The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) was rolled out after the passing of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act on March 27, 2020. It was a way for the government to encourage businesses to retain their employees on the payroll following the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The relief was extended from March 2020 to January 31, 2021. Eligible employers can claim certain payroll taxes against wages paid to their employees in the respective periods.
On December 27, 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations (CAA) Act 2021 was enforced under the CARES Act 2020, modifying the contents of the ERC. The new changes enabled employers to continue claiming the tax credits for another six months, running up to June 30, 2021. The program was again extended and will run-up to December 31, 2021, under the American Rescue Plan Act 2021.
One of the key employee retention benefits is offering an incentive for employers to still pay wages. In 2021, over 30,000 businesses have already claimed more than $1 billion. However, more businesses still need to be educated, given that the program is guided by some laws and regulations which keep being updated, generating several complexities.
What is the Employee Retention Credit?
It is a fully refundable tax credit which an eligible employer can claim a percentage against qualified wages paid to employees. For 2020, employers can claim 50% of all qualified wages up to $10,000 per employee paid between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2020. So, you can claim up to $5,000 per employee. This also extends to those who initially borrowed the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.
In 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act increased the claim amount to 70% of all qualified wages paid to each employee from January 1, 2021, to December 31, 2021. The maximum limit per employee is retained up to $10,000 ($7,000 for each employee per quarter) for any quarter.
What are the Qualifications for Claiming the Tax Credit?
The American Rescue Plan Act approves the credit for any employer, college, university, hospital, and tax-exempt organization as defined under 501(c). It also extends to those who borrowed a loan under PPP.
The Internal Revenue Service issues two requirements that make an employer eligible:
- Any business or organization that has experienced a partial or full suspension in their operations due to government orders during COVID-19.
- A business that has reported a significant decline in gross receipts.
Not all businesses qualify for the first requirement, including those supplying critical goods and the ones that could resume operations through teleworking. Under the requirement for gross receipts, many businesses qualify.
From March 2020, an employer can make a claim provided the gross receipts in a calendar quarter are less than 50% of gross receipts compared to the same calendar quarter in 2019. However, if the business reports an increase in gross receipts of more than 80% of gross receipts in the next quarter for the same calendar quarter of 2019, it no longer qualifies.
For 2021, employers should prove that their operations were limited due to government closures or quarantines, leading to more than a 20% reduction of gross receipts in the quarter compared to the same calendar quarter in 2019.
What are Qualified Wages for Claiming Credit?
These are wages inclusive of those subject to FICA taxes plus specific health expenses. You need to have paid them between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2021. In addition, the IRS qualifies health expenses to include both the before-tax deductions from both the employer and employee.
The basis for calculating qualified wages is the number of full-time employees you have hired. IRS defines a full-time employee as one who has worked an estimated 30 hours per week or 130 hours of service each month. The number of full-time employees was updated from 100 in 2020 to 500 in 2021 under the CAA.
So, for 2020, if you had hired more than 100 full-time employees in 2019, you can claim a credit against qualified wages paid for services not provided due to government closure or decline of gross receipts. And, if you had 100 or fewer employees in 2019, you can claim on all wages paid to employees, including those hours not worked due to suspension or gross receipt decline.
In 2021, having more than 500 full-time employees 2019 allows you to include only wages paid to employees for non-working hours because of forced closure or reduction in revenue. If you had employed 500 or fewer full-time employees in 2019, you could calculate credit against wages paid to all employees during the COVID-19 period. Generally, the IRS offers detailed guidelines on the components of ERC intending to help employers get informed and organize how to claim the tax credit to reap the benefits.
Essentially, small businesses can retain their employees even if they are not working, although larger businesses are exempted. If you are an eligible employer, this is a form of tax benefit which reduces your tax obligations. You can also request advance payments from the IRS if the payroll taxes cannot cover the credit amount.
Just note that the advances are limited to employers with 500 or fewer employees. Furthermore, you can still claim it regardless of borrowing a PPP loan but not at the same time. Employees are also able to sustain their living as they get to keep their jobs.
This is still a challenging time for any business, whether big or small, and the credit program acts as a great relief against the pandemic. It is an opportunity that the government wants you to optimize as it offers a significant tax break to run your business and meet your set goals. As technology solution experts, let us help you manage through the technicalities of eligibility and wage rules. Please contact us, so we can offer you the support you need.