COVID-19, the pandemic that has swept across the globe in recent years, has brought unprecedented challenges and hardships to businesses and organisations around. Many employers have experienced reduced revenues, higher expenses, and disruptions to their operations because of lockdowns, distancing from social media, and health-and-safety measures.
In order to help employers retain employees and offer them health benefits in this tough time, the U.S. Government has introduced the Employee retention credit (ERC), which is a tax credit refundable that can be used by eligible employers to offset some payroll costs.
The ERC was first enacted by the CARES Act in 2020 and was later extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 2023. 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? Irs Auditing 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 encourages employers to maintain their workers and to provide health benefits to them during the crisis.
The Main Features and Benefits
- The credit is equal to a percentage of qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees, up to a certain limit per employee per quarter.
- The percentage and the maximum credit vary depending on how long the credit can be claimed. For 2020 the percentage is set at 50%, while the maximum per employee is set at $5,000. For 2021, it is 70%. The limit is $7,000 per quarter per employee. 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. Irs Auditing 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.
- 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 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 may also request an advanced payment of the credit using Form 7200.
Criteria for Eligibility
To qualify for Employee Retention credit (ERC), employers must meet either of two main criteria.
- 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
- Employer’s gross receipts in a calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021 was less than 50% or 80% of the gross receipts in the same quarter in 2019.
In addition, there is a special rule for recovery startup businesses that began operations after February 15, 2020 and have average annual gross receipts of no more than $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 travel, commerce or group meetings as a result of COVID-19
- The order will affect the operation of the business or the organization
- The order applies to any calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021
These are some examples:
- Orders to stay at home that prevent non-essential companies from operating
- Curfews are restrictions on the hours that certain businesses can operate
- Limits to the number of clients or customers that a company can serve
- Bans on travel or restrictions on the ability to transport goods or service by a business
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 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 for any calendar quarter in 2020 were less than 50% of its gross receipts for 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 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 are:
- Sales of Goods and Services
- Dividends (rents), royalties and interest
- Contributions, gifts and grants Irs Auditing Employee Retention Credit
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross revenue from businesses or trades
Employers must use the following formulas to calculate gross receipts and compare them between quarters.
- It should use the same method of accounting, either cash or accrual, that it used for its federal income tax returns for 2019.
- 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 of income that it reported on its federal income tax return for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
Recovery startup businesses are those that:
- Start any new business or occupation after February 15, 2019,
- The average annual gross receipts for the three tax years ending in the year preceding the quarter for which credit is calculated cannot exceed $1 million
Even if it does not meet the criteria for revenue decline or suspension of business, a recovery startup can still qualify. Recovery startups are not exempt from certain rules and restrictions.
- Maximum credit per quarter: $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
For different lengths of time, different types of employers and different amounts of ERC, the ERC has different rules. The main factors that affect the ERC are:
- How much an employer’s company was affected by the pandemic.
- Employer’s number of employees in 2019 or 2021, and whether the employee worked or not.
- The amount of money paid by the employer to each employee as well as their health insurance during pandemic
To claim the ERC, the employer must fill out and submit a form to the IRS. 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 then check the forms before giving the money to employers. The employer can then use the money for paying their employees, their health insurance and/or to receive refunds or credits on their payroll tax.
The ERC won’t be around forever. The ERC began in March 2020, and it will end in September 2022. The employer has to claim the ERC before it expires or becomes unavailable. The employer also has to use the money wisely and not waste it. Irs Auditing Employee Retention Credit
The following information provides more details on the ERC credit and how it is calculated.
The ERC has been introduced, modified, and terminated in different laws between 2020 and 2021. The credit amount depends on the period for which you claim it. The table below summarizes key differences and features of the ERCs 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. 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)
Qualified Wages, Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages are wages paid to eligible employees during a period of business suspension or revenue decline. Other forms of compensation are also included in qualified wages, such as tips, bonuses and commissions. Qualified wage also includes the cost of health insurance for eligible employees. This may include premiums, deductibles, co-pays, or co-insurance.
The calculation of qualified wages, health insurance costs and employer size depends on the time period. The following table summarizes the rules and examples for different scenarios: Irs Auditing 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 the Internal Revenue Service to grant the Employee Retention credit (ERC), employers must file either a federal tax return for employment (Form 941), or an amended tax return for employment (Form941-X). The employer must report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees and the amount of credit claimed for each quarter.
Form 941 is a quarterly tax return that the employer must file to show his federal tax liabilities. This includes income taxes, Medicare tax and Social Security taxes. The employer can also claim the ERC in Form 941 for future or current quarters. Form 941 is used by employers to:
- ERC reduces taxes that employers have to deposit at the IRS.
- If the ERC is greater than the tax that the employer must deposit, you can request an advance payment. Irs Auditing Employee Retention Credit
- You can carry forward any credit balance to subsequent quarters
The employer should:
- Use the most recent version of Form 941, which reflects any changes or updates to the ERC laws.
- The IRS has provided worksheets to help you calculate the ERC.
- Use Line 11c to report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 13d to report the amount of credit claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 13f to report any advance payments of the credit received from the IRS
- If you need to receive an advance payment, use Line 24.
- Use Line 25 to report any credit excess that can be carried over to the next quarter.
- Sign the form 941, and attach any supporting documents.
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
- 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 allows you to correct mistakes or make adjustments in Form 941 that has already been filed. Form 941-X allows employers to claim ERC retroactively. The employer may use Form 941 to: Irs Auditing Employee Retention Credit
- Claim your refund or credit due to overpaid taxes by claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees that were not reported on Form 941
- You can correct any errors or omissions that may have affected the credit claimed amount on Form 941.
The employer should:
- Use the latest version 941-X to reflect the updated laws and regulations that impact the ERC.
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use Part 2 to indicate which lines of Form 941 are being corrected or adjusted
- Use Part 3 of Form 941 to explain why it is being amended or corrected
- Use Line 24 to declare any additional qualified wages or health insurance costs paid by eligible employees.
- Use Line 25 to claim any additional credit for 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
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 Irs Auditing Employee Retention Credit
- After making a correction or finding an error, you should file Form 941X.
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941X and ERC can be found on the IRS website.
- Need clarification? Contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
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. 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. After the end quarter. For example, for Q1 2021 (January-March), Form 941 is due by May 10, 2021, Irs Auditing Employee Retention Credit
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 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 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.
The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a valuable tax benefit that can help employers who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic keep their employees on the payroll and reduce the impact of the pandemic on their businesses or organizations.
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.
This tax benefit is available to employers who meet the ERC’s eligibility criteria. The ERC is not available forever and has a deadline and a statute of limitations for claiming it. 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. It can help you retain your workers, maintain your cash flow, and recover from the pandemic. We hope that this article helped you to understand more about ERC and the claim process. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Irs Auditing Employee Retention Credit
What is ERC?
Employee Retention Credit – This tax credit is available to employers for keeping their employees employed during the COVID-19 epidemic.
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
Who is eligible for the ERC?
ERCs are not available to all. The ERC is only available to employers that have paid wages to employees between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
You can read more about the criteria here. Here are some highlights.
- A government order imposed a suspension (full or partial) on the business or organization due to COVID-19.
- 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.
- 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. The article above provides a detailed explanation on how ERC is calculated.
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.
What is the deadline for submitting the ERC forms?
The deadlines for filing ERC forms for Forms 941 and form 941 X are different.
The last day for Form 941 in most cases is the last month following the end each quarter. Meanwhile, the deadline for Form 941-X is generally three years from the date that the original Form 941 was filled. It can be as late as two years after you paid the tax, but the later date is the preferred date.