COVID-19, the pandemic that has swept across the globe in recent years, has brought unprecedented challenges and hardships to businesses and organisations around. Due to lockdowns and social distancing as well as health and safety measures, many employers have seen their revenues and expenses drop, while operations are disrupted.
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. This article will provide an overview of the ERC and its workings, as well as how to apply for it in different time periods.
For a brief reading of what the Employee Retention Credit or ERC is, take a look at this video from the YouTube channel “ERC Specialists”. You can also continue below to read an in-depth explanation of ERC.
What is the Employee Retention Credit? Synergy Employee Retention Credit
Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a refundable credit available to tax-exempt and for-profit organizations and businesses that have employees who were affected by COVID-19. The ERC, created in 2020 by the CARES Act, was then extended and modified through subsequent legislation in both 2021-2023. The ERC was created to encourage employers in crisis to keep workers on their payrolls and provide them health insurance.
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 percentage and limit will vary depending on when the credit is claimed. For 2020, the percentage is 50%, and the limit is $5,000 per employee for the entire year. For 2021, it is 70%. The limit is $7,000 per quarter per employee. For 2023, the percentage is 70% for the first two quarters and 40% for the last two quarters, and the limit is $10,000 per employee per quarter. Synergy Employee Retention Credit
- The credit will be fully refundable if its amount exceeds that of the employer’s payroll taxes.
- 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. In addition, employers who qualify as recovery-startup businesses for 2023 can also claim the credits.
- Credits may be obtained by filing a revised employment tax form (Form 941X) or reducing employment deposit amounts in anticipation. The credit can be requested in advance by employers using Form 7200.
To qualify for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must meet one of the following two main 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 can qualify for the ERC regardless of business suspension or revenue decline.
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 will affect the operation of the business or the organization
- The order applies to any calendar quarter in 2020 or 2021
Some examples of government orders that can cause a business suspension are:
- Stay-athome orders restrict non-essential enterprises from operating
- Businesses are restricted in their operating hours by curfews
- Limits on the capacity of a business that limit how many customers or clients it can serve
- Bans on travel or restrictions on the ability to transport goods or service by a business
Employers must take into account the following to determine whether a business has been suspended in full or in part by an order of government:
- The nature and extent of the order, and its impact on the operation of your business
- The length and frequency of your order and the way it corresponds to the calendar quarters
- The impact of an order on revenue and expenses
A business or organization is considered to have experienced a significant decline in gross receipts if:
- The gross receipts of any calendar quarter in 2020 are less than half the gross receipts of the same quarter in 2019.
- The gross receipts from any calendar quarter during 2021 are less than 80% compared to the same quarter’s gross receipts from 2019.
Gross receipts are the total amount that a business or organization has received or accrued from all sources, during its annual accounting period. Gross receipts include the following:
- Sales of goods and services
- Dividends (rents), royalties and interest
- Contributions, gifts, grants, and donations Synergy Employee Retention Credit
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross profit from business or trade
To compare gross revenues for different quarters an employer can use:
- 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 reported on your federal income tax form for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
The recovery startup business is one that:
- Begun carrying on any business after February 15th, 2020
- If you have average annual gross revenues of less than $1 million in any three tax-year period that ends with the tax-year preceding the calendar quarter for credit determination.
The ERC is available to a recovery startup business regardless of whether or not it meets the criteria for business suspension or revenue decrease. There are certain limitations and rules that apply to recovery startups businesses.
- Maximum credit per quarter: $50,000
- The credit can only be used for wages paid between the third and the fourth quarters of 2020
- The credit has a cap of 250 million dollars for all startup businesses that are eligible.
Credit Amount Calculation
ERC amounts and rules vary for different time periods and employers. The ERC is affected primarily by:
- How much business income dropped compared to 2019.
- 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?
Employers must complete and send IRS forms to claim ERC. 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 verify the forms, and then give the money to your employer. The employer could use this money to pay health insurance for employees or to get refunds and credits for payroll taxes.
ERCs are not available forever. It began in March 2019 and will finish in September 2020. The employer has to claim the ERC before it expires or becomes unavailable. The employer should also make sure to not waste the money. Synergy Employee Retention Credit
Below you will find detailed information on ERC, including the amount of credit and the calculation.
The ERC has been introduced, modified, and terminated in different laws between 2020 and 2021. The amount of credit depends on the time frame for which it’s claimed. The following table summarizes the key features and differences of the ERC for each time period:
|Time Period||Law||Eligible Employers||Credit Rate||Qualified Wages|
|2020||CARES Act||Employers with business suspension or revenue decline of more than 50%||50% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per year||Wages paid from March 13 to December 31, 2020|
|Q1-Q3 2021||CAA and ARPA||Employers with business suspension or revenue decline of more than 20%||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter||Wages paid from January 1 to September 30, 2021|
|Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||ARPA||Recovery startup businesses with average annual gross receipts of no more than $1 million,||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter),||Wages paid from July 1 to December 31, 2021,|
|Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||ARPA and IIJA||Employers with a revenue decline of more than 90%||70% of qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee per quarter||Wages paid from October 1, 2021, to September 30, 2022|
The Number of Employees
The number of employees affects the definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs for eligible employees. Employers are classified as small or large employers based on their number of full-time workers (FTEs), and the period in which they were employed. 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 wage is the number of wages that are paid to employees who qualify during a time when a business has been suspended or revenue has decreased. Qualified wage includes tips and bonuses, as well as severance, pays, sick leave payments, family leave payments and other types of 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. Synergy 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
To claim the Employees Retention Credit, an employer must file with the Internal Revenue Service a federal Employment Tax Return (Form941) or a adjusted Employment Tax return (Form941X). 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. The employer can also claim the ERC in Form 941 for future or current quarters. The employer can use the Form 941 for:
- 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. Synergy Employee Retention Credit
- Carry forward any excess credit to subsequent quarters
The employer should:
- Use the latest Form 941, which reflects all the updates and changes made to the ERC by new laws.
- Follow the IRS instructions and worksheets for calculating the ERC and reporting it.
- Use line 11c to report qualified wages paid and health insurance premiums paid to eligible employees
- Use Line 13d to declare the credit amount claimed for each quarter
- Line 13f is used to report any advance payment of credit received by 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 and attach any supporting documents or schedules
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941.
- Use electronic filing services (efile) and online services to submit the Form 941 faster, more securely
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about Form 941, the ERC.
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
The Form 941 X is used for corrections and adjustments to a Form 941. The employer can also claim the ERC retroactively by using Form 941X. The employer can use the Form 941 X to: Synergy Employee Retention Credit
- Claim refunds or credits for taxes overpaid due to the ERC
- Report additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible employees which were not reported in Form 941
- You can correct any errors or omissions that may have affected the credit claimed amount on Form 941.
Employers should avoid these common mistakes when filling out Form 941 X and ensure that they are filled out correctly.
- Use the latest version of Form 941-X that reflects the changes and updates made by the laws that affect the ERC
- Follow the instructions and worksheets provided by the IRS for calculating and reporting the ERC
- Use Part 2 for indicating which lines of the Form 941 need to be corrected or adjusted
- Use Part 3 to explain the reason for a correction or adjustment on Form 941
- Use Line 24 for any additional qualified wage and health insurance expenses paid to eligible workers
- Line 25 should be used to declare any additional amount claimed as a credit each quarter
- Use Line 26 to report any credit or refund due to the ERC claim.
- 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. Synergy Employee Retention Credit
- If you discover an error on Form 941 or make an adjustment, file Form 941X as soon as you can.
- You can find updates, FAQs, and more information on the IRS site about the ERC and Form 941X.
- Contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed
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 for Q1 (2021) (January – March), Form 941 should be submitted by April 30, 2019. However, if an employer made timely deposits of all taxes due for a quarter, it can file Form 941 by the 10th day of the second month. After the end of the quarterly period. For example, for Q1 2021 (January-March), Form 941 is due by May 10, 2021, Synergy Employee Retention Credit
The deadline for filing Form 941-X is generally three years from the date that the original Form 941 was filed or two years from the date that the tax was paid, whichever is later. For example, for Q1 2020 (January-March), Form 941 was due by April 30, 2020. If an employee filed Form 941 in April 2020 and paid their tax in April 2020, the deadline to file the 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.
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. It varies based on time, number of employees, and amount of wages and health insurance paid to eligible employees. The ERC can be claimed by filing Form 941 or Form 941-X with the IRS and reporting the qualified wages and health insurance costs and the amount of credit claimed for each quarter.
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. 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 be used to help retain your employees, maintain your cash flow, and recover in the event of a pandemic. This article should have helped you learn more about ERCs and how to apply for them. We thank you for reading. Please stay safe.
Synergy Employee Retention Credit
What is ERC?
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?
ERC isn’t available to everyone. Only employers who paid wages and retained employees between March 13, 2019, and December 31, 2020, are eligible.
The criteria for eligibility is also listed above. For the highlights, please see:
- A government order suspended the business (fully or partly) because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
- 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 is ERC?
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. The article above provides a detailed explanation on how ERC is calculated.
How to claim the 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.
The employer must provide a quarterly report detailing the wages, health insurance and other costs that are eligible for credit as well as the amount claimed.
What is the deadline for submitting the ERC forms?
The deadline for filing the ERC forms is different for Form 941 and Form 941-X.
Form 941 deadline is typically the last of the month following each quarter. For Form 941X, the deadline is three years following the date on which the original form 941 was filed. This can also be up to two years, based on the date when the tax is paid.