Who Qualifies For The Employee Retention Credit?

If you’re a business owner or run a tax-exempt organization, you may qualify for the Employee Retention Credit under the CARES Act. This refundable payroll tax credit applies to certain wages paid during times of operational suspension or significant revenue decline in 2020 and 2021.

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a tax credit that was established by the federal government to support businesses that continued to pay their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ERC is a refundable tax credit that can be claimed by eligible employers who have experienced a significant decline in gross receipts or were forced to shut down due to the pandemic.

The ERC provides a significant financial benefit to eligible employers, as it can be used to offset the cost of keeping staff employed. The credit is refundable, which means that eligible employers may receive payment of the portion of the credit that exceeds certain employment taxes that are due. The ERC has been modified several times since its inception, and eligible employers are encouraged to stay up-to-date with the latest guidance from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to ensure that they are claiming the credit correctly.

To claim the ERC, eligible employers must meet certain criteria and provide documentation to support their claims. The IRS has issued guidance for employers claiming the ERC, and it is important for employers to understand the requirements and deadlines associated with the credit. In this article, we will explore the basics of the ERC, including who is eligible to claim the credit, how to calculate the credit, and how to claim the credit on your tax return.

But how do you know if you’re eligible? It’s not available for businesses that can telework, and there are specific rules regarding what counts as ‘suspended operations’ or a ‘significant decline in gross receipts.’ Furthermore, the size of your workforce plays a role in determining which wages qualify.

You might be wondering how to claim this credit and its impact on your employment tax deposits. We’ll also touch on the role of third-party payers.

In this article, we’ll break down these complex regulations into understandable terms so you can potentially take advantage of this relief measure designed to help keep employees on your payroll.

Eligibility Criteria

Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a refundable tax credit that was introduced as a part of the CARES Act in 2020. The credit is intended to help eligible employers retain their employees during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing financial relief. The credit is available for businesses that experienced a significant decline in gross receipts or were fully or partially suspended due to government orders.

The ERC offers eligible employers a refundable payroll tax credit of up to $5,000 per quarter for each qualifying employee retained during 2020 and 2021. The credit can be claimed against the employer’s share of Social Security tax. The credit can be used to offset the employer’s share of Social Security tax for the quarter in which the credit is claimed, and any excess credit can be refunded to the employer.

To be eligible for the ERC, a business must meet certain requirements. The business must have been in operation in 2019 or 2020 and must have experienced a significant decline in gross receipts. The decline in gross receipts must be at least 50% in 2020 or 20% in 2021, compared to the same quarter in 2019. Alternatively, the business must have been fully or partially suspended due to government orders.

To qualify for the Employee Retention Credit, you’ll need to meet certain criteria. These criteria include operating a trade or business in 2020 and experiencing either a full or partial suspension of operations due to government orders, or a significant drop in gross receipts. Government orders that could result in a suspension of operations include the closure of non-essential businesses, shelter-in-place decrees, and curfews.

A significant decline in gross receipts is determined when your gross receipts are less than 50% of those from the same quarter in 2019. This comparison must continue until January 1, 2021, or until your gross receipts exceed 80% of the same quarter in 2019.

It’s important to note that conducting business via telework is not considered a suspension of operations. Additionally, there are restrictions on the wages that are eligible for the credit. Payments made towards PTO, vacation pay, or sick pay do not count as qualified wages. Furthermore, these wages cannot exceed what an employee would have been paid under normal circumstances.

Lastly, it’s important to keep in mind that receiving this credit can impact other aspects such as payroll tax deductions and income declaration.

Understanding Qualified Wages

Imagine a business owner digging through stacks of payroll records and invoices, trying to figure out which wages might be considered ‘qualified’ under the CARES Act provisions. It’s not as complicated as it seems!

Qualified wages are those that are subject to Medicare tax and paid between March 12, 2020, and January 1, 2021, during a suspension of operations or a quarter with a significant decline in gross receipts. However, they’re capped at $10,000 per employee and include group health plan costs.

If your business had fewer than 100 full-time employees in 2019, you can claim the credit for all qualifying wages during those periods. For larger businesses with more than 100 full-time employees in 2019, only wages paid when employees aren’t providing services count.

However, remember that PTO payments, sick pay, or vacation pay don’t qualify. Also off-limits are mandated FMLA payments or any wage for which another credit has been claimed under section 45S. You also cannot claim credits for amounts exceeding what an employee would have earned before the disruption.

Navigating these rules may seem daunting but understanding qualified wages helps maximize your Employee Retention Credit benefits!

Determining Suspended Operations

Navigating the storm of a global pandemic, you’re left wondering if your business operations have been affected enough to be considered ‘suspended’ under the CARES Act stipulations. Let’s clear that up for you.

Firstly, official government orders must be in place that restrict your business capabilities. These might include:

  1. Closure of non-essential businesses
  2. Shelter-in-place orders
  3. Curfews

These orders must limit commerce, travel, or group meetings directly relating to your trade or business operation. However, it’s crucial to remember that if you’re able to continue functioning remotely through telework, your operations aren’t regarded as suspended.

Secondly, these restrictions have a significant impact on your ability to operate at normal capacity during a calendar quarter compared to situations without such governmental orders.

Lastly, even with more than 100 full-time employees in 2019, you can claim credit only for wages paid when employees are not providing services due to these suspensions.

Remember this: being eligible for the Employee Retention Credit isn’t just about experiencing financial hardship; it also comes down to how significantly and directly government-imposed restrictions impact your day-to-day operations.

Identifying Decline in Receipts

Got your head spinning trying to figure out if your business’s gross receipts have significantly declined? Let’s break it down.

You’re looking at a ‘significant decline’ when your gross receipts for a quarter are less than 50% of what they were for the same quarter in 2019. This starts in the first quarter of 2020 and continues until January 1, 2021.

Don’t take off your thinking cap just yet – there’s another threshold to consider as well. If during any quarter, your gross receipts bounce back and exceed 80% of what they were for the same quarter in 2019, you’re no longer eligible.

Now, these calculations can be tricky. Be sure to include all revenues from sales of products or services, interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and annuities in determining your gross receipts. Also, remember that returns and allowances must be subtracted from this total amount. And don’t forget that qualified wages cannot exceed what an employee would have made before experiencing the significant decline in gross receipts.

Claiming the Credit

Once you’ve determined your eligibility for this tax relief, here’s how you’ll go about securing it. You claim the Employee Retention Credit by reducing your employment tax deposits.

When you reconcile on Form 941, ensure to account for this reduction. If the tax deposits are insufficient to cover the credit, don’t worry. You can file Form 7200 to request an advance payment of the credit.

Remember, if you defer payment of your share of Social Security wages due to the pandemic’s impact on your business operations, reduce your employment tax deposit accordingly.

Also, note that third-party payers who paid wages to common-law employees on your behalf are entitled to the credit but they cannot claim it themselves.

Keep in mind that while claiming this relief helps ease the financial strain, there’s a trade-off; you can’t deduct those wages equal to the claimed credit from your taxes. Still, rest assured knowing this won’t count as income for your business!

With Cherry Bekaert’s guidance through these intricate tax laws and regulations, navigating these processes becomes much more manageable.

Effect on Tax Deposits

After understanding the process of claiming the Employee Retention Credit, let’s delve deeper into its impact on your tax deposits.

The Employee Retention Credit has a significant effect on your payroll tax deposits. When you calculate this credit, it directly reduces the amount you need to deposit for employment taxes. In essence, instead of paying your total employment taxes upfront and then waiting for a refund from the IRS, you can immediately keep part or all of the credit amount by reducing your payroll tax deposits.

However, there might be situations where your calculated credit exceeds the total payroll tax deposit. Don’t worry! You’re not losing out on any benefit here. You can file Form 7200 to request an advance payment for the excess portion of the credit that wasn’t covered by decreasing your employment tax deposits.

Bear in mind, though, if you’re deferring payment of your employer’s share of Social Security wages under another provision of the CARES Act, ensure that you reduce these deferred amounts accordingly while calculating reduced deposits.

Remember also that any credited amounts aren’t deductible as wage expenses since they’re already being offset with this beneficial credit.

Find Out How Much Money You Qualify For, Click Here And Fill Out the Form

Role of Third-Party Payers

In managing your business’s payroll, you might be using a third-party payer, and it’s important to understand their role in this process. These entities can include professional employer organizations (PEOs), certified professional employer organizations (CPEOs), or agents reported on Form 2678.

While they may be responsible for paying your employee’s wages, it’s crucial to know that these third-party payers are not themselves eligible for the Employee Retention Credit.

However, don’t let that lead you astray. If these payers are handling payroll for your common law employees – those workers who have an employee-employer relationship with you – they can indeed claim the credit on your behalf. It’s all about who has legal control over the work done by an employee; therefore, as long as you maintain this relationship with your staff, the credit is yours to claim.

Remember though, maintaining clear communication with any third-party payer is key. Ensure they are aware of your eligibility status and keenly track qualified wages paid out during relevant periods so no benefits go unclaimed.

Grasp every opportunity to support your business through challenging times!


In conclusion, you’re eligible for the Employee Retention Credit if your business experienced a government-ordered closure or significant gross receipt reduction in 2020.

Remember, it’s crucial to correctly identify qualifying wages and calculate any declines in receipts.

You can claim this credit by reducing tax deposits or filing Form 7200.

It’s smart to involve third-party payers in managing these processes effectively as tax laws can be intricate.


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