COVID-19’s pandemic caused unimaginable hardships to many organizations and businesses around the globe. Lockdowns, social distance, health and security measures and lockdowns have caused many employers to face reduced revenue, increased expenses and disruptions in their operations.
Employee Retention Credit is a refundable income tax credit available to eligible employers that helps them retain their employees while providing health benefits.
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 Employee Retention Credit (ERC)? Section 206 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 has been created by the CARES Act for 2020. It was further extended and modified with subsequent legislation in 2021, 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 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 limit will vary depending on when 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, there is a 70% percentage and a limit of $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. Section 206 Employee Retention Credit
- The credit is fully refundable. If the amount of credit exceeds an employer’s liability for payroll tax, the excess will then be paid back to the employer.
- The credit can be claimed by employers who experienced a significant decline in gross receipts or a full or partial suspension of operations due to a qualifying government order related to COVID-19. In addition, employers who qualify as recovery-startup businesses for 2023 can also claim the credits.
- The credit can be claimed by filing an amended employment tax return (Form 941-X) or by reducing employment tax deposits in anticipation of the credit. Employers may also request an advanced payment of the credit using Form 7200.
In order to qualify for Employee Recruitment Credit (ERC), a company must meet the following 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
- Employer’s gross receipts in a calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021 was less than 50% or 80% of the gross receipts in the same quarter 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 are eligible for the ERC, regardless of whether their business has been suspended or if revenue has declined.
A business or organization is considered fully or partially suspended by a government order if:
- The order restricts commerce, travel or group meetings because of COVID-19
- The order has a direct impact on the operations of an organization or business
- The order applies to any calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021
These are some examples:
- Stay-at-home orders that restrict non-essential businesses from operating
- Certain businesses are subject to curfews which limit their hours of operation
- Capacity limitations that reduce the amount of customers or clientele that a firm can service
- Travel restrictions or bans that impact the ability of an organization to transport goods and services
To determine if the business was partially or fully suspended by an official order, employers must consider:
- The nature and extent of the order, and its impact on the operation of your business
- The order’s duration, frequency, and alignment with the calendar quarters
- The impact and magnitude of the order to the business’s revenues and costs
A significant decline in gross revenues is experienced by a business or organization if:
- 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 for any calendar quarter in 2021 were less than 80% of its gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019
Gross receipts refer to the total of all money received or accrued during a company’s annual accounting period. Gross receipts can include:
- Sales of goods and services
- Interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities
- Contributions are gifts, donations and grants Section 206 Employee Retention Credit
- Membership dues
- Gross income from trades or businesses
To calculate and compare gross revenue for different quarters using the following:
- The same method for accounting (cash-based or accrual-based) that was used to file the federal income Tax return for 2019
- The same quarters in the calendar year as those used for the federal employment tax returns (Form 941) filed by 2019 and 2020/2021
- 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
- Start any new business or occupation after February 15, 2019,
- Has average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million for the three-tax-year period ending with the tax year that precedes the calendar quarter for which the credit is determined
If a business is in recovery, it can still qualify for ERC even if the business has been suspended or its revenue has declined. Recovery startup businesses are subject to certain restrictions and special rules.
- The maximum credit amount per quarter is $50,000
- The credit is only available for wages paid in the third and fourth quarters of 2021
- The maximum credit available for startup businesses is $250 million.
Credit Amounts Calculation
The ERC has different rules and amounts for different periods of time and different types of employers. The ERC’s main influences are:
- 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
- How much the employer paid to each employee and their health insurance during the pandemic
In order to receive the ERC from the IRS, the employer will need to complete some forms. The employer must provide proof of how much they paid their employees for health insurance as well as the ERC. The IRS will verify the forms, and then give the money to your employer. The money can be used by the employer to pay for health insurance, to pay employees, or refunds on payroll taxes.
The ERC will not be available indefinitely. It began in March 2019 and will finish in September 2020. The employer must claim the ERC prior to its expiration or becoming unavailable. The employer should also make sure to not waste the money. Section 206 Employee Retention Credit
You can find more information below on ERC calculation and credit amount.
In 2020, 2021, & 2022, different laws were passed to introduce, amend, and terminate the ERC. The credit amount varies depending on the time period for which it is claimed. The table below summarizes key differences and features of the ERCs 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|
Number of Employees
The number of employees affects the definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs 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 and Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages include wages paid to eligible workers during a business suspension or revenue decrease. Qualified wages can include severance payment, bonuses, severance tips, sick pay, family pay and other forms compensation. Qualified salaries also include the costs of providing health coverage to eligible workers, including premiums, copays, deductibles, and coinsurance.
The employer size, the time period and the calculation of the qualified wage and health insurance cost will affect the calculation. The table below summarizes rules and examples in different scenarios. Section 206 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|
Claiming and Reporting 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 declare the wages and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees, as well as the credit amount claimed 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 allows the employer to do:
- ERC reduces the amount that employers must deposit with the IRS in order to pay taxes.
- If the ERC is greater than the tax that the employer must deposit, you can request an advance payment. Section 206 Employee Retention Credit
- Carry forward any excess credits to future quarters
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 1c to report on the health insurance and wages that eligible employees have received.
- Use Line 13d when reporting the credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 13f to declare any advance payments received from the IRS.
- If you need to receive an advance payment, use Line 24.
- Use Line 25 to report any excess credit that can be carried forward to subsequent quarters
- Sign and date Form 941 and attach any supporting documents or schedules
Tips and resources on how to complete Form 941 include:
- Form 941 can be submitted faster and more securely by using electronic filing (efile) or online services
- Check the IRS website for updates, FAQs, and guidance on Form 941 and the ERC
- For clarifications or help, you can contact the IRS.
The Form 941 X is used for corrections and adjustments to a Form 941. Form 941 X also allows for the employer to claim ERC retroactively. The employer can use Form 941-X to: Section 206 Employee Retention Credit
- Claim the ERC to get a refund of taxes that you have overpaid.
- Report any additional wages or health insurance costs that are paid to employees who are eligible but not reported on Form 951.
- Correct any mistakes or omissions made on Form 941 that affect the amount of credit claimed
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.
- Follow the IRS instructions and worksheets for calculating the ERC and reporting it.
- Use Part 2 to indicate the lines on Form 941 that are being corrected or adapted.
- Use Part 3 to explain the reason for a correction or adjustment on Form 941
- Use Line 24 to report any additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 25 for any additional credit claimed each quarter.
- Use Line 26 for any refunds or credits due to ERC claims.
- Sign the form 941-X, date it and include any documents or schedules that you wish to attach.
Some tips and resources for filling out Form 941-X are:
- Fill out a separate form 941-X per quarter being corrected or recalculated Section 206 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.
- 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 is due by April 30, 2021. 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. After the end of the quarterly period. For Q1 2021 (January-March), form 941 must be submitted by May 10, 2020, Section 206 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 employer files Form 941 by April 30, 2020 and pays the tax on April 30 2020, then the deadline to file Form 941-X will be April 30, 2023. If an employee filed Form 941 April 30, 2020 and paid tax June 15, 2020 the deadline for submitting Form 941 X is June 15, 222.
The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a valuable tax benefit that can help employers who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic keep their employees on the payroll and reduce the impact of the pandemic on their businesses or organizations.
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.
You should not miss the opportunity to benefit from this tax incentive if you are an eligible employer. The ERC is not available forever and has a deadline and a statute of limitations for claiming it. 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. If needed, you can also reach out to the IRS or a professional tax advisor for clarification or help.
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. We hope this article has helped you understand more about the ERC and how to claim it. We thank you for reading. Please stay safe.
Section 206 Employee Retention Credit
What is ERC and what does it do?
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 created the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 in March 2021. Later, the CAA (Consolidated Appropriations Act), in December 2020, was amended and expanded by ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021), in March 2021.
Are all ERC applicants eligible?
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.
- The business or organization was suspended (fully or partially) by government order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- 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.
- 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 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. If you want a more detailed explanation, read the above article.
How to claim 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 deadlines for filing Forms 941 and 941-X are different.
The deadline for Form 941 is usually the last day in the month after the end of every quarter. Meanwhile, the deadline for Form 941-X is generally three years from the date that the original Form 941 was filled. It can also be from two years from the date that the tax was paid, with the later date being the more preferred one.