COVID-19 has caused hardships and unprecedented challenges for businesses and organizations all over the world. Many employers have faced reduced revenues, increased expenses, and disrupted operations due to lockdowns, social distancing, and health and safety measures.
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 has been in place since 2020 when the CARES Act was passed. Later, in 2021 and again in 2023, it was modified and extended by new legislation. 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 Employee Retention Credit (ERC)? Tri-Merit 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 has been created by the CARES Act for 2020. It was further extended and modified with subsequent legislation in 2021, 2023. The ERC is designed to encourage employers to retain their employees and offer them health benefits in times of crisis.
The Main Features and Benefits
- 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 percentage and the maximum credit vary depending on how long the credit can be claimed. In 2020, the 50% percentage and $5,000 limit per employee is applicable for the entire calendar 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. Tri-Merit 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 is available to employers who suffered a significant reduction in gross revenues or a partial or full suspension of operations because of an eligible government order relating COVID-19. In addition, employers who qualify as recovery-startup businesses for 2023 can also claim the credits.
- Credits are available by submitting an amended employment return (Form 951) or by reducing deposits for employment taxes in anticipation. Employers can also request an advance payment of the credit by filing Form 7200.
To qualify as an employer for the Employee retention Credit (ERC), you must meet at least one of the two criteria below:
- A government order suspended the employer’s organization or business in full or part due to COVID-19 for a calendar quarter of 2020 or 2021
- The employer’s gross revenues for a quarterly calendar period in 2020, 2021 or both were less that 50% (for the 2020 quarter) or 80% (2021 quarter) of its gross revenue for the same year-ago quarter.
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 the commerce, travel and group meetings that are prohibited by COVID-19
- The order has a direct impact on the operations of an organization or business
- 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 that restrict non-essential businesses from operating
- Certain businesses have curfews that limit their hours of operations
- Limits in capacity that restrict the number or clients that a business can serve
- Travel bans and restrictions that restrict the ability for a company to transport services or goods
To determine if the business was partially or fully suspended by an official order, employers must consider:
- The scope and nature of the order as well as how it impacts the business.
- The order’s duration, frequency, and alignment with the calendar quarters
- The order’s impact on revenues and expenses
It is considered a significant decrease in gross revenue if a business has:
- The gross receipts from any quarter in 2020 is less than 50% its gross receipts from the same calendar quarter in 2019.
- The gross revenue for any quarter of 2021 was less than 80% that for the same period in 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:
- Sales of goods & services
- Interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities
- Gifts, donations, and contributions Tri-Merit Employee Retention Credit
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross profits from trades and businesses
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.
- It will use the same calendar year quarters for 2019/2021 as it did to file its federal Employment Tax Returns (Form 941).
- It is the same income sources that were reported on the federal income tax returns for 2019.
Recovery Startup Business
A recovery startup is a business:
- Start any new business or occupation after February 15, 2019,
- 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.
Even if it does not meet the criteria for revenue decline or suspension of business, a recovery startup can still qualify. Recovery startups are not exempt from certain rules and restrictions.
- The maximum amount of credit per quarter is $50,000
- The credit is only applicable to wages paid for the third and fourth quarters of 2021
- The credit is subject to an overall cap of $250 million for all recovery startup businesses
Credit Amounts and Calculation
ERC amounts and rules vary for different time periods and employers. The ERC’s main influences are:
- 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 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?
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 check the forms and give the money 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. Employers must claim their ERC before they expire or become unavailable. The employer has to spend the money efficiently and not waste. Tri-Merit Employee Retention Credit
You can find more information below on ERC calculation and credit amount.
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 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|
The Number of Employees
The number affects the calculation of qualified wages for employees and their health insurance costs. 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. The following table summarizes the thresholds and rules for determining the employer size for each time period:
|Time Period||Small Employer Threshold||Large Employer Threshold|
|2020||Less than or equal to 100 FTEs in 2019||More than 100 FTEs in 2019|
|Q1-Q2 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in 2019||More than 500 FTEs in 2019|
|Q3-Q4 2021||Less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not have in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a small eligible employer if it had less than or equal to 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021. For recovery startup businesses, the employer size is irrelevant. For severely financially distressed employers, the employer size is irrelevant if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q2 2021 apply.||More than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021. If an employer did not exist in either calendar year beginning after December 31, 2019, and ending before July 1, 2021, the employer is treated as a large eligible employer if it had more than 500 FTEs in any calendar quarter beginning after June 30, 2021.|
To count FTEs for a given year or quarter, an employer must use the following steps:
- Count the number of employees who worked at least 30 hours per week (or at least 130 hours per month) for each month in the year or quarter
- Add up the total hours worked by all other employees (who are not counted as FTEs) for each month in the year or quarter
- Divide the total hours by120and round down to the nearest whole number
- Add the number of FTEs from Step One and Step Three for each month in the year or quarter
- Calculate the average number of FTEs by adding up the monthly totals and dividing by 12 (for a year) or 3 (for a quarter)
Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages are wages paid to eligible employees during a period of business suspension or revenue decline. 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. Tri-Merit Employee Retention Credit
|Employer Size||Time Period||Qualified Wages and Health Insurance Costs||Example|
|Small||2020||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 80 FTEs in 2019 paid $8,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in 2020. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 50% in Q2 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q2 2020 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q1-Q3 2021||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 400 FTEs in 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $3,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $15,000.|
|Small||Q3-Q4 2021 (Recovery Startup Business)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (subject to a $50,000 cap per quarter)||A recovery startup business that began operations in March 2020 paid $9,000 in wages and $1,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q3 2021. The business had average annual gross receipts of $800,000. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q3 2021 are $10,000.|
|Small||Q4 2021 – Q3 2022 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not||An employer with 600 FTEs in Q2 2019 paid $11,000 in wages and $4,000 in health insurance costs to an employee in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q4 2021 are $15,000.|
|Large||2020||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 30 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 120 FTEs in 2019 paid $10,000 in wages and $2,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in 2020. The employer had a business suspension due to a government order in April 2020. The employee did not work for two weeks in April 2020. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for April 2020 are $2,308 ($10,000 x2/52+$2,000 x2/52).|
|Large||Q1-Q3 2021||Wages and health insurance costs paid to an employee for the time that the employee did not work (up to the amount that the employee would have been paid for working an equivalent duration during the 90 days immediately preceding the period of economic hardship)||An employer with 550 FTEs in 2019 paid $15,000 in wages and $5,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q1 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 20% in Q1 2021. The employee did not work for three weeks in Q1 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs for Q1 2021 are $5,769 ($15,000 x3/13+$5,000 x3/13).|
|Large||Q3-Q4 2021 (Severely Financially Distressed Employer)||All wages and health insurance costs paid to any employee, regardless of whether the employee worked or not (only if the employer had a revenue decline of more than 90%. Otherwise, the same rules as Q1-Q32021 apply.)||An employer with 700 FTEs in Q4 2019 paid $12,000 in wages and $6,000 in health insurance costs to an employee who worked full-time (40 hours per week) in Q4 2021. The employer had a revenue decline of more than 90% in Q4 2021. The qualified wages and health insurance costs|
Claim and Report the Credit
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires that employers claim the Employee-Retention Credit by filing a federal income tax return, Form 941, or a modified employment tax form (Form941X), with them. The employer is required to report the qualified wages, health insurance costs and credit claimed by each quarter.
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 also allows the employer to claim the ERC for current or future quarters. The employer can use Form 941 to:
- ERC reduces taxes that employers have to deposit at the IRS.
- You can ask for advance payment if your ERC exceeds the amount of taxes you have to pay. Tri-Merit Employee Retention Credit
- Carry over any excess credit into the following quarter
To avoid making common errors and fill out Form 941 correctly, employers 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 1c to report on the health insurance and wages that eligible employees have received.
- Use Line 13d for the credit claim amount per quarter
- Use Line 13f to declare any advance payments received from the IRS.
- Use Line 24 to request a credit advance if necessary
- Use Line 25 to report any credit excess that can be carried over to the next quarter.
- Sign and date Form 941, attaching any supporting documents, schedules, or schedules.
The following are some resources and tips for filling in Form 941.
- Use online services (e-file or online filing) to submit Form 941, faster and with greater security.
- Check the IRS website for updates, FAQs, and guidance on Form 941 and the ERC
- For clarifications or help, you can contact the IRS.
Form 941-X allows you to correct mistakes or make adjustments in Form 941 that has already been filed. Form 941 X also allows for the employer to claim ERC retroactively. The employer can use Form 941-X to: Tri-Merit Employee Retention Credit
- Claim a refund or credit for overpaid taxes due to claiming the ERC
- Report additional qualified wages paid and health insurance premiums paid to eligible workers that have not been reported on Form 941
- Correct any errors or omissions you find on Form 941, which may affect your credit claim.
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
- For calculating and reporting your ERC, follow the IRS’s instructions and worksheets.
- Use the Part 2 to indicate on which lines you are correcting or adjusting Form 941
- 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 to report any credit or refund due to the ERC claim.
- Sign and date Form 941, and attach any supporting documentation or schedules
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out the Form 941-X here:
- You must file a separate 941X form for each quarter you are correcting or adjusting. Tri-Merit 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 for submitting Form 941 generally falls on the last calendar day of the following month. 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. The end of the quarter. For example, Q1 2020 (January to March) requires that Form 941 be returned by May 10, 2021. Tri-Merit 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 2020, (January-March), the Form 941 must be filed by April 30th 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 employers filed Forms 941 and paid taxes on June 15, 2019, the deadline is June 15, 2022.
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 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 credit can be claimed with IRS Forms 941 or 941X by reporting to them the qualified health insurance and wages costs as well as the amount claimed each quarter.
Do not miss out on this opportunity if you’re an employer that meets the ERC eligibility criteria. The ERC has a time limit and deadline for claiming. 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. You can also contact the IRS or a tax professional for assistance or clarification if needed.
ERCs are a powerful tool that can help your company or organization, as well as your employees. You can use it to retain employees, keep your cash flowing, and recover after a pandemic. This article is intended to help you better understand the ERC, and how it can be claimed. Thank you for reading, and stay safe.
Tri-Merit Employee Retention Credit
What is the ERC?
Employee Retention Credit is an employer tax credit available to employers who kept their employees on payroll during COVID-19.
It was created in March of 2020 by the CARES Act and later extended and amended by the CAA Act of December 2020 (Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021).
Does everyone qualify for the ERC program?
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.
You can read more about the criteria here. Here are some highlights.
- The business or organization was suspended (fully or partially) by government order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Their gross receipts 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 worth?
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 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.
The employer must report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees and the amount of credit claimed for each quarter.
When is the deadline to submit the ERC form?
The deadlines of Form 941, Form 941X and ERC 941 are different.
The last day to submit Form 941 for each quarter is the last calendar month. In contrast, the deadline to submit Form 941 X is generally set at three years since the date of the original 941. This can also be up to two years, based on the date when the tax is paid.