COVID-19, the pandemic that has swept across the globe in recent years, has brought unprecedented challenges and hardships to businesses and organisations around. Lockdowns, social distance, health and security measures and lockdowns have caused many employers to face reduced revenue, increased expenses and disruptions in their operations.
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. 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 Employee Retention Credit (ERC)? Is Employee Retention Credit Refundable
Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a refundable credit available to tax-exempt and for-profit organizations and businesses that have employees who were affected by COVID-19. The ERC has been created by the CARES Act for 2020. It was further extended and modified with subsequent legislation in 2021, 2023. The ERC aims to encourage employers to keep their workers on the payroll and provide them with health benefits during the crisis.
Main Features and 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. 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. Is Employee Retention Credit Refundable
- The credit is fully refundable, which means that if it exceeds the employer’s payroll tax liability the excess amount will be returned 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. In addition, employers who qualify as recovery-startup businesses for 2023 can also claim the credits.
- Credits may be obtained by filing a revised employment tax form (Form 941X) or reducing employment deposit amounts in anticipation. 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:
- 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
- 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.
Additionally, there is an additional rule that only applies to startups who began operating on or after February 15, 2021, and have gross receipts totaling no more than $1.0 million. These businesses can be eligible for ERC regardless of their revenue decline or suspension.
A business or organization is considered fully or partially suspended by a government order if:
- The order restricts commerce, travel or group meetings because of COVID-19
- The order has an impact on the business or organization
- The order will apply to any calendar month in 2020 or even 2021
Examples of government orders which can lead to a suspension of business include:
- Stay-at-home orders that restrict non-essential businesses from operating
- Curfews that limit the hours of operation for certain businesses
- Limits in capacity that restrict the number or clients that a business can serve
- Bans on travel or restrictions on the ability to transport goods or service by a business
To determine whether an employer’s business was suspended fully or partially by a government directive, the employer must:
- The nature and scope of the order and how it affects the operations of the business
- The order’s duration, frequency, and alignment with the calendar quarters
- 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 receipts for any calendar quarter in 2021 were less than 80% of its gross receipts for the same quarter 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 are:
- Sales of goods and Services
- Rents, dividends, and annuities are examples of income streams that include interest, dividends.
- Donations, contributions, grants and gifts Is Employee Retention Credit Refundable
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross business income
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
- Use the same calendar quarters as it did for its federal employment tax return (Form 941 ) for 2019 and 2021/2022
- The same sources of income that it reported on its federal income tax return for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A recovery startup business is a business that:
- After February 15, 2020, you can start any business or trade.
- 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
Even if it does not meet the criteria for revenue decline or suspension of business, a recovery startup can still qualify. Recovery startup businesses are subject to certain restrictions and special rules.
- Maximum credit per quarter: $50,000
- Only wages paid during the third and fourth quarters in 2021 are eligible for this credit
- All recovery startup businesses are subject to an aggregate cap of $250,000,000.
Credit Amount and Calculation
There are different ERC rules and amounts for different employers and periods of time. The ERC is affected primarily by:
- How much business income dropped compared to 2019.
- What number of employees did the employer have in 2019 and 2020/2021?
- How much did the employer pay each employee in health insurance?
The employer has to fill out some forms and send them to the IRS to claim the ERC. 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 review the forms and pay the money back to the employer. 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 will no longer be available. The ERC will expire 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. Is Employee Retention Credit Refundable
Here is more information about the ERC and its calculation.
The ERC has been introduced, modified, and terminated in different laws between 2020 and 2021. Credit amounts vary depending on when they are claimed. 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|
The Number of Employees
The number of employees affects the definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs for eligible employees. Employers are classified as small or large employers based on their number of full-time workers (FTEs), and the period in which they were employed. The following table summarizes rules and thresholds to determine employer size.
|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 and Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages include wages paid to eligible workers during a business suspension or revenue decrease. Qualified wages include tips, commissions, bonuses, severance pay, sick leave pay, family leave pay, and other forms of compensation. Qualified wages also include the cost of providing health insurance to eligible employees, such as premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance.
The size of an employer’s business and the period in which they operate will determine the definition and calculation for qualified wages and health care costs. The following table provides a summary of the rules for different scenarios. Is Employee Retention Credit Refundable
|Employer Size||Time Period||Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs||Example|
|Small||2020||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||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)||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
To claim the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must file a federal employment tax return (Form 941) or an adjusted employment tax return (Form 941-X) with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The employer is required to report the qualified wages, health insurance costs and credit claimed by 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. The employer can also claim the ERC in Form 941 for future or current quarters. Form 941 can be used by the employer to:
- ERCs can be used to reduce the amount of tax that an employer must pay to the IRS.
- You can ask for advance payment if your ERC exceeds the amount of taxes you have to pay. Is Employee Retention Credit Refundable
- Carry over any excess credit into the following quarter
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- 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
- 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
- Report any credit balance that may be carried forward into the next quarter using Line 25
- Sign the form 941, and attach any supporting documents.
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out Form 941 here:
- Use electronic filing (e-file) or online services to submit Form 941 faster and more securely
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941, the ERC, and other IRS forms can be found on the IRS website.
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarifications and assistance if you need it.
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 the Form 941 X to: Is Employee Retention Credit Refundable
- Claim a credit or refund for the taxes you overpaid by claiming ERC
- Report additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees that were not reported on Form 941
- Correction of errors or omissions on Form 941 which affect credit amount claimed
The employer should:
- Use the latest Form 941-X which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- The IRS has provided worksheets to help you calculate the ERC.
- 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
- Line 25 should be used to declare any additional amount claimed as a credit each quarter
- Use Line 26 to report any credit or refund due to the ERC claim.
- Sign and date Form 941, and attach any supporting documentation or schedules
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out the Form 941-X here:
- For each quarter to be adjusted or corrected, you must submit a different Form 941X. Is Employee Retention Credit Refundable
- 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 should be submitted by April 30, 2019. Nevertheless, if the employer deposited all taxes due in a given quarter on time, they may file Form 941 before the 10th day. After the end of the quarterly period. For example, the Q1 of 2021 is January-March. The Form 941 should be received by May 10th, 2021. Is Employee Retention Credit Refundable
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), 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 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 (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 is claimed by filing IRS Form 941 or 941-X and reporting qualified wages, health insurance costs, and the credit amount claimed for each quarter.
This tax benefit is available to employers who meet the ERC’s eligibility criteria. The ERC has a time limit and deadline for claiming. You should file your forms as soon as possible and use the tips and resources provided in this article to fill them out correctly and avoid common errors. If needed, you can also reach out to the IRS or a professional tax advisor for clarification or help.
The ERC is a great tool for both your business and employees. It can help you retain your workers, maintain your cash flow, and recover from the pandemic. This article should have helped you learn more about ERCs and how to apply for them. We thank you for reading. Please stay safe.
Is Employee Retention Credit Refundable
What is the ERC?
Employee Retention Credit – This tax credit is available to employers for keeping their employees employed during the COVID-19 epidemic.
The CARES Act created the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 in March 2021. Later, the CAA (Consolidated Appropriations Act), in December 2020, was amended and expanded by ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021), in March 2021.
Is everyone eligible for the ERC?
ERC eligibility is not universal. Employers who retained their employees and paid them wages between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021, are eligible.
There are also criteria for eligibility; more details can be read above, but here are the highlights:
- A government-issued order temporarily or permanently suspended the organization or business 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.
How much is the ERC?
The amount of ERC a company or organization receives will depend on 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. For a detailed explanation of ERC, you can read the article mentioned above.
How to claim ERC
To claim ERC benefits, an employer needs to file Form 941X or federal employment tax reform with the IRS.
Employers must submit quarterly reports detailing the amounts of the tax credit, the wages paid and the health insurance premiums that they have claimed to be reimbursed.
What is the deadline for submitting the ERC forms?
The deadlines for filing ERC forms for Forms 941 and form 941 X are different.
The deadline for Form 941 is usually the last day in the month after the end of every quarter. In contrast, the deadline to submit Form 941 X is generally set at three years since the date of the original 941. It can be as late as two years after you paid the tax, but the later date is the preferred date.