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.
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? Small Business 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 encourages employers to maintain their workers and to provide health benefits to them during the crisis.
The Main Features and Benefits
- Credits are equal to a percent of the qualified wages and costs for health insurance paid to eligible employees up to a limit per employee each 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, 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. Small Business 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. For 2023 only, employers that are classified as recovery startup business can claim the credit.
- 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. The credit can be requested in advance by employers using Form 7200.
Criteria for Eligibility
To qualify for Employee Retention credit (ERC), employers must meet either of 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
- 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.
A special rule is in place for businesses that have started operating after February 15, 2020, and whose average gross receipts per year are no more than one million dollars. These businesses can qualify for the ERC regardless of business suspension or revenue decline.
An order of the government can suspend a business or an organization in full or part if it:
- The order prohibits travel, group meetings, and commerce due to COVID-19
- The order has an impact on the business or organization
- The order will apply to any calendar month in 2020 or even 2021
Some examples of orders from the government that could cause a business to be suspended are:
- Stay-at-home orders prohibiting the operation of non-essential businesses
- Businesses are restricted in their operating hours by curfews
- Capacity limits that reduce the number of customers or clients that can be served by a business
- Travel bans and restrictions that restrict the ability for a company to transport services or goods
An employer should consider the following factors to determine if an order from a government has suspended a business in its entirety or only partially.
- How the nature and scope and the order affect the operation of the business
- The duration and frequency of the order and how it coincides with the calendar quarters
- The impact and magnitude of the order to the business’s revenues and costs
It is considered a significant decrease in gross revenue if a business has:
- The gross receipts for any calendar quarter in 2020 were less than 50% of its gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019
- The gross revenues for any calendar-quarter in 2021 will be less than 80 percent of the gross revenue in 2019 for that same quarter.
Gross receipts are the total sums that an organization or a business has accrued or received from all its sources in a given accounting year, without any deductions. Gross receipts are:
- Sales of Goods and Services
- Interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities
- Donations, contributions, grants and gifts Small Business Employee Retention Credit
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross profits from trades and businesses
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 calendar year quarters that it used to file its federal employment tax returns (Form 941) for 2019 and 2020/2021
- The same sources of revenue that they reported on their federal income tax return in 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A recovery startup business is a business that:
- Begun carrying on any business after February 15th, 2020
- 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
Even if it does not meet the criteria for revenue decline or suspension of business, a recovery startup can still qualify. Recovery Startup Businesses are still subject to some 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 credit has a cap of 250 million dollars for all startup businesses that are eligible.
Credit Amount and Calculation
ERC amounts and rules vary for different time periods and employers. The ERC is affected primarily by:
- How much the employer’s business was affected by the pandemic, either by having to close or reduce operations due to government orders or by having a big drop in income compared to 2019
- How many employees an employer had in 2019, 2020/2021 or whether they worked, or did not work during the pandemic
- 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 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 review the forms and pay the money back to the employer. The employer may use the money in order to pay their employees’ health insurance premiums, or get refunds for their payroll tax.
The ERC won’t be around forever. The ERC will expire in September 2022. The employer must claim the ERC prior to its expiration or becoming unavailable. The employer has to spend the money efficiently and not waste. Small Business Employee Retention Credit
You can find more information below on ERC calculation and credit amount.
Different laws introduced, amended and terminated the ERC in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Credit amounts vary depending on when they are claimed. The following table summarises the main features and differences between the ERCs of 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. The size of an employer depends on its number of FTEs and the time period. 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 refer to wages paid during a period when the business is suspended or revenues are declining. 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 employer size, the time period and the calculation of the qualified wage and health insurance cost will affect the calculation. This table summarises the rules and provides examples for various scenarios. Small Business 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
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 reports the quarterly federal tax liability of an employer, including income tax and Medicare taxes. Form 941 allows employers to claim ERCs for current or future quarterly periods. Form 941 allows the employer to do:
- Reduce the amount of taxes that the employer has to deposit with the IRS by the amount of the ERC
- The employer can request an advanced payment of the ERC credit if it exceeds taxes that they have to deposit. Small Business Employee Retention Credit
- Carry forward any excess credits to future quarters
To avoid making common errors and fill out Form 941 correctly, employers should:
- Use the latest Form 941, which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Line 11c for the amount of qualified wages and health benefits paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 13d when reporting the credit for each quarter.
- Use Line 13f for any advance payment received from IRS.
- Use Line 24 to request a credit advance if necessary
- You can report excess credit on Line 25 for the following quarters.
- Sign the form 941, and attach any supporting documents.
Here are some tips and resources to help you fill out Form 941:
- Use online services or electronic filing to submit Form 941 more quickly and securely
- Check the IRS website for updates, FAQs, and guidance on Form 941 and the ERC
- You can also contact a tax expert or the IRS for clarifications and assistance if you need it.
The Form 941X can be used to make corrections or adjustments on an earlier Form 941. The Form 941X allows the employer retroactively to claim ERC for previous quarters. The employer can use Form 941-X to: Small Business 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.
- 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
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Part 2 of Form 941 to indicate which lines are being amended or corrected.
- Use Part 3 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 claim any additional credit for each quarter.
- You can use Line 26 to request a refund or credit due to claiming ERC.
- Sign and date the Form 941 X and add any supporting documents or schedules.
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941X.
- Fill out a separate form 941-X per quarter being corrected or recalculated Small Business Employee Retention Credit
- You should fill out Form 941/X as quickly as possible after you have made an adjustment or discovered an error.
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about the ERC and Form 941X.
- 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. 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, Small Business Employee Retention Credit
Form 941X must be filed within three years of the original filing date or two from the payment date, whichever comes later. For Q1 of 2020 (January through March), the deadline for Form 941 to be filed was April 30, 2020. If an employer filed Form 941 on April 30, 2020, and paid the tax on April 30, 2020, the deadline for filing Form 941-X is April 30, 2023. If an employer filed form 941 on April 30 2020 and paid the tax by June 15, 2020, then the deadline to file Form 941-X will be June 15, 2022.
Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC), is a valuable financial benefit that helps employers to keep their employees employed and reduces the impact COVID-19 has on their organization or business.
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.
You should not miss the opportunity to benefit from this tax incentive if you are an eligible employer. The ERC cannot be claimed forever. There is a deadline to claim it and a statute that limits its use. You should file your forms as soon as possible and use the tips and resources provided in this article to fill them out correctly and avoid common errors. For clarifications or help, you can always contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
ERCs can be a huge help to your organization or business and its employees. It will help you to keep your employees, maintain a healthy cash flow, as well as recover from pandemic. This article aims to provide you with more information about the ERC. Stay safe and thank you for reading.
Small Business Employee Retention Credit
What is an ERC?
The Employee Retention Credit is a tax credit for employers who retained their employees in their payroll 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.
Is everyone eligible for the ERC?
ERC eligibility is not universal. 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.
Below are some details about eligibility.
- 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.
- They are a recovery startup business that began operations after February 15, 2020, and has average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million.
What is the ERC rate?
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. You can read the article above for a more detailed explanation of how ERC is calculated.
How to claim the 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.
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. 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.