The Employee Retention Credit for Family-Owned Businesses: Maximizing Benefits and Ensuring Eligibility

Family-owned businesses are the backbone of many economies, often boasting rich histories and deep-rooted traditions. However, like all businesses, they too faced challenges during economic downturns, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. To provide support during these times, the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) was introduced. While beneficial to all qualifying businesses, family-owned entities face unique considerations. This article aims to explore the nuances of the ERC, tailored specifically for family-owned businesses.

Understanding the Employee Retention Credit

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a refundable tax credit designed to encourage businesses to retain employees during periods of significant economic distress. By offering relief on payroll taxes, the ERC helps businesses maintain their workforce, even when facing reduced revenues or temporary shutdowns.

Eligibility Criteria: The Basics

To qualify for the ERC, a business must either:

  • Experience a substantial decline in gross receipts (more than 50% reduction compared to the same quarter in the previous year).
  • Have operations that were fully or partially suspended due to government orders related to COVID-19.

Special Considerations for Family-Owned Businesses

Owner Compensation: It’s a common practice in family businesses for family members to draw salaries. However, wages paid to owners and their families might not always be considered for the ERC, depending on the business’s legal structure. It’s vital to understand these distinctions.

Shareholding & Attribution Rules: The IRS has complex “attribution rules” that determine how stock ownership is viewed among family members. These rules can impact whether certain wages (to family members) qualify for the ERC.

Calculating the Credit

The credit is a percentage (either 50% for 2020 or 70% for 2021) of qualifying wages (up to $10,000 per employee). For family-owned businesses:

  • Ensure wages to family members (who aren’t major stakeholders) meet the “qualified wages” definition.
  • Factor in health plan expenses related to the qualified wages.

Balancing Family Compensation with Business Needs

In family businesses, compensation often blurs lines between salary, dividends, and benefits. It’s essential to document compensation clearly and ensure family members are paid for genuine roles and services to claim the ERC legitimately.

Interplay with Other Aid Programs

Many family-owned businesses might have also availed of other relief measures like the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Remember, wages used for PPP loan forgiveness cannot be double-counted for the ERC. Proper accounting is crucial to avoid overlapping claims.

Claiming the Credit

Family-owned businesses can claim the ERC when filing their quarterly federal employment tax returns. In situations where the ERC exceeds the owed payroll taxes, businesses can request a refund.

Long-term Benefits and Considerations

While the immediate financial relief is evident, the ERC’s ripple effects are significant:

  • Preserving Family Legacy: By providing a financial cushion, the ERC aids family businesses in maintaining their legacy and continuing for future generations.
  • Strategic Reinvestment: The funds saved or received via the ERC can be reinvested into the business, be it in operations, employee training, or expansion.

Documentation and Compliance

For family-owned businesses, transparency and proper documentation are paramount, especially when claiming credits like the ERC. Given the close-knit nature of such businesses and the potential overlap of personal and professional expenses, maintaining a clear paper trail becomes even more vital.

  • Maintain Separate Accounts: It’s advisable for family-owned entities to separate business expenses from personal ones. This ensures clarity when calculating qualifying wages and other related costs.
  • Record Roles and Responsibilities: Clearly define and document the roles of each family member within the business. This not only establishes accountability but also justifies the wages paid, especially when claiming credits.

Future Implications of the ERC

The financial relief provided by the ERC has broader implications for family-owned businesses:

  • Tax Planning: The credits claimed can impact future tax liabilities. Family businesses should engage in proactive tax planning to understand and prepare for these implications.
  • Stakeholder Relationships: Utilizing the ERC can strengthen relationships with external stakeholders. By showcasing the business’s commitment to retaining employees and ensuring continuity, it can build confidence among suppliers, customers, and creditors.

Potential Pitfalls to Avoid

While the ERC presents numerous advantages, family-owned businesses should be wary of potential pitfalls:

  • Double Counting: As mentioned, it’s vital to avoid overlapping claims, especially if the business has availed of other relief programs.
  • Misrepresentation of Wages: Given the close-knit nature of family businesses, there might be a temptation to inflate wages or misrepresent roles to maximize credits. Such practices can lead to penalties and a potential loss of credibility.
  • Overlooking Updates: Tax laws and related credits, including the ERC, can be subject to updates and changes. Family-owned businesses should stay updated to ensure they remain compliant and make the most of available benefits.

Leveraging External Expertise

Considering the complexities surrounding the ERC and its unique implications for family-owned businesses, seeking external expertise can be invaluable:

  • Engage a Tax Consultant: They can provide tailored advice, ensuring the business maximizes its credits while staying compliant.
  • Participate in Workshops: Regularly attending workshops or webinars on topics like the ERC can provide real-time insights and clarify doubts.


The Employee Retention Credit offers a beacon of hope for many businesses, including family-owned entities. While it presents a golden opportunity, family-run businesses must tread carefully, understanding the specific nuances related to family compensation, ownership structures, and more. Proper guidance, thorough documentation, and strategic planning will ensure these businesses not only avail the maximum benefits of the ERC but also fortify their legacy in these challenging times.

The Employee Retention Credit, while a boon for businesses navigating economic challenges, demands careful consideration, especially for family-owned entities. By understanding its intricacies, maintaining transparency, and seeking expert guidance, family-owned businesses can not only leverage the ERC to its fullest but also pave the way for sustained growth and legacy preservation.

FAQ on Employee Retention Credit for Family-Owned Businesses

Q1. What is the Employee Retention Credit (ERC)?
A1. The ERC is a refundable tax credit designed to help businesses retain employees during times of economic distress, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q2. Can family-owned businesses avail of the ERC?
A2. Yes, family-owned businesses can avail of the ERC, provided they meet the eligibility criteria.

Q3. Are wages paid to family members eligible for the ERC?
A3. It depends on the business’s legal structure and ownership details. In certain cases, wages paid to significant owners and their families might not qualify. It’s essential to understand specific IRS rules concerning family member compensation.

Q4. How is the ERC calculated?
A4. The credit is a percentage of qualifying wages paid during eligible quarters. The exact percentage and wage cap may vary based on the year in question.

Q5. Can the ERC be claimed alongside the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)?
A5. Yes, but businesses must ensure that wages used for PPP loan forgiveness aren’t double-counted for the ERC.

Q6. How can family-owned businesses claim the ERC?
A6. Businesses can claim the ERC when filing their quarterly federal employment tax returns. If the ERC exceeds the owed payroll taxes, they can request a refund.

Q7. What documentation is needed to claim the ERC?
A7. Proper documentation includes payroll records, proof of a significant decline in gross receipts or proof of operational suspension due to governmental orders, and any other relevant financial documents.

Resources for Family-Owned Businesses Seeking Information on the ERC

  1. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Official Guidance:
    IRS ERC Overview
  2. U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
    Provides a comprehensive guide on how businesses, including family-owned ones, can avail and benefit from the ERC.
    Chamber of Commerce ERC Guide
  3. National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB):
    Offers resources, webinars, and guides tailored for smaller businesses.
    NFIB Resource Center
  4. Family Business Alliance:
    A platform dedicated to the unique needs of family businesses, providing webinars, workshops, and articles.
    Family Business Alliance Resources
  5. Tax Consultant and Accountancy Firms:
    Many reputable firms offer specialized guidance on the ERC, tailored for family-owned businesses. It’s advisable to engage a local consultant familiar with state-specific regulations and nuances.
  6. Business Associations and Local Chambers:
    Often host seminars, webinars, and workshops on topics like the ERC. Joining a local business association can provide access to such resources and networking opportunities.

By leveraging these resources and continuously updating their knowledge, family-owned businesses can make informed decisions regarding the ERC and optimize their financial strategies.


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