Employee Retention Credit is extended through 2021

As part of the new American Rescue Plan Act and previously within the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, the employee retention credit, a provision of the CARES Act, is now extended through Dec. 31, 2021 to eligible employers who retained employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is the Employee Retention Credit?

The ERTC is a refundable credit that businesses can claim on qualified wages, including certain health insurance costs, paid to employees.   

For employers who qualify, including borrowers who took a loan under the initial PPP, the credit can be claimed against 50 percent of qualified wages paid, up to $10,000 per employee annually for wages paid between March 13 and Dec. 31 2020.

Employers who qualify, including PPP recipients, can claim the credit against 70% of qualified wages paid. Additionally, the amount of wages that qualifies for the credit is now $10,000 per employee per quarter for the first two quarters of 2021.

The credit remains at 70% of qualified wages up to a $10,000 limit per quarter so a maximum of $7,000 per employee per quarter for all of 2021. So, an employee could claim $7,000 per quarter per employee or up to $28,000 for 2021. However, under this law, certain startup businesses — those started after Feb. 15, 2020 that were forced to shut down due to government order — may be allowed a credit of up to $50,000 per quarter.

Which employer types will qualify for this

Almost all employers can qualify for this including small business, hospitals, universities and non-profit employers. Previously, the Consolidated Appropriations Act expanded qualifications to include those companies that took a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), including borrowers from the initial round of PPP who originally were ineligible to claim the tax credit.

Qualification is determined by one of two factors for eligible employers — and one of these factors must apply in the calendar quarter the employer wishes to utilize the credit:

  • A trade or business that was fully or partially suspended or had to reduce business hours due to a government order. The credit applies only for the portion of the quarter the business is suspended, not the entire quarter.
  • Those considered essential, unless they have supply of critical material/goods disrupted in manner that affects their ability to continue to operate. Businesses shuttered but able to continue their operations largely intact through telework.

CARES Act – 2020

Generally, if gross receipts in a calendar quarter are below 50% of gross receipts when compared to the same calendar quarter in 2019, an employer would qualify. They are no longer eligible if in the calendar quarter immediately following their quarter gross receipts exceed 80% compared to the same calendar quarter in 2019.

Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021

Beginning in 2021, businesses must be impacted by forced closures or quarantines and have seen more than 20% drop in gross receipts in the quarter compared to the same quarter in 2019.

If you are a new business, the IRS allows the use of gross receipts for the quarter in which you started business as a reference for any quarter which they do not have 2019 figures because you were not yet in business.

American Rescue Plan Act – 2021

In addition to eligibility requirements under the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, business also have the option of determining eligibility based on gross receipts in the immediately preceding calendar quarter (compared with the corresponding quarter in 2019).

Qualifying Wages

Wages/compensation, in general, that are subject to FICA taxes, as well as qualified health expenses qualify when calculating the employee retention credit. These must have been paid after March 12, 2020 and qualify for the credit if paid through Dec. 31, 2021.

Remember, the credit can only be taken on wages that are not forgiven or expected to be forgiven under PPP.

When determining the qualified health expenses, the IRS has multiple ways of calculating depending on circumstances. Generally, they include the employer and employee pretax portion and not any after-tax amounts.

When determining the qualified wages that can be included, an employer must first determine the number of full-time employees.

For the purposes of the employee retention credit, a full-time employee is defined as one that in any calendar month in 2019 worked at least 30 hours per week or 130 hours in a month (this is the monthly equivalent of 30 hours per week) and the definition based on the employer shared responsibility provision in the ACA.

Employers who were in business the entire calendar year in 2019 or 2020 would take the sum of the number of full-time employees in each calendar month and divide by 12.

An employer who started a business during 2019 or 2020 determines the number of full-time employees by taking the sum of the number of full-time employees in each full calendar month in 2019 or 2020 in which the business operated and divide by that number of months.

An employer who started a business in 2021 determines the number of full-time employees by taking the sum of the number of full-time employees in each full calendar month in 2021 that the business operated and divides by that number of months.

Note: The employee calculation of full-time equivalent (FTE) used for the PPP forgiveness report is not calculated the same way as a full-time employee for the employee retention credit. If you are an accounting professional, do not provide your clients with the PPP Forgiveness FTE information. Also, remember that if a client has taken and will be forgiven for a PPP loan, they may now be eligible for the employee retention credit on certain wages.

Companies with more than 100 full-time employees can only use the qualified wages of employees not providing services because of suspension or decline in business. Additionally, wages paid for vacation, sick or other days off based on the employer’s current policy cannot be included in qualified wages for the larger employers.  In short employers may only use this credit on employees who are not working.

Employers with 100 or fewer full-time employees can use all employee wages — those working, as well as any time paid not being at work with the exception of paid leave provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

How do the credits work?

The American Rescue Plan Act stipulates that the nonrefundable pieces of the employee retention tax credit will be claimed against Medicare taxes instead of against Social Security taxes as they were in 2020. However, this change will only apply to wages paid after June 30, 2021 and will not change the total credit amount.

If the credit exceeds the employer’s total liability of the portion of Social Security or Medicare, depending on whether before June 30, 2021 or after in in any calendar quarter, the excess is refunded to the employer.

At the end of the quarter, the amounts of these credits will be reconciled on the employer’s Form 941.

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