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.
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 is a program that was introduced by the CARES Act of 2020. Subsequent legislation was passed in 2021 and in 2023 to extend and modify it. 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 Employee Retention Credit (ERC)? What Is The Employee Retention Credit Act
Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC), is a refundable tax credit for organizations and businesses with employees who have been affected by COVID-19. The ERC was created by the CARES Act in 2020 and was extended and modified by subsequent legislation in 2021 and 2023. The ERC was created to encourage employers in crisis to keep workers on their payrolls and provide them health insurance.
Main Features and Advantages
- The credit is equal to a percentage of qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees, up to a certain limit per employee per quarter.
- The credit limit and percentage are dependent on the period of time for which you claim the credit. For 2020, the percent is 50%, and the limit is $5,000 for each employee per year. For 2021, the percentage is 70%, and the limit is $7,000 per employee per quarter. 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. What Is The Employee Retention Credit Act
- 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 may claim the credit if their gross receipts have declined significantly or they have had to suspend operations in whole or part due to a COVID-19-related government order. Employers who are considered to be recovery startup businesses may also claim this credit, but only for 2023.
- Credits may be obtained by filing a revised employment tax form (Form 941X) or reducing employment deposit amounts in anticipation. By submitting Form 7020, employers can request an early payment of their credit.
To qualify for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), an employer must meet one of the following 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
- 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 qualify for ERC despite business suspensions or revenue decreases.
A government order may suspend a business, or even partially suspend it.
- The order prohibits travel, group meetings, and commerce due to COVID-19
- The order impacts the operations of a business or organization
- The order applies to all calendar quarters in 2020 and 2021
Examples of government orders which can lead to a suspension of business include:
- Orders to stay at home that prevent non-essential companies from operating
- Curfews are restrictions on the hours that certain businesses can operate
- Limits on the capacity of a business that limit how many customers or clients it can serve
- Travel restrictions or bans that impact the ability of an organization to transport goods and services
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 scope and nature of the order as well as how it impacts the business.
- The duration and frequency of the order and how it coincides with the calendar quarters
- The impact of an order on revenue and expenses
A significant decline in gross revenues is experienced by a business or organization 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 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 & services
- Dividends, rents, and royalties, as well as interest, are all examples of annuities.
- Gifts, donations, and contributions What Is The Employee Retention Credit Act
- Membership fees and dues
- Gross income from trades or 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.
- 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
Recovery startup businesses are those that:
- You must have started your business after the 15th of February 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. Recovery Startup Businesses are still subject to some restrictions and special rules.
- Maximum credit per quarter: $50,000
- The credit will only be available to employees who have paid wages in the third quarter and fourth of 2021
- Credits for recovery startups are subject to a maximum of $250 million.
Credit Amounts 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
- The number of employees that the employer has in 2019 or 2020/2021 and whether or not they worked 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 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 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 will no longer be available. The ERC started in March 2020 and ends in September 2022. The employer has to claim the ERC before it expires or becomes unavailable. The employer has to spend the money efficiently and not waste. What Is The Employee Retention Credit Act
You can find more information below on ERC calculation and credit amount.
The ERC was introduced, amended, and terminated by different laws in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Credit amounts vary depending on when they are 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|
Number of Employees
The number of employees affects the definition and calculation of qualified wages and health insurance costs for eligible employees. A small employer or a large employer is determined by the number of employees who worked full-time (FTEs) in 2019 and the time period. The following table summarizes rules and thresholds to determine employer size.
|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 can include severance payment, bonuses, severance tips, sick pay, family pay and other forms compensation. Qualified salaries also include the costs of providing health coverage to eligible workers, including premiums, copays, deductibles, and coinsurance.
The calculation of qualified wages, health insurance costs and employer size depends on the time period. This table summarises the rules and provides examples for various scenarios. What Is The Employee Retention Credit Act
|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 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 must report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees and the amount of credit claimed for 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. The employer can use the Form 941 for:
- ERCs can be used to reduce the amount of tax that an employer must pay to the IRS.
- Request an advance payment of the ERC if the credit exceeds the taxes that the employer has to deposit What Is The Employee Retention Credit Act
- You can carry forward any credit balance to subsequent quarters
To avoid making common errors and fill out Form 941 correctly, employers should:
- Use the most recent version of Form 941, which reflects any changes or updates to the ERC laws.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Line 11c to report the qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Report the amount of credit claimed each quarter using Line 13d.
- Use Line 13f to declare any advance payments received from the IRS.
- Line 24 is the place to ask for an advance payment if you need it.
- Report any credit balance that may be carried forward into the next quarter using Line 25
- Sign the form 941, and attach any supporting documents.
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.
- If you need clarification or assistance, contact the IRS or an accountant.
Forms 941-X are used to rectify errors or make adjustments to Forms 941 previously submitted. Form 941-X also allows the employer to claim the ERC retroactively for past quarters. Employers can use Form 941/X for What Is The Employee Retention Credit Act
- Claim a credit or refund for the taxes you overpaid by claiming ERC
- Report additional qualified wages paid and health insurance premiums paid to eligible workers that have not been reported on Form 941
- You can correct any errors or omissions that may have affected the credit claimed amount on Form 941.
Employers can avoid common mistakes by filling in Form 941X correctly.
- Use the latest form 941X that reflects changes to laws that are applicable to the ERC.
- Use the IRS worksheets and instructions to calculate and report the ERC
- Use Part 2 to indicate the lines on Form 941 that are being corrected or adapted.
- Use Part 3 for explaining why form 941 has been corrected or adjusted
- Use Line 24 to report any additional qualified wages and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees
- Line 25 should be used to declare any additional amount claimed as a credit each quarter
- Use Line 26 when reporting any refund or credit that you have requested as a result of claiming your ERC
- Sign and date Form 941-X and attach any supporting documents or schedules
You can find some helpful tips on how to fill out the Form 941-X here:
- Fill out a separate form 941-X per quarter being corrected or recalculated What Is The Employee Retention Credit Act
- Fill out Form 941-X immediately after you find an error in Form 941
- The IRS website has updated FAQs on the ERC, Form 941 X, and updates to the IRS website.
- Need clarification? Contact an IRS agent or tax professional.
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. Nevertheless, if the employer deposited all taxes due in a given quarter on time, they may file Form 941 before the 10th day. Following the end of the quarter. Form 941 for the first quarter of 2021 (January – March) is due on May 10, 2021. What Is The Employee Retention Credit Act
The deadline to file Form 941-X generally is three years after the date the original Form 941 is filed, or two years after the date the tax is paid. For Q1 2020 (January – March), for example, Form 941 is due on April 30, 2020. If an employer submitted Forms 941 on 30 April 2020 and the tax was paid on 30 April 2020, it is now April 2023 before they can file Forms 941-X. 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 is a valuable tax credit that can assist employers affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic to keep their employees and reduce the impact on their business or organization.
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 is claimed by filing IRS Form 941 or 941-X and reporting qualified wages, health insurance costs, and the credit amount claimed for each quarter.
Do not miss out on this opportunity if you’re an employer that meets the ERC eligibility criteria. The ERC does not last forever. It has a deadline, and there is a statute of limitations for claiming the ERC. 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. If needed, you can also reach out to the IRS or a professional tax advisor for clarification or help.
ERCs are a powerful tool that can help your company or organization, as well as your employees. It can help your business or organization retain workers, maintain cash flow and recover from a pandemic. We hope this article has helped you understand more about the ERC and how to claim it. Stay safe and thank you for reading.
What Is The Employee Retention Credit Act
What is ERC?
The Employee Retention Credit is a tax credit for employers who retained their employees in their payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was created by the CARES Act in March 2020 and was later amended and extended by the CAA (Consolidated Appropriations Act) in December 2020, and the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act of 2021) in March 2021
Is everyone eligible for the ERC?
Not everyone is eligible for the ERC. It is only available to employers who have retained employees and paid their wages to them between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021.
You can read more about the criteria here. Here are some highlights.
- A government order suspended the business (fully or partly) because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
- Their gross revenues for a quarter calendar in 2020 or in 2021 were lower than a percentage compared to their gross revenues for the same period in 2019.
- You are a new business in recovery that has started operating after February 15th, 2020. Your average annual gross sales is no more than $1,000,000.
How much is the ERC?
The amount of ERC an organization or business receives depends on several factors.
Some of these factors include the time period, the number of employees, the number of qualified wages, and health insurance costs paid to eligible employees. If you want a more detailed explanation, read the above article.
How to claim 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.
The deadline for Form 941 is usually the last day in the month after the end of every quarter. While the deadline for the Form 941-X will be three years after you filled out the original Form 941. This can also be up to two years, based on the date when the tax is paid.