The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges and hardships for many businesses and organizations around the world. Lockdowns, social distance, health and security measures and lockdowns have caused many employers to face reduced revenue, increased expenses and disruptions in their operations.
To help employers retain their employees and provide them with health benefits during this difficult time, the U.S. government has introduced the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), a refundable tax credit that can offset some of the payroll costs for eligible employers.
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? Self-Employed Employee Retention Credit
Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC), is a refundable tax credit for organizations and businesses with employees who have been 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 is designed to encourage employers to retain their employees and offer them health benefits in times of 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 credit limit and percentage are dependent on the period of time for which you claim the credit. For 2020, the percentage is 50%, and the limit is $5,000 per employee for the entire year. For 2021, the percentage will be 70%, and the limit per quarter is $7,000 for each employee. For 2023, the percentage will be 70% for the two first quarters and 40% for the two last quarters. The limit per employee per quarter is $10,000. Self-Employed 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. In addition, employers who qualify as recovery-startup businesses for 2023 can also claim the credits.
- 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 may also request an advanced payment of the credit using Form 7200.
To qualify as an employer for the Employee retention Credit (ERC), you must meet at least one of the two criteria below:
- 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
- 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.
In addition, there is a special rule for recovery startup businesses that began operations after February 15, 2020 and have average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million. These businesses 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 limits commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19
- The order has an impact on the business or organization
- The order applies to any calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021
These are some examples:
- Stay-at-home orders restricting non-essential business operations
- 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 travel bans that limit the ability of businesses to transport products or services
To determine if a business was fully or partially suspended by a government order, an employer must consider:
- The scope and nature of the order as well as how it impacts the business.
- The length, frequency, and timing of the order in relation to the quarters of the year.
- The order’s impact on revenues and expenses
It is considered a significant decrease in gross revenue if a business has:
- The gross receipts in any calendar quarter of 2020 will be less than 50% the gross receipts in the same quarter of 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 the following:
- Sales of Goods and Services
- Dividends, rents, and royalties, as well as interest, are all examples of annuities.
- Gifts, donations, and contributions Self-Employed Employee Retention Credit
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross revenue from businesses or trades
To calculate and compare gross revenue for different quarters using the following:
- It should use the same method of accounting, either cash or accrual, that it used for its federal income tax returns 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
Recovery startup businesses are those that:
- 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
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 startups are not exempt from certain rules and restrictions.
- The maximum credit amount per quarter is $50,000
- Only wages paid during the third and fourth quarters in 2021 are eligible for this credit
- All recovery startup businesses are subject to an aggregate cap of $250,000,000.
Credit Amount and Calculation
ERCs have different rules and amounts depending on the length of time and type of employer. The ERC’s main influences are:
- How much business income dropped compared to 2019.
- What number of employees did the employer have in 2019 and 2020/2021?
- How much each employee received from their employer and how they were covered by health insurance in 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 money can be used by the employer to pay for health insurance, to pay employees, or refunds on payroll taxes.
The ERC will no longer be available. The ERC began in March 2020, and it will end in September 2022. Employers must claim their ERC before they expire or become unavailable. The employer must also spend the money properly and not waste any of it. Self-Employed Employee Retention Credit
Below is more detailed information on the credit amount and calculation of ERC.
The ERC has been introduced, modified, and terminated in different laws between 2020 and 2021. The amount of the credit varies according to the time period that it is applied for. 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|
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 & Health Insurance Costs
Qualified Wages are wages that eligible employees receive during periods of suspension or decline in revenue. Other forms of compensation are also included in qualified wages, such as tips, bonuses and commissions. Qualified wages also include the cost of providing health insurance to eligible employees, such as premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance.
The calculation of qualified wages, health insurance costs and employer size depends on the time period. The following table provides a summary of the rules for different scenarios. Self-Employed Employee Retention Credit
|Employer Size||Time Period||Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs||Example|
|Small||2020||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 80 FTEs in 2019 paid $8,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in 2020. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 50% in Q2 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q2 2020 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q1-Q3 2021||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 400 FTEs in 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $3,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $15,000.|
|Small||Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter)||A recovery startup business that began operations in March 2020 paid $9,000 in wages and $1,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q3 2021. The business had average annual gross receipts of $800,000. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q3 2021 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 600 FTEs in Q2 2019 paid $11,000 in wages and $4,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q4 2021 are $15,000.|
|Large||2020||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 30 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 120 FTEs in 2019 paid $10,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in 2020. The employer had a business suspension due to a government order in April 2020. The employee did not work for two weeks in April 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for April 2020 are $2,308 ($10,000 x2/52+$2,000 x2/52).|
|Large||Q1-Q3 2021||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 90 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 550 FTEs in 2019 paid $15,000 in wages and $5,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The employee did not work for three weeks in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $5,769 ($15,000 x3/13+$5,000 x3/13).|
|Large||Q3-Q4 2021 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (only if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q32021 apply.)||An employer with 700 FTEs in Q4 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $6,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs|
Claim and Report Credit
For 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 has to report each quarter the wages and costs of health insurance paid to employees who are eligible and the credit claimed.
Form 941 is used by employers to report their quarterly federal tax liabilities, which includes income tax, Medicare tax, and social security tax. Form 941 allows the employer also to claim ERCs in current or future quarters. Form 941 can be used by the employer to:
- ERC – Reduce the amount the employer is required to pay in taxes.
- If the ERC is greater than the tax that the employer must deposit, you can request an advance payment. Self-Employed Employee Retention Credit
- Carry forward any excess credits to future quarters
The employer should:
- Use the latest version 941 which reflects updates and changes in the ERC.
- Follow the instructions and worksheets provided by the IRS for calculating and reporting the ERC
- Use Line 11c for the amount of qualified wages and health benefits paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 13d to declare the credit amount 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.
- 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
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 employer can also claim the ERC retroactively by using Form 941X. Form 941-X can be used by the employer to: Self-Employed Employee Retention Credit
- Claim a credit or refund for the taxes you overpaid by claiming ERC
- Report additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees that were not reported on Form 941
- The amount of credit claimed will be affected by any mistakes or omissions in Form 941.
To fill out Form 941-X correctly and avoid common errors, the employer should:
- Use the most recent version of Form 941X, which reflects any changes or updates to the ERC laws.
- The IRS has provided worksheets to help you calculate the ERC.
- Use Part 2 to indicate the lines on Form 941 that are being corrected or adapted.
- Use Part 3 of Form 941 to explain why it is being amended or corrected
- Use Line 24 to declare any additional qualified wages or health insurance costs paid by eligible employees.
- Use Line 25 to claim any additional credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 26 to report any credit or refund due to the ERC claim.
- Sign and date Form 941, and attach any supporting documentation or schedules
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. Self-Employed Employee Retention Credit
- You should fill out Form 941/X as quickly as possible after you have made an adjustment or discovered an error.
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC, Form 941 X, and updates to the IRS website.
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarification or additional assistance.
Deadline and Statute of Limitations
The deadline for filing Form 941 is generally the last day of the month following the end of each quarter. For example, Q1 2020 (January-March) Form 941 will be due on April 30, 2021. The employer can still file Form 941 if they have deposited their taxes on time. Following the end of the quarter. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. Self-Employed 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 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 employee filed Form 941 April 30, 2020 and paid tax June 15, 2020 the deadline for submitting Form 941 X is June 15, 222.
Employee Retention (ERC) Credit is an important tax benefit which can help employers that were affected by COVID-19 to retain their employees, and lessen the impact the pandemic had on their organizations or businesses.
The ERC can be claimed by filing Form 941 or Form 941-X with the IRS and reporting the qualified wages and costs of health insurance paid to eligible workers. You can claim the ERC by submitting Form 941 to the IRS. This form will ask you for the number of employees, the amount paid in qualified wages and insurance costs each quarter, and how much credit is being claimed.
This tax benefit is available to employers who meet the ERC’s eligibility criteria. 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. 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. It can help your business or organization retain workers, maintain cash flow and recover from a pandemic. We hope this article has helped you understand more about the ERC and how to claim it. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Self-Employed Employee Retention Credit
What is ERC and what does it do?
Employee Retention Credit – This tax credit is available to employers for keeping their employees employed during the COVID-19 epidemic.
The CARES Act was passed in March 2020. It was amended and extended in December 2020 by the CAA Act (Consolidated Appropriations Act) and in March 2021 by the ARPA Act (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021).
Can everyone apply for ERC?
ERCs are not available to all. Employers only eligible for the ERC are those who have retained and paid wages to their employees between March 14, 2020 and Dec 31, 2021.
The criteria for eligibility is also listed above. For the highlights, please see:
- The business or organization was suspended (fully or partially) by government order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Their gross receipts for a calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021 were less than a percentage of their gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019.
- The business is a startup that started operations after February 15, 2020, and has an average gross revenue of less than $1 million.
How much does the ERC cost?
The amount of ERC an organization or business receives depends on several 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. To learn more about how ERCs are calculated, please read the article.
How do I claim my ERC?
To claim the ERC, an employer must file a federal employment tax reform or an adjusted employment tax return (Form 941-X) with the IRS.
Employers must submit quarterly reports detailing the amounts of the tax credit, the wages paid and the health insurance premiums that they have claimed to be reimbursed.
When is the deadline to file the ERC Forms
The deadlines of Form 941, Form 941X and ERC 941 are different.
For Form 941 is generally the last day of the month following the end of each quarter. In contrast, the deadline to submit Form 941 X is generally set at three years since the date of the original 941. It can also be from two years from the date that the tax was paid, with the later date being the more preferred one.