Employee Retention Credit Refund Timeline: Key Dates and Process Details

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a vital financial relief program in today’s economic landscape that aims to support businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Established through the CARES Act, this refundable tax credit incentivizes businesses to retain employees, while rewarding them with a maximum credit of $7,000 per employee per calendar quarter. However, the process of claiming refunds can be both challenging and time-consuming due to a high volume of applications, IRS processing delays, and various amendments to the program over time.

As businesses attempt to navigate the complexities of the ERC refund process, it is essential to set realistic expectations on refund timelines and follow the IRS guidance provided. ERC refund claims have been one of the causes of the backlog, with millions of tax filings affected, as stated by the SBA Disaster Loan Advisors. This leads to concerns for taxpayers and businesses on how to manage the credit’s technical aspects while maintaining efficient payroll practices and avoiding penalties or fines.

Key Takeaways

  • The Employee Retention Credit offers significant financial relief to businesses during the pandemic, but refund timelines can be challenging due to processing delays.
  • Businesses should set realistic expectations and follow IRS guidance when filing for ERC refunds to avoid complications and stay in compliance.
  • Payroll management practices are crucial in navigating the refund process and ensuring businesses maximize the benefits of the tax credit.

Understanding Employee Retention Credit

Eligibility Requirements

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a refundable tax credit introduced by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to support businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. To be eligible for the ERC, businesses must have experienced a significant decline in gross receipts or been shut down due to government orders during the covered period from March 13, 2020, to December 31, 2021 [1].

Eligibility requirements for the ERC are as follows:

  • The business must have been operational during the covered period.
  • The business must have faced a significant decline in gross receipts (usually more than 50% when compared to the same quarter of the previous year).
  • The business continued to pay its employees despite business disruption.

Form 941 versus Form 941-X

When claiming the Employee Retention Credit, businesses generally need to file Form 941, the Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return [2]. Form 941 is used to report the employee wage information, including the ERTC and other related tax credits the business is claiming.

In cases where employers have already filed their Form 941 but later discover that they qualify for the ERC, they can amend their forms by filing Form 941-X [2]. Form 941-X, the Adjusted Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return or Claim for Refund, allows employers to correct any errors in their tax return, report the additional ERC, and request a refund for any overpaid taxes.

While processing times for ERC refunds can vary, employers can expect a wait of several months for their refunds due to the high volume of claims being processed by the IRS [3]. It’s essential to ensure all paperwork is correctly submitted and accurate to avoid any delays in processing the ERC refund.

COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on ERC Refunds

CARES Act Enactment

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the United States government enacting the CARES Act, which introduced various relief measures for businesses affected by the crisis. One of these measures was the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), a refundable tax credit for businesses that continued to pay employees during the pandemic. The ERC initially covered qualified wages paid from March 13, 2020, to December 31, 2021, to assist businesses facing shutdown orders or significant declines in gross receipts.

Paycheck Protection Program

Another relief measure put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic was the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provided forgivable loans to businesses to help keep their workforce employed. It is important for businesses to note that claiming both ERC and PPP loans may have restrictions; hence, they should consult their tax advisors for guidance.

Recovery Startup Business

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact, new businesses, known as Recovery Startup Businesses, may also be eligible for the ERC. These businesses should have started after February 15, 2020, and meet specific criteria. Such entities may benefit from the tax credit and other government relief measures aimed at supporting businesses during these challenging times.

In summary, the ERC, PPP, and support for Recovery Startup Businesses are some of the measures implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic to provide relief and assistance to struggling businesses. Companies should ensure they understand their eligibility and the impact of these programs on their taxes and overall financial situations.

Refund Claims and Delays

Factors Behind Backlog

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) refund claims have experienced delays due to a backlog caused by the pandemic and the high volume of tax credit applications. The large number of refund claims submitted has overwhelmed the IRS, leading to long processing times. Additionally, staffing shortages and remote work situations have contributed to the slower processing times for ERC refunds.

Unprocessed Forms 941 and 941-X

Many taxpayers have encountered unprocessed Forms 941 and 941-X during the refund process. These forms are essential for claiming the Employee Retention Credit, but the high volume of claims, combined with the pandemic’s impact on IRS staffing, has resulted in a slow response to these filings. As a consequence, some taxpayers may experience a delay in receiving their ERC refunds due to these unprocessed forms.

How to Check Your Refund Status

To check the status of your ERC refund, it is advised to wait at least four weeks after you have filed your claim (either through Form 941 or 941-X). If you still have not received any updates or notice after four weeks, you may want to file Form 8849 (Claim for Refund of Excise Taxes) as an additional step. However, do keep in mind that calling the IRS to check your refund status is not recommended, as phone lines often have long wait times and may not expedite the refund process. Instead, monitor the progress of your claim through the IRS website or by contacting your tax professional for assistance.

By understanding the factors behind the backlog of ERC refund claims, taxpayers will have a better grasp of the possible delays they may experience. Though the refund timeline may be unpredictable, being proactive and patiently tracking your refund status can help ensure a smoother refund process.

Tax Credit Amendments and Retroactivity

Amending Tax Returns with Form 941-X

Employers who have identified eligible employee wages for the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) may need to amend their tax returns to claim the credit. To do so, they must file Form 941-X, Adjusted Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, or Claim for Refund. This form allows employers to correct any mistakes on their previously filed Form 941 and claim the appropriate tax credit.

When submitting Form 941-X, employers should be prepared for extended processing times. The IRS has previously stated that ERC refunds could take between six weeks to six months after filing the updated payroll reports. However, the current estimated turnaround time is around nine to twelve months.

Gross Receipts Considerations

To qualify for the ERC, employers must demonstrate a significant decline in gross receipts during the pandemic – specifically, a decline of at least 50% for 2020 or 20% for 2021 compared to the same quarter in the previous year (source). This requirement does not apply to certain recovery start-up businesses.

Considering gross receipts is crucial in determining ERC eligibility, as it ensures that the credit targets employers severely impacted by the pandemic. The ERC was initially introduced with a value of 50% of qualifying employee pay, capped at $10,000, with a maximum credit of $5,000 available for wages earned between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 20212.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, enacted on November 15, 2021, retroactively terminated the ERC for wages paid after September 30, 2021, except for recovery startup businesses (source). As a result, understanding the gross receipts component is essential for employers to claim the credit accurately during the amended return process.


  1. https://www.disasterloanadvisors.com/employee-retention-credit-refund-check-status/
  2. https://federaltaxcredits.org/how-long-does-it-take-get-ertc-refund/

IRS Guidance and Processing Times

Turnaround Time for Refunds

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has been experiencing delays in processing Employee Retention Credit (ERC) refunds. According to some reports, it may take several months for businesses to receive their refunds due to the high volume of claims. The IRS is processing hundreds of thousands of ERC refunds, which has led to a slow turnaround time[^1^].

One of the challenges faced by the IRS during this period is the amount of mail and correspondence they are processing. The agency has a significant backlog of mail, which has contributed to the delay in processing ERC refunds. As a result, businesses are advised to exercise patience while they wait for their refunds[^2^].

Impact of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

The recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could potentially impact the processing times for various tax credits, including the ERC. This comprehensive legislation aims to bolster America’s infrastructure and create employment opportunities. As a result, this act may have indirect implications on the resources available to the IRS for processing ERC refunds[^3^].

While the specific effects of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on the IRS’s processing times are not yet clear, it is a possibility that the allocation of additional federal resources could help the IRS process the ERC refunds faster. However, businesses and taxpayers should remain vigilant and stay informed about any changes or updates related to the processing of these refunds[^4^].

Tips for Businesses and Payroll Management

Amended Payroll Tax Return

For businesses seeking to claim Employee Retention Credit (ERC) refunds, it’s essential to ensure the accurate and timely filing of amended payroll tax returns. This helps expedite the refund process for the ERC and avoid any delays caused by inaccuracies or incomplete information. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) originally intended to give a refund anywhere between six weeks and six months after filing an updated payroll report. However, this timeline may be subject to change.

To amend your payroll tax returns, businesses must file Form 941-X, which claims the ERC benefits for 2020 and 2021. Keep in mind that when claiming the ERC, you should reduce your deduction for wages by the amount of the credit and may need to amend your income tax return as well.

Using a Third-Party ERC Filing Service

If managing payroll and tax returns seems overwhelming, consider using a third-party ERC filing service. Such services help businesses accurately calculate the Employee Retention Tax Credit for both full-time and part-time employees, manage payroll refunds for 2020 and 2021, and navigate the complexities of amended payroll tax returns.

By hiring a reliable ERC filing service, small business owners can focus on other critical aspects of their operations while professionals take care of the payroll and tax-related requirements, ensuring compliance and timely refunds.

Employee Retention Tax Credit in 2023

As of now, the ERC covers wages and group health insurance paid after March 12, 2020, and through December 31, 2021. Business owners and payroll managers should keep an eye on any updates or extensions to the ERC program beyond 2021 to stay informed and take advantage of available tax credits.

Though the Employee Retention Credit is designed primarily to ease the financial burden during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s crucial to remain updated on any changes or developments regarding payroll tax, grants, and credit opportunities to maximize benefits for your business.

Conclusion and Future Implications

The employee retention credit (ERC) refund timeline has been a topic of concern for many businesses, especially during the tax season. As the IRS initially indicated, refunds were expected to take four to five months, but many have experienced delays beyond that timeframe. Factors contributing to these delays include changes in IRS procedures due to COVID-19 protocols and a high volume of refund requests.

Businesses eligible for the ERC can claim it for the first two calendar quarters of 2021. By reducing employment tax deposits, employers can obtain the credit before filing their employment tax returns. Small employers may also request advance payment of the credit using Form 7200. However, it’s crucial to be aware of the eligibility criteria and limitations before doing so.

As the pandemic continues to impact businesses, it’s essential to stay informed and adapt to changes surrounding employee retention tax credit refunds. While the IRS now estimates a turnaround time of nine to twelve months for refunds, it’s important to remember that these timelines may change as the situation evolves. In the meantime, businesses should prepare for potential delays and factor them into their financial planning.

Moving forward, it will be beneficial for businesses to closely monitor updates on the ERC refund timelines and other related tax credits. Staying informed and prepared during tax season will ensure they can navigate these challenging financial circumstances with ease and confidence.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the process for claiming Employee Retention Credit refunds?

To claim Employee Retention Credit (ERC) refunds, employers need to file Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, or Form 941-X, Adjusted Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return, to adjust for previously reported wages and credits. Employers should also include a detailed statement explaining the changes made to their tax return and provide documentation supporting the credit eligibility.

How long does it take for the IRS to process ERC refunds?

The IRS processes most ERC refunds within 90 days. However, the processing time may vary depending on the complexity of the tax return and the current backlog of cases at the IRS.

How can I check the status of my 941x refund?

To check the status of your 941x refund, you can call the IRS at (877) 777-4778. Keep in mind, due to a shortage of operators, your wait time may be lengthy.

What are the eligibility criteria for the Employee Retention Credit?

Eligibility for the ERC is dependent on specific facts and circumstances. In general, businesses must either have been shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic or experienced significant declines in gross receipts from March 13, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021. For more detailed information on eligibility requirements, refer to the IRS FAQs.

Are self-employed individuals eligible for ERC?

No, self-employed individuals are not eligible for the ERC as it is designed for businesses that continued to pay employees during pandemic-related shutdowns or significant declines in gross receipts.

Is there a helpline number to check the IRS ERC refund status?

Yes, to check the status of your ERC refund, you can call the IRS at (877) 777-4778. However, as mentioned earlier, there might be a shortage of operators available to take phone calls, so your wait time may be long.


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