COVID-19, the pandemic that has swept across the globe in recent years, has brought unprecedented challenges and hardships to businesses and organisations around. Lockdowns, social distance, health and security measures and lockdowns have caused many employers to face reduced revenue, increased expenses and disruptions in their operations.
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 was first enacted by the CARES Act in 2020 and was later extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 2023. This article will explain what the ERC is, how it works, and how to claim it for different time periods and eligibility criteria.
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? What Does Employee Retention Credit Mean
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 aims to encourage employers to keep their workers on the payroll and provide them with health benefits during the crisis.
The Main Features and Benefits
- Credits are equal in percentage to the wages and insurance costs that employees who qualify for them have paid, but there is a maximum per employee.
- The percentage and the limit vary depending on the time period for which the credit is claimed. For 2020 the percentage is set at 50%, while the maximum per employee is set at $5,000. In 2021, 70% of the employees will be eligible for the maximum. The limit per employee is $7,000. 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. What Does Employee Retention Credit Mean
- 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.
- 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. The credit can be claimed by employers who have been classified as recovery startups only until 2023.
- 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.
Criteria for Eligibility
To qualify for Employee Retention credit (ERC), employers must meet either of two main criteria.
- The employer’s business or organisation was suspended in whole or in part by a government decree due to the COVID-19, during a quarter calendar of 2020 or 21
- 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.
The recovery startup rule also applies to businesses that began operating after February 14, 2020 and had average annual gross receipts not exceeding $1 million. These businesses can qualify for the ERC regardless of business suspension or revenue decline.
A government order can either suspend or fully suspend a company or organization if the following conditions are met:
- The order restricts commerce, travel or group meetings because of COVID-19
- The order will affect the operation of the business or the organization
- Order applies to any calendar year in 2020 or 21
Here are some examples of government orders that can result in a business being suspended:
- Stay-athome orders restrict non-essential enterprises from operating
- Certain businesses are subject to curfews which limit their hours of operation
- Limits in capacity that restrict the number or clients that a business can serve
- Bans on travel or restrictions on the ability to transport goods or service by a business
To determine whether an employer’s business was suspended fully or partially by a government directive, the employer must:
- How the nature and scope and the order affect the operation of the business
- The order’s duration, frequency, and alignment with the calendar quarters
- The impact and magnitude of the order to the business’s revenues and costs
It is considered that a business or organization has experienced a significant drop in gross receipts when:
- 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 for any calendar quarter in 2021 were less than 80% of its gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019
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 include:
- Sales of goods and Services
- Interest, dividends rents royalties and annuities
- Contributions, gifts and grants What Does Employee Retention Credit Mean
- Membership dues
- Gross profits from trades and businesses
To calculate and compare gross revenue for different quarters using the following:
- Use the same method (cash or accrual accounting) as it used when filing its federal income taxes for 2019
- Use the same calendar quarters as it did for its federal employment tax return (Form 941 ) for 2019 and 2021/2022
- The same sources of income that it reported on its federal income tax return for 2019
Recovery Startup Business
A startup that is in recovery can be defined as
- 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.
If a business is in recovery, it can still qualify for ERC even if the business has been suspended or its revenue has declined. Recovery startup businesses are subject to certain restrictions and special rules.
- The maximum credit available 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 Amount and Calculation
There are different ERC rules and amounts for different employers and periods of time. The ERC is affected by the following main factors:
- 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?
The employer has to fill out some forms and send them to the IRS to claim the ERC. The form must show the amount the employer paid for their employees’ health insurance, and how they qualified for the ERC. The IRS will check the forms and give the money to the employer. The employer can then use the money for paying their employees, their health insurance and/or to receive refunds or credits on their payroll tax.
The ERC won’t be around forever. It started in March 2020 and will end in September 2022. The employer is required to claim ERCs before they expire, or are no longer available. The employer also has to use the money wisely and not waste it. What Does Employee Retention Credit Mean
You can find more information below on ERC calculation and credit amount.
The ERC was implemented, amended, or terminated by various laws in 2020. The credit amount varies depending on the time period for which it is claimed. 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|
The Number of Employees
The number of eligible employees will affect the calculation and definition of health insurance and qualified wages. 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. 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 & Health Insurance Costs
Qualified wages include wages paid to eligible workers during a business suspension or revenue decrease. Qualified wages can include severance payment, bonuses, severance tips, sick pay, family pay and other forms compensation. Qualified wages also include the cost of providing health insurance to eligible employees, such as premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance.
The size of an employer’s business and the period in which they operate will determine the definition and calculation for qualified wages and health care costs. This table summarises the rules and provides examples for various scenarios. What Does Employee Retention Credit Mean
|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
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 will need to declare the qualified wages paid and the health insurance expenses paid for eligible employees. They must also report the credit claimed.
Form 941 is a quarterly tax return that the employer must file to show his federal tax liabilities. This includes income taxes, Medicare tax and Social Security taxes. Form 941 is used by the employer to claim ERC for the current quarter or future. Form 941 can be used by the employer to:
- ERC reduces the amount that employers must deposit with the IRS in order to pay taxes.
- You can ask for advance payment if your ERC exceeds the amount of taxes you have to pay. What Does Employee Retention Credit Mean
- Carry forward any excess credit to subsequent quarters
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.
- The IRS has provided worksheets to help you calculate 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
- Use Line 13f to declare any advance payments received from the IRS.
- Use Line 24 to request an advance payment of the credit if needed
- Use Line 25 to report any credit excess that can be carried over to the next quarter.
- Sign and date Form 941, and include any supporting documents and schedules.
Here are some tips and resources to help you fill out Form 941:
- Use electronic filing (e-file) or online services to submit Form 941 faster and more securely
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC and Form 941.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
The Form 941 X is used for corrections and adjustments to a Form 941. Form 941 X also allows for the employer to claim ERC retroactively. Employers can use Form 941/X for What Does Employee Retention Credit Mean
- Claim refunds or credits for taxes overpaid due to the ERC
- Report any additional wages or health insurance costs that are paid to employees who are eligible but not reported on Form 951.
- The amount of credit claimed will be affected by any mistakes or omissions in Form 941.
The employer should:
- Use the latest Form 941-X 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 Part 2 of Form 941 to indicate which lines are being amended or corrected.
- Use Part 3 to explain your corrections or adjustments on Form 941.
- Use Line 24 to report any additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Line 25 is the place to enter any additional credit claims for each quarter.
- Use Line 26 to report any refund or credit requested due to claiming the ERC
- Attach any supporting documents and schedules to Form 941-X.
Here are some tips and resources to help you fill out Form 941X:
- For each quarter to be adjusted or corrected, you must submit a different Form 941X. What Does Employee Retention Credit Mean
- Fill out Form 941-X immediately after you find an error in Form 941
- Visit the IRS website to get the latest updates, FAQs, and guidance regarding Form 941-X, the ERC, and other forms.
- For clarifications or help, you can contact the IRS.
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 is due by April 30, 2021. The employer can still file Form 941 if they have deposited their taxes on time. After the end quarter. For example, Q1 2020 (January to March) requires that Form 941 be returned by May 10, 2021. What Does Employee Retention Credit Mean
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 the employer has filed Forms 941 and paid tax by April 30th 2020, they have until April 30th 2023 to submit Form 941X. If an employer files Form 941 in April 2020 and pays the tax on June 15 2020, they have until June 15 2022 to file Form 941.
Employee Retention credit (ERC), a valuable benefit under tax law, can help employers who have been affected by COVID-19 keep their staff on payroll and minimize the impact of pandemic.
The ERC (Eligible Employees Credit) is a tax credit that can vary depending on the time frame, the number and type of employees employed, and the amount paid in wages and insurance to employees eligible for the credit. The ERC may be claimed through IRS Forms 941 and 941X, which require the employer to report the qualified wages paid and the health insurance expenses incurred by each employee.
This tax benefit is available to employers who meet the ERC’s eligibility criteria. The ERC is not available forever and has a deadline and a statute of limitations for claiming it. Use the resources and tips provided in this article to ensure that you fill out your forms correctly and avoid common mistakes. If needed, you can also reach out to the IRS or a professional tax advisor for clarification or help.
ERC can have a significant impact on your business, organization, and your employees. It will help you to keep your employees, maintain a healthy cash flow, as well as recover from pandemic. This article is intended to help you better understand the ERC, and how it can be claimed. Thank you for reading. Stay safe.
What Does Employee Retention Credit Mean
What is ERC and what does it do?
Employee Retention Credit: This is a credit that employers can claim if they retained employees 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.
Does everyone qualify for the ERC program?
The ERC is not available to everyone. Employers who retained their employees and paid them wages between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021, are eligible.
There are also criteria for eligibility; more details can be read above, but here are the highlights:
- A government order has suspended the business or organization (wholly or partially) due to COVID-19.
- The gross receipts they had for a calendar-quarter in 2020, 2021 or both were less than 10% of their gross receipts during the same quarter last year.
- 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 ERC received by a business or organization will depend upon 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. You can read the article above for a more detailed explanation of how ERC is calculated.
How to claim the ERC?
To claim the ERC an employer must submit a federal employment reform (Form 941)-X or a revised employment tax return to the IRS.
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.
When is the deadline to file the ERC Forms
The deadlines for filing Forms 941 and 941-X are different.
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.