, they must file either a federal reform of employment tax or an amended employment tax return (941-X).
Employers must declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify and the credit claimed each quarter.
When is the deadline to file the ERC Forms
There are two different deadlines to file the ERC Forms: Form 941 (Form 941-X) and Form 941 (941).
The last day for Form 941 in most cases is the last month following the end each quarter. While the deadline for the Form 941-X will be three years after you filled out the original Form 941. It is also possible to choose a date of two years following the date on which the tax was paid.