COVID-19 has caused hardships and unprecedented challenges for businesses and organizations all over the world. 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. This article will explain the ERC, how it functions, and how you can 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 the Employee Retention Credit? Outstanding Employee Retention Credit
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.
The Main Features and Benefits
- Credits are equal to a percent of the qualified wages and costs for health insurance paid to eligible employees up to a limit per employee each quarter.
- 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. For 2021, the percentage is 70%, and the limit is $7,000 per employee per quarter. 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. Outstanding Employee Retention Credit
- The credit will be fully refundable if its amount exceeds that of the employer’s payroll taxes.
- Employers can claim this credit if they experienced a significant decrease in gross receipts due to an order from the government relating to COVID-19. Alternatively, for 2023 only, employers who are considered recovery startup businesses can also 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.
Employers who wish to qualify for Employee Retention Credit (ERC) must meet two main criteria.
- The employer’s company or organization has been suspended, either fully or partly, by an order of the government due to COVID-19 at a particular calendar quarter in 2020/2021
- 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
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 will either fully or partially suspend an organization or business if:
- The order limits commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19
- The order affects the operations of the business or organization
- Order applies to any calendar year in 2020 or 21
Some examples of orders from the government that could cause a business to be suspended are:
- Stay-at-home orders prohibiting the operation of non-essential businesses
- Curfews are restrictions on the hours that certain businesses can operate
- Limits on the capacity of a business that limit how many customers or clients it can serve
- Travel restrictions or bans that impact the ability of an organization to transport goods and services
To determine if a business was fully or partially suspended by a government order, an employer must consider:
- The order’s nature, scope, and impact on 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
It is considered a significant decrease in gross revenue if a business has:
- The gross receipts from any quarter in 2020 is less than 50% its gross receipts from the same calendar 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 include the following:
- Sales of goods and services
- Dividends, rents, and royalties, as well as interest, are all examples of annuities.
- Contributions, gifts, grants, and donations Outstanding Employee Retention Credit
- Membership dues
- Gross profit from business or trade
Employers must use the following formulas to calculate gross receipts and compare them between quarters.
- The same method for accounting (cash-based or accrual-based) that was used to file the federal income Tax return for 2019
- The same calendar year quarters that it used to file its federal employment tax returns (Form 941) for 2019 and 2020/2021
- It is the same income sources that were reported on the federal income tax returns for 2019.
Recovery Startup Business
The recovery startup business is one that:
- Begun carrying on any business after February 15th, 2020
- Have average annual gross income of no more than $1 million over the three-year period ending the tax year before the calendar quarter in which the credit is determined
It does not matter if a business meets the criteria of revenue decline or business suspension, a recovery-startup business qualifies for the ERC. Recovery startups are not exempt from certain rules and restrictions.
- Maximum credit per quarter: $50,000
- The credit will only be available to employees who have paid wages in the third quarter and fourth of 2021
- The credit has a cap of 250 million dollars for all startup businesses that are eligible.
Credit Amount and Calculation
There are different ERC rules and amounts for different employers and periods of time. The ERC is primarily affected by:
- The employer’s business has been affected by the pandemic. This could be due to the government ordering the closure or reduction of operations or a significant drop in income from 2019.
- The number of employees that the employer has in 2019 or 2020/2021 and whether or not they worked during the pandemic
- The amount of money paid by the employer to each employee as well as their health insurance during pandemic
Employers must complete and send IRS forms to claim 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 could use this money to pay health insurance for employees or to get refunds and credits for payroll taxes.
The ERC won’t be around forever. 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. Outstanding Employee Retention Credit
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. The credit amount depends on the period for which you claim it. The following table summarises the main features and differences between the ERCs of 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|
The Number of Employees
The number employed affects how wages are calculated and defined, as well as the health insurance premiums for eligible employees. A small employer or a large employer is determined by the number of employees who worked full-time (FTEs) in 2019 and the time period. The table below summarizes the rules and thresholds for determining employer size in each time period.
|Time Period||Small Employer Threshold||Large Employer Threshold|
|2020||Less than or equal to 100 FTEs in 2019||More than 100 FTEs in 2019|
|Q1-Q2 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in 2019||More than 500 FTEs in 2019|
|Q3-Q4 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not have in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a small eligible employer if it had less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021. For recovery startup businesses, the employer size is irrelevant. For severely financially distressed employers, the employer size is irrelevant if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q2 2021 apply.||More than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not exist in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a large eligible employer if it had more than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021.|
To count FTEs for a given year or quarter, an employer must use the following steps:
- Count the number of employees who worked at least 30 hours per week (or at least 130 hours per month) for each month in the year or quarter
- Add up the total hours worked by all other employees (who are not counted as FTEs) for each month in the year or quarter
- Divide the total hours by120and round down to the nearest whole number
- Add the number of FTEs from Step One and Step Three for each month in the year or quarter
- Calculate the average number of FTEs by adding up the monthly totals and dividing by 12 (for a year) or 3 (for a quarter)
Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wage is the number of wages that are paid to employees who qualify during a time when a business has been suspended or revenue has decreased. Other forms of compensation are also included in qualified wages, such as tips, bonuses and commissions. Qualified earnings also include costs associated with providing health insurance coverage to eligible employees. These include premiums as well as deductibles.
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 summarizes the rules and examples for different scenarios: Outstanding 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 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 reports the quarterly federal tax liability of an employer, including income tax and Medicare taxes. Form 941 is used by the employer to claim ERC for the current quarter or future. Form 941 can be used by the employer to:
- ERC reduces the amount that employers must deposit with the IRS in order to pay taxes.
- You can ask for advance payment if your ERC exceeds the amount of taxes you have to pay. Outstanding Employee Retention Credit
- Any excess credit can be carried forward to the next quarter
The employer should:
- Use the latest version of Form 941 that reflects the changes and updates made by the laws that affect the ERC
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Line 11c for the amount of qualified wages and health benefits paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 13d for the credit claim amount per quarter
- Line 13f is used to report any advance payment of credit received by the IRS
- Use Line 24 if you require an advance credit payment.
- You can report excess credit on Line 25 for the following quarters.
- Sign and date Form 941, and include any supporting documents and schedules.
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
- Visit the IRS website to get the latest updates, FAQs, and guidance regarding Form 941 and ERC.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
Forms 941-X are used to rectify errors or make adjustments to Forms 941 previously submitted. Form 941-X also allows the employer to claim the ERC retroactively for past quarters. The employer can use the Form 941 X to: Outstanding Employee Retention Credit
- Claim your refund or credit due to overpaid taxes by claiming the ERC
- Report any additional wages or health insurance costs that are paid to employees who are eligible but not reported on Form 951.
- The amount of credit claimed will be affected by any mistakes or omissions in Form 941.
To fill out Form 941-X correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest version 941-X to reflect the updated laws and regulations that impact the ERC.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use the Part 2 to indicate on which lines you are correcting or adjusting Form 941
- 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 is the place to enter any additional credit claims for each quarter.
- You can use Line 26 to request a refund or credit due to claiming ERC.
- Sign and date the Form 941 X and add any supporting documents or schedules.
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941X.
- File a separate Form 941-X for each quarter that is being corrected or adjusted Outstanding Employee Retention Credit
- After making a correction or finding an error, you should file Form 941X.
- 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 submitting Form 941 generally falls on the last calendar day of the following month. For example, Q1 2020 (January-March) Form 941 will be due on April 30, 2021. In the event that an employer has deposited the taxes due on time for a particular quarter, Form 941 can be filed by the 10th date of the following month. 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. Outstanding Employee Retention Credit
The deadline for submitting Form 941X is usually three years following the original date of Form 941 or two after the date on which the tax was paid. For Q1 of 2020 (January through March), the deadline for Form 941 to be filed was 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 by June 15, 2020, then the deadline to file Form 941-X will be June 15, 2022.
Employee Retention (ERC) Credit is an important tax benefit which can help employers that were affected by COVID-19 to retain their employees, and lessen the impact the pandemic had on their organizations or businesses.
The ERC can be claimed by filing Form 941 or Form 941-X with the IRS and reporting the qualified wages and costs of health insurance paid to eligible workers. 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.
Do not miss out on this opportunity if you’re an employer that meets the ERC eligibility criteria. The ERC cannot be claimed forever. There is a deadline to claim it and a statute that limits its use. 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 you need clarification or assistance, you can contact the IRS.
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. We hope that this article helped you to understand more about ERC and the claim process. We thank you for reading. Please stay safe.
Outstanding Employee Retention Credit
What is the ERC?
Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a tax incentive for employers that retained their employees on their payrolls 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).
Does everyone qualify for the ERC program?
ERC isn’t available to everyone. Only employers who paid wages and retained employees between March 13, 2019, and December 31, 2020, are eligible.
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 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.
- The business is a startup that started operations after February 15, 2020, and has an average gross revenue of less than $1 million.
What is the ERC worth?
The amount that an organization or company receives in ERC will depend on many 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 your 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.
When is the deadline to submit the ERC form?
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.