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 faced decreased revenues, increased costs, and disruptions of operations as a result of lockdowns.
The Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC) is a refundable credit that employers can use to offset payroll costs.
The ERC first became law in 2020 with the CARES Act. It was then extended and modified in subsequent legislations in 2021 and 2023. This article will provide an overview of the ERC and its workings, as well as how to apply for it in different time periods.
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? Related Individuals Employee Retention Credit
The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a refundable tax credit for businesses and tax-exempt organizations that had employees and were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The ERC was created by the CARES Act in 2020 and was extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 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 Advantages
- 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 limit vary depending on the time period for which the credit is claimed. In 2020, the 50% percentage and $5,000 limit per employee is applicable for the entire calendar year. For 2021, the percentage will be 70%, and the limit per quarter is $7,000 for each employee. For 2023, there is a 70% percentage for the first 2 quarters followed by 40% for the second two quarters. There is a $10,000 limit per employee. Related Individuals Employee Retention Credit
- 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.
- Employers who have experienced a significant drop in gross receipts or a complete or partial suspension of their operations as a result of a government order relating to COVID-19 can claim the credit. Alternatively, for 2023 only, employers who are considered recovery startup businesses can also claim the credit.
- The credit may be claimed by filing a modified employment tax return (941-X), or by reducing the employment tax deposits to prepare for the credit. Employers can request an advance payment by submitting Form 7200.
To qualify for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must meet one of the following two main criteria:
- The employer’s business or organization was fully or partially suspended by a government order due to COVID-19 during a calendar quarter in 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.
There is also a special rule that applies to recovery startups, which are businesses that started operations after February 15th 2020 with gross receipts no higher than $1,000,000 on average. These businesses qualify for ERC despite business suspensions or revenue decreases.
An order of the government can suspend a business or an organization in full or part if it:
- The order restricts the commerce, travel and group meetings that are prohibited by COVID-19
- The order has an impact on the business or organization
- The order applies to any calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021
Examples of government orders which can lead to a suspension of business include:
- Stay-at-home orders restricting non-essential business operations
- Curfews are restrictions on the hours that certain businesses can operate
- Capacity limitations that reduce the amount of customers or clientele that a firm can service
- Travel bans and restrictions that restrict the ability for a company to transport services or goods
Employers must take into account the following to determine whether a business has been suspended in full or in part by an order of government:
- The nature and extent of the order, and its impact on the operation of your business
- The duration, frequency of the orders and their alignment with the four quarters calendar.
- The impact and magnitude of the order to the business’s revenues and costs
A business or organization is considered to have experienced a significant decline in gross receipts 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 receipts from any calendar quarter during 2021 are less than 80% compared to the same quarter’s gross receipts from 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 Related Individuals Employee Retention Credit
- Dues and fees for membership
- Gross profits from trades and businesses
To compare gross receipts between different quarters of the year, employers must use:
- The same method for accounting (cash-based or accrual-based) that was used to file the federal income Tax return 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 as reported in the federal tax return for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A startup that is in recovery can be defined as
- After February 15, 2020, you can start any business or trade.
- 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. There are certain limitations and rules that apply to recovery startups businesses.
- The maximum credit available per quarter is $50,000
- The credit will only be available to employees who have paid wages in the third quarter and fourth of 2021
- All recovery startup businesses are subject to an aggregate cap of $250,000,000.
Credit Amounts and Calculation
ERCs have different rules and amounts depending on the length of time and type of employer. The ERC is primarily affected by:
- 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.
- How much did the employer pay each employee in health insurance?
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 examine the forms to determine if the employer is eligible and then pay him the money. 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. The ERC started in March 2020 and ends 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. Related Individuals Employee Retention Credit
Here is more information about the ERC and its calculation.
The ERC was introduced, amended, and terminated by different laws in 2020, 2021, and 2022. The credit amount depends on the period for which you claim it. The following table summarizes the key features and differences of the ERC for each time period:
|Time Period||Law||Eligible Employers||Credit Rate||Qualified Wages|
|2020||CARES Act||Employers with business suspension or revenue decline of more than 50%||50% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per year||Wages paid from March 13 to December 31, 2020|
|Q1-Q3 2021||CAA and ARPA||Employers with business suspension or revenue decline of more than 20%||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter||Wages paid from January 1 to September 30, 2021|
|Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||ARPA||Recovery startup businesses with average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million,||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter),||Wages paid from July 1 to December 31, 2021,|
|Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||ARPA and IIJA||Employers with a revenue decline of more than 90%||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter||Wages paid from October 1, 2021, to September 30, 2022|
The Number of Employees
The number of eligible employees will affect the calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages. 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. 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)
Earnings and Costs of Health Insurance
Qualified wages refer to wages paid during a period when the business is suspended or revenues are declining. The list of qualified wages includes tips, bonuses, commissions, and severance payments, as well as sick leave, family leave, severance, and other compensation. Qualified wages include health insurance costs for eligible employees such as co-pays and deductibles.
The calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages are dependent on the size of the employer and the time period. The table below summarizes rules and examples in different scenarios. Related Individuals Employee Retention Credit
|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|
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 allows employers to declare their quarterly federal taxes, including income taxes, Medicare and Social Security tax. Form 941 allows employers to claim ERCs for current or future quarterly periods. Form 941 allows the employer to do:
- ERCs can be used to reduce the amount of tax that an employer must pay to the IRS.
- Employers can request a payment in advance if their ERC is higher than the taxes they are required to pay. Related Individuals Employee Retention Credit
- Carry over any excess credit into the following quarter
To fill out Form 941 correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the latest version 941 which reflects updates and changes in the ERC.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Line 1c to report on the health insurance and wages that eligible employees have received.
- Use Line 13d when reporting the credit for each quarter.
- Line 13f should be used to report any advance payments made by the IRS.
- Use Line 24 to request a credit advance if necessary
- Report any credit balance that may be carried forward into the next quarter using Line 25
- Sign and date Form 941, attaching any supporting documents, schedules, or 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
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941, the ERC, and other IRS forms can be found on the IRS website.
- Need clarification? Contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
Form 941-X allows you to correct mistakes or make adjustments in Form 941 that has already been filed. The Form 941X allows the employer retroactively to claim ERC for previous quarters. The employer can use the Form 941 X to: Related Individuals Employee Retention Credit
- Claim refunds or credits for taxes overpaid due to the 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
To avoid making common errors and fill out the Form 941-X correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest version of Form 941-X that reflects the changes and updates made by the laws that affect the ERC
- Follow the IRS instructions and worksheets for calculating the ERC and reporting it.
- Use Part 2 to indicate which lines of Form 941 are being corrected or adjusted
- Use Part 3 for explaining why form 941 has been corrected or adjusted
- Line 24 is used to report additional wages and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees.
- Use Line 25 to report any additional amount of credit claimed for each quarter
- Use Line 26 to report any credit or refund due to the ERC claim.
- Attach any supporting documents and schedules to Form 941-X.
Here are some tips and resources to help you fill out Form 941X:
- You must file a separate 941X form for each quarter you are correcting or adjusting. Related Individuals Employee Retention Credit
- After making a correction or finding an error, you should file Form 941X.
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC, Form 941 X, and updates to the IRS website.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
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. 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. The end of the quarter. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. Related Individuals 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 example, for Q1 2020 (January-March), Form 941 was due by April 30, 2020. If an employer filed Form 941 on April 30, 2020, and paid the tax on April 30, 2020, the deadline for filing Form 941-X is April 30, 2023. If an employer 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 (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 (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.
If you are an employer who meets the eligibility criteria for the ERC, you should not miss this opportunity to take advantage of this tax benefit. The ERC cannot be claimed forever. There is a deadline to claim it and a statute that limits its use. Use the resources and tips provided in this article to ensure that you fill out your forms correctly and avoid common mistakes. If you need clarification or assistance, you can contact the IRS.
The ERC can make a big difference for your business or organization and your employees. It can help your business or organization retain workers, maintain cash flow and recover from a pandemic. This article aims to provide you with more information about the ERC. Thanks for reading and please stay safe.
Related Individuals Employee Retention Credit
What is the ERC?
Employee Retention Credit is an employer tax credit available to employers who kept their employees on payroll during COVID-19.
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?
ERC eligibility is not universal. Only employers who paid wages and retained employees between March 13, 2019, and December 31, 2020, are eligible.
Below are some details about eligibility.
- A government-issued order temporarily or permanently suspended the organization or business due to COVID-19.
- The gross receipts they had for a calendar-quarter in 2020, 2021 or both were less than 10% of their gross receipts during the same quarter last year.
- 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 rate?
The amount of ERC an organization or business receives depends on several factors.
These factors include time, the number of employees and the amount of wages that qualify. They also include health insurance costs for eligible employees. For a detailed explanation of ERC, you can read the article mentioned above.
How to claim the ERC?
To claim the ERC an employer must submit a federal employment reform (Form 941)-X or a revised employment tax return to the IRS.
Employers must declare the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who qualify and the credit claimed each quarter.
When is the Deadline for Filing the ERC Forms?
The deadline for filing the ERC forms is different for Form 941 and Form 941-X.
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. This can also be up to two years, based on the date when the tax is paid.