What Is the Employee Retention Credit? | Q&As, Examples, & More
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What Is the Employee Retention Credit, and How Does It Work for Employers?

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Due to the coronavirus negatively affecting businesses nationwide, there are a number of coronavirus payroll tax credits available to help employers out. One option for employers is the Employee Retention Credit (ERC). Read on to learn the ins and outs of the ERC, including how the Employee Retention Credit works and how it can help you rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employee Retention Credit overview

The Employee Retention Credit is a CARES Act relief measure for businesses. It is a fully refundable tax credit that eligible employers who are able to keep employees on payroll can claim.

Check out more information about this tax credit option by exploring the Employee Retention Credit Q&As below.

How much is the credit?

The refundable employee retention tax credit is equal to 50% of qualified wages eligible employers pay employees between March 13, 2020 through December 31, 2020.

The maximum credit per full-time employee for all calendar quarters is $5,000. This means the Employee Retention Credit maximum amount of qualified wages per employee for all calendar quarters is $10,000 ($10,000 in qualified wages X 50%).

What are qualified wages?

Qualifying wages are the wages and compensations employers pay to employees during the time period. This includes qualified health plan expenses associated with said wages.

Another factor that determines qualified wages is the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees you had in 2019.

For employers who averaged fewer than 100 FTEs, the credit is based on wages you paid to all employees. The tax credit for employers who averaged more than 100 FTEs is based on wages paid to employees who did not work during the period.

Employers cannot claim the tax credit on FFCRA paid leave wages.

Who qualifies for the credit?

Only eligible employers qualify for the Employee Retention Credit program. Eligible employers include employers who:

  • Have to fully or partially suspend operations during any quarter in 2020 due to the coronavirus; OR
  • Experience a significant decline in gross receipts as a result of the coronavirus during any quarter in 2020 (e.g., drop below 50% of the comparable quarter amount in 2019)

Self-employed individuals cannot claim the ERC for their self-employment earnings or services.

How does the credit work?

The small business Employee Retention Credit lets employers take a 50% credit up to $10,000 of an employee’s qualifying wage. Again, the maximum credit amount is $5,000 per employee for all calendar quarters.

The credit reduces your employer Social Security tax liability. If your credit winds up being more than your Social Security tax liability, you will get a refund from the IRS.

How do I claim the Employee Retention Credit?

There is no Employee Retention Credit application. Instead, employers can claim the Employee Retention Credit on their federal employment tax returns. In most cases, this means claiming the credits on Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return.

Depending on your business, you might also claim the credit on Form 944, Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return, or Form 943, Employer’s Annual Federal Tax Return for Agricultural Employees.

Report the total qualifying leave wages on your federal employment tax return. The IRS will release instructions on how to show your reduced tax liabilities for the quarter.

If your federal employment taxes don’t cover the payments, you can fill out Form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19, to request an advance of the credits. You can file the form multiple times during the quarter. File Form 7200 any time before the end of the month following the quarter in which you paid the qualified wages. If you file a quarterly Form 941, don’t forget to account for the advance amounts.

Is there an Employee Retention Credit deadline?

Again, employers can claim the ERC on qualifying wages paid between March 13, 2020 – December 31, 2020. Wages paid before March 13, 2020 or after December 31, 2020 do not qualify.

Can I claim the Employee Retention Credit in addition to another credit or loan?

Employers cannot claim both the Employee Retention Credit and the Paycheck Protection Program loan. You can only receive the Employee Retention Credit if you don’t receive and use the PPP loan. And, employers cannot receive the Employee Retention Credit after they receive a PPP loan and the loan is forgiven.

What about employers who repay the PPP loan by the safe harbor deadline (May 14, 2020)? Are they able to claim the ERC? Yes, employers that applied for a PPP loan, received the loan payment, and repay the loan (if required under new guidelines) by May 14 will be treated as if they did not receive a loan under the PPP. If this is the case, the employer would be able to claim the ERC if they’re eligible for it.

Employers can claim both the Employee Retention Credit and FFCRA paid leave credits. However, you cannot claim both credits on the same wages.

What else do I need to know about the credit?

The tax credit is not mandatory. Eligible employers may opt not to claim the Employee Retention Credit.

To learn more about the Employee Retention Credit for employers, check out the IRS’s website.

How to calculate Employee Retention Credit: Examples

As a reminder, employers can receive a maximum ERC of $5,000 per employee (up to $10,000 in wages per employee). Credits are worth 50% of qualifying wages and associated qualified health plan expenses paid to employees. Let’s take a look at a few Employee Retention Credit examples.

One employee

Say you have one employee and you pay them $5,000 in qualified wages. As an employer, you would get a credit of $2,500 ($5,000 X 50%).

One employee with health plan expenses

Now, let’s say you pay your one employee $5,000 in qualified wages and also provide them $1,000 of qualified employee health insurance. Add your qualified wages and employee health insurance together and multiply the total by 50%. Your total credit would equal $3,000 [($5,000 + $1,000) X 50%].

Multiple employees

Say you have three employees. You pay two out of your three employees $10,000 in qualified wages, and you pay the third employee $20,000 in qualified wages. Because the maximum is $10,000 in qualified wages per employee, your credit would be $15,000 ($5,000 X 3 employees).

What other coronavirus tax credits are available?

In addition to the Employee Retention Credit, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) established the COVID-19 tax credits. The COVID-19 tax credits help employers afford the coronavirus-related paid sick and family leave required by the FFCRA.

There is both a refundable paid sick leave credit and a refundable paid family leave credit. Both leave credits reimburse employers for the cost of providing paid leave.

Again, you can take both the Employee Retention Credit and paid leave credit, but you cannot claim both credits on the same wages.

This is not intended as legal advice; for more information, please click here.