The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges and hardships for many businesses and organizations around the world. Many employers have faced reduced revenues, increased expenses, and disrupted operations due to lockdowns, social distancing, and health and safety measures.
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 has been in place since 2020 when the CARES Act was passed. Later, in 2021 and again in 2023, it was modified and extended by new legislation. This article will 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 Employee Retention Credit? Paychex 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 created by the CARES Act in 2020 and was extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 2023. The ERC encourages employers to maintain their workers and to provide health benefits to them during the crisis.
Main Features and Benefits
- The credit is a percentage of wages and health insurance premiums paid by eligible employees. There are limits per employee, per quarter.
- The 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, the percentage is 70%, and the limit is $7,000 per employee per quarter. For 2023, there will be a 70 percent percentage for the initial two quarters of the year and a 40 percent percentage for the last two. There will also be a limit of $10,000 per employee each quarter. Paychex 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. 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. By submitting Form 7020, employers can request an early payment of their credit.
To qualify for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must meet one of the following 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
The recovery startup rule also applies to businesses that began operating after February 14, 2020 and had average annual gross receipts not exceeding $1 million. These businesses may qualify for ERC regardless of revenue or business suspension.
A government order may suspend a business, or even partially suspend it.
- The order limits commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19
- The order impacts the operations of a business or organization
- Order applies to any calendar year in 2020 or 21
Some examples of government orders that can cause a business suspension are:
- Stay-at-home orders restricting non-essential business operations
- Certain businesses have curfews that limit their hours of operations
- Limits on the capacity of a business that limit how many customers or clients it can serve
- Travel bans and restrictions that restrict the ability for a company to transport services or goods
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.
- The nature and extent of the order, and its impact on the operation of your business
- The duration and frequency of the order and how it coincides with the calendar quarters
- The impact of an order on revenue and expenses
A significant decline in gross revenues is experienced by a business or organization if:
- The gross receipts of any calendar quarter in 2020 are less than half the gross receipts of the same quarter in 2019.
- The gross revenue for any quarter of 2021 was less than 80% that for the same period in 2019.
Gross receipts are defined as the total amount received or accrued by a business or organization from all sources during its annual accounting period without any deductions. Gross receipts include:
- Sales of Goods & Services
- Interest, dividends rents royalties and annuities
- Donations, contributions, grants and gifts Paychex Employee Retention Credit
- Membership dues
- Gross profit from business or trade
To compare gross revenues for different quarters an employer can use:
- It should use the same method of accounting, either cash or accrual, that it used for its federal income tax returns for 2019.
- For 2019 and 2020/2021, the same quarters of the calendar year that were used for filing federal employment tax returns on Form 941.
- The same sources reported on your federal income tax form for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
Recovery startup businesses are those that:
- Start any new business or occupation after February 15, 2019,
- If you have average annual gross revenues of less than $1 million in any three tax-year period that ends with the tax-year preceding the calendar quarter for credit determination.
The ERC is available to a recovery startup business regardless of whether or not it meets the criteria for business suspension or revenue decrease. Recovery startup businesses are subject to certain restrictions and special rules.
- The maximum credit amount per quarter is $50,000
- The credit is only applicable to wages paid for the third and fourth quarters of 2021
- All recovery startup businesses are subject to an aggregate cap of $250,000,000.
Credit Amounts and Calculation
ERC amounts and rules vary for different time periods and employers. The ERC’s main influences are:
- How much business income dropped compared to 2019.
- The number of employees that the employer has in 2019 or 2020/2021 and whether or not they worked during the pandemic
- What the employer paid each employee for their health insurance and during the pandemic
In order to receive the ERC from the IRS, the employer will need to complete some forms. The 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 could use this money to pay health insurance for employees or to get refunds and credits for payroll taxes.
ERCs are not available forever. It began in March 2019 and will finish in September 2020. The employer is required to claim ERCs before they expire, or are no longer available. The employer has to spend the money efficiently and not waste. Paychex Employee Retention Credit
Here is more information about the ERC and its calculation.
Different laws introduced, amended and terminated the ERC in 2020, 2021 and 2022. The amount of credit depends on the time frame for which it’s claimed. The following table summarizes and compares the ERC’s main features for each 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. An employer is considered a small or large employer depending on the time period and the number of full-time employees (FTEs) it had in 2019. 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 include wages paid to eligible workers during a business suspension or revenue decrease. Qualified wage includes tips and bonuses, as well as severance, pays, sick leave payments, family leave payments and other types of compensation. Qualified earnings also include costs associated with providing health insurance coverage to eligible employees. These include premiums as well as deductibles.
The definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs depend on the employer size and the time period. Table 1 summarizes and gives examples of rules in various scenarios. Paychex 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 an employer to claim the Employee retention credit (ERC), they must submit a federal employment return (Form 951) or a revised employment tax report (Form 941X) to the Internal Revenue Service. 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 used to report the employer’s quarterly federal tax liability, including income tax, social security tax, and Medicare tax. 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:
- ERCs can be used to reduce the amount of tax that an employer must pay to the IRS.
- Request an advance payment of the ERC if the credit exceeds the taxes that the employer has to deposit Paychex Employee Retention Credit
- Carry over any excess credit into the following quarter
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 1c to report on the health insurance and wages that eligible employees have received.
- Use Line 13d to report the amount of credit claimed for each quarter
- Line 13f should be used to report any advance payments made by the IRS.
- Line 24 is the place to ask for an advance payment if you need it.
- Line 25 is the place to enter any excess credit which can be carried to a subsequent quarter.
- Sign and date Form 941 and attach any supporting documents or schedules
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out Form 941 here:
- Use electronic filing services (efile) and online services to submit the Form 941 faster, more securely
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about Form 941, the ERC.
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
Forms 941-X are used to rectify errors or make adjustments to Forms 941 previously submitted. The employer can also claim the ERC retroactively by using Form 941X. Employers can use Form 941/X for Paychex Employee Retention Credit
- Claim your refund or credit due to overpaid taxes by claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified wages paid and health insurance premiums paid to eligible workers that have not been reported on Form 941
- Correct any mistakes or omissions made on Form 941 that affect the amount of credit claimed
The employer should:
- Use the latest version of Form 941-X 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 Part 2 of Form 941 to indicate which lines are being amended or corrected.
- Use Part 3 to explain the reason for a correction or adjustment on Form 941
- Line 24 should be used to record any additional health insurance and wages paid to employees who qualify.
- Use Line 25 to report any additional amount of credit claimed 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
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out the Form 941-X here:
- Fill out a separate form 941-X per quarter being corrected or recalculated Paychex Employee Retention Credit
- If you discover an error on Form 941 or make an adjustment, file Form 941X as soon as you can.
- Visit the IRS website to get the latest updates, FAQs, and guidance regarding Form 941-X, the ERC, and other forms.
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The deadline to submit Form 941 is usually the last day in the month following each quarter. For example for Q1 (2021) (January – March), Form 941 should be submitted by April 30, 2019. 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. Following the end of the quarter. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. Paychex Employee Retention Credit
The deadline to file Form 941-X generally is three years after the date the original Form 941 is filed, or two years after the date the tax is paid. For Q1 of 2020 (January through March), the deadline for Form 941 to be filed was 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 (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 is a refundable tax credit that varies depending on the time period, the number of employees, and the amount of qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees. 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.
Do not miss out on this opportunity if you’re an employer that meets the ERC eligibility criteria. The ERC is not available forever and has a deadline and a statute of limitations for claiming it. 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. You can also contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed.
ERC can have a significant impact on your business, organization, and your employees. You can use it to retain employees, keep your cash flowing, and recover after a pandemic. This article should have helped you learn more about ERCs and how to apply for them. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Paychex Employee Retention Credit
What is ERC and what does it do?
The Employee Retention Credit is a tax credit for employers who retained their employees in their payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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
Can everyone apply for ERC?
ERC isn’t available to everyone. The ERC is only available to employers that have paid wages to employees between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
Below are some details about eligibility.
- A government-issued order temporarily or permanently suspended the organization or business due to COVID-19.
- Their gross receipts in a quarter of 2020 or 2021 are less than the percentage of their gross revenue in the same quarter of 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 of ERC that a company will receive depends on a number of factors.
Some of these include the time period and number of employees. Others are the amount paid in qualified wages or health insurance to eligible employees. For a detailed explanation of ERC, you can read the article mentioned above.
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).
The employer must provide a quarterly report detailing the wages, health insurance and other costs that are eligible for credit as well as the amount claimed.
When is the Deadline for Filing the ERC Forms?
The deadline for filing the ERC forms is different for Form 941 and Form 941-X.
The last day to submit Form 941 for each quarter is the last calendar month. While the deadline for the Form 941-X will be three years after you filled out the original Form 941. It can be as late as two years after you paid the tax, but the later date is the preferred date.