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.
In order to help employers retain employees and offer them health benefits in this tough time, the U.S. Government has introduced the Employee retention credit (ERC), which is a tax credit refundable that can be used by eligible employers to offset some payroll costs.
The ERC first became law in 2020 with the CARES Act. It was then extended and modified in subsequent legislations in 2021 and 2023. The ERC will be explained in this article, along with how it works and the different eligibility criteria and time periods for which it can be claimed.
For a brief reading of what the Employee Retention Credit or ERC is, take a look at this video from the YouTube channel “ERC Specialists”. You can also continue below to read an in-depth explanation of ERC.
What is the Employee Retention Credit? Retroactive 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 is a refundable tax credit that was created by 2020’s CARES Act and has been extended and changed by subsequent legislations of 2021 and 2023. The ERC’s goal is to encourage employers during a crisis to continue to employ their workers, and to offer them health coverage.
Main Features & 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 credit amount and percentage vary according to the time period in which it is claimed. For 2020, the percent is 50%, and the limit is $5,000 for each employee per year. For 2021, it is 70%. The limit is $7,000 per quarter per employee. 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. Retroactive 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. Employers who are considered to be recovery startup businesses may also claim this credit, but only for 2023.
- 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 can also request an advance payment of the credit by filing 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 organisation was suspended in whole or in part by a government decree due to the COVID-19, during a quarter calendar of 2020 or 21
- 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.
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 can be eligible for ERC regardless of their revenue decline or suspension.
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 impacts the operations of a business or organization
- This order is applicable to any calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021
These are some examples:
- Orders to stay at home that prevent non-essential companies from operating
- Curfews are restrictions on the hours that certain businesses can operate
- Capacity limits that reduce the number of customers or clients that can be served by a business
- Travel restrictions or travel bans that limit the ability of businesses to transport products or services
To determine if the business was partially or fully suspended by an official order, employers must consider:
- How the nature and scope and the order affect the operation of the business
- The duration, frequency of the orders and their alignment with the four quarters calendar.
- The magnitude and impact of the order upon the revenue and expenses of a business
It is considered that a business or organization has experienced a significant drop in gross receipts when:
- The gross revenue for any calendar-quarter in 2020 was less than 50 percent of the gross revenues for the same period 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 refer to the total of all money received or accrued during a company’s annual accounting period. Gross receipts consist of:
- Sales of Goods and Services
- Interest, dividends rents royalties and annuities
- Contributions are gifts, donations and grants Retroactive Employee Retention Credit
- Membership dues
- Gross business income
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
- 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 revenue that they reported on their federal income tax return in 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A startup that is in recovery can be defined as
- You must have started your business after the 15th of February 2020
- Average annual gross receipts not exceeding $1 million during the three-year period ending on the tax year immediately preceding the calendar quarterly for which the credit will be 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 Startup Businesses are still subject to some restrictions and special rules.
- The maximum credit available per quarter is $50,000
- Only wages paid during the third and fourth quarters in 2021 are eligible for this credit
- Credits for recovery startups are subject to a maximum of $250 million.
Credit Amounts Calculation
For different lengths of time, different types of employers and different amounts of ERC, the ERC has different rules. The ERC’s main influences are:
- How much of the employer’s income was affected in 2019 by the pandemic.
- How many employees the employer had in 2019 or 2020/2021, and whether they worked or not during the pandemic
- How much did the employer pay each employee in health insurance?
To receive the ERC, employers must submit forms to the IRS. The forms must include the total amount paid by the employer to employees, their health insurance coverage and the reasons why they are eligible for the ERC. The IRS will review the forms and pay the money back to the employer. The employer can use the money to pay their employees and their health insurance or to get refunds or credits for their payroll taxes.
The ERC won’t be around forever. It started in March 2020 and will end in September 2022. The employer has to claim the ERC before it expires or becomes unavailable. The employer has to spend the money efficiently and not waste. Retroactive Employee Retention Credit
Below is more detailed information on the credit amount and calculation of ERC.
In 2020, 2021, & 2022, different laws were passed to introduce, amend, and terminate the ERC. 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 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 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 are wages that eligible employees receive during periods of suspension or decline in revenue. Qualified wages include tips, commissions, bonuses, severance pay, sick leave pay, family leave pay, and other forms of compensation. Qualified earnings also include costs associated with providing health insurance coverage to eligible employees. These include premiums as well as deductibles.
The calculation of qualified wages, health insurance costs and employer size depends on the time period. Table 1 summarizes and gives examples of rules in various scenarios. Retroactive 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
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 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. The employer can use the Form 941 for:
- Reduce the amount of taxes that the employer has to deposit with the IRS by the amount of the ERC
- Employers can request a payment in advance if their ERC is higher than the taxes they are required to pay. Retroactive 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 most recent version of Form 941, which reflects any changes or updates to the ERC laws.
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use Line 1c to report on the health insurance and wages that eligible employees have received.
- Report the amount of credit claimed each quarter using Line 13d.
- Use Line 13f to report any advance payments of the credit received from the IRS
- Use Line 24 if you require an advance credit payment.
- 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.
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 include:
- Use online services (e-file or online filing) to submit Form 941, faster and with greater security.
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941, the ERC, and other IRS forms can be found on the IRS website.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
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 Form 941-X to: Retroactive Employee Retention Credit
- Claim a refund or credit for overpaid taxes due to claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified earnings and health benefits paid to eligible employee that weren’t reported on Form 941.
- The amount of credit claimed will be affected by any mistakes or omissions in Form 941.
To avoid making common errors and fill out the Form 941-X correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest form 941X that reflects changes to laws that are applicable to the ERC.
- Follow the instructions and worksheets provided by the IRS for calculating and reporting the ERC
- Use Part 2 to indicate the lines on Form 941 that are being corrected or adapted.
- Use Part 3 to explain your corrections or adjustments on Form 941.
- Use Line 24 to report any additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 25 to claim any additional credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 26 to report any refund or credit requested due to claiming the ERC
- Sign and date Form 941-X and attach any supporting documents or schedules
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941X.
- For each quarter to be adjusted or corrected, you must submit a different Form 941X. Retroactive Employee Retention Credit
- You should fill out Form 941/X as quickly as possible after you have made an adjustment or discovered an error.
- Updates, FAQs, and guidance about Form 941X and ERC can be found on the IRS website.
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
Form 941 must be filed by the last date of the month that follows the end each quarter. For Q1 2021 (January-March), the Form 941 must be filed by April 30th, 2021. The employer can still file Form 941 if they have deposited their taxes on time. After the end quarter. For example, Q1 2020 (January to March) requires that Form 941 be returned by May 10, 2021. Retroactive Employee Retention Credit
The deadline for submitting Form 941X depends on the time period. It is generally three or two years, depending on the date when the original Form 941 has been filed. For Q1 of 2020 (January through March), the deadline for Form 941 to be filed was April 30, 2020. If an employer submitted Forms 941 on 30 April 2020 and the tax was paid on 30 April 2020, it is now April 2023 before they can file Forms 941-X. 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 is a refundable tax credit. It varies based on time, number of employees, and amount of wages and health insurance paid to eligible employees. 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.
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 does not last forever. It has a deadline, and there is a statute of limitations for claiming the ERC. The forms should be filed as soon as you can. You can use the resources and advice provided in this post to avoid common mistakes and fill them out correctly. For clarifications or help, you can always contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
ERCs are a powerful tool that can help your company or organization, as well as your employees. It can help you retain your workers, maintain your cash flow, and recover from the pandemic. We hope that this article helped you to understand more about ERC and the claim process. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Retroactive 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
Is everyone eligible for the ERC?
The ERC is not available to everyone. The ERC is only available to employers that have paid wages to employees between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
You can read more about the criteria here. Here are some highlights.
- The business or organization was suspended (fully or partially) by government order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 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 does the ERC cost?
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 ERC
To receive the ERC, employers must file with the IRS a Form 941-X (revised employment tax returns) or a Federal Employment Tax Reform.
The employer must report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees and the amount of credit claimed for each quarter.
What is the deadline for submitting the ERC forms?
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. Meanwhile, the deadline for Form 941-X is generally three years from the date that the original Form 941 was filled. It is also possible to choose a date of two years following the date on which the tax was paid.