Employee Retention Tax Credit – ERTC FAQ
What is an ERTC?
The Employee Retention Credit (ERTC) is a refundable tax credit against certain employment taxes equal to 50% of the qualified wages an eligible employer pays to employees after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2021.
Employers, including tax-exempt organizations, are eligible for the credit if they operate a trade or business during calendar year 2020 and experience either:
- the full or partial suspension of the operation of their trade or business during any calendar quarter because of governmental orders limiting commerce, travel or group meetings due to COVID-19, or
- a significant decline in gross receipts.
The credit applies to qualified wages (including certain health plan expenses) paid during this period or any calendar quarter in which operations were suspended.
How Do You Qualify For ERTC 2021 ?
Who is Eligible for 2020 & 2021 ERTC Tax Credits?
Criteria #1: Must Issue a Formal Payroll
Employers must file Form 941s and W-2s. Sole-proprietors are ineligible.
Criteria #2: Eligible Employee Headcount
Employers must have below a certain number of full-time (FT) employees in 2019. NOTE: this is not the same as FT equivalents (FTEs).
- 2020 program: fewer than 100 FT employees, unlimited PT
- 2021 program: fewer than 500 FT employees, unlimited PT
Criteria #3: Must meet one (not necessarily both) of:
A: Reduced Business Receipts (Sales) for a Calendar Quarter
For example: A business with $100,000 in sales for Q2 2019,
Q2 2020: eligible with < $50,000 in sales (or 50% lower) Q2 2021: eligible with < $80,000 in sales (or 20% lower) B: Must have been fully/partially shut down by government order
For example: A “Stay at Home” order for non-essential businesses, or a capacity limit for a restaurant, would meet this test. (The order is likely jurisdiction specific.)
You can also have the same, or even more sales, and still qualify to receive an ERTC refund check from the IRS!
What is the maximum ERTC Payroll Tax refund we can qualify for?
Your business can qualify for a maximum of $26,000 per qualifying W-2 Employees.
If you have 10 qualifying employees, the maximum the ERTC refund the IRS would send you is $260,000.
The average we have seen is $170,000 and most employers receive about 65% of the maximum refund per employee.
How long does it take to receive funds?
If you have an Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) refund over $100,000, you are eligible to finance and receive funds in as little as 7 weeks. (This program has an additional cost.)
If you are receiving funds directly from the IRS, currently it is 6 to 9 months to receive a payroll tax refund under ERTC.
WHAT IS THE EMPLOYEE RETENTION TAX CREDIT (ERTC) AND HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM THE PAYROLL PROTECTION PROGRAM (PPP)?
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (also known as the CARES Act) was signed into law on March 27, 2020. It included two programs to assist businesses with keeping workers employed: the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) administered by the Small Business Adminstration and Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) administered by the Internal Revenue Service.
PPP funds are distributed based on 2.5 months of payroll and a minimum of 80% of the funds must be used on payroll to be eligible for forgiveness. Additionally, PPP funds are not taxable as revenue and you may still take deductions for the payroll covered by PPP.
ERTC tax credits, however, are credits (or refunds) for a percentage of payroll in each quarter that you qualify. There are specific rules for determining eligibility by quarter, and limiting the dollars that can be claimed for each employee.
I RECEIVED PPP FUNDS ALREADY. CAN I ALSO GET ERTC FUNDS?
Initially with the CARES Act, employers could choose to apply for PPP or claim ERTC credits, but not both.
PPP was more beneficial than ERTC for most businesses (for reasons we won’t go into here) and so most businesses with under 500 employees received forgivable PPP Loans.
On March 11, 2021, The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 was signed into law and included many modifications and expansions to existing elements of previous stimulus programs.
Noteworthy modifications for business owners included:
Businesses who applied for and received PPP funds could now also claim ERTC credits.
ERTC credits could be retroactively claimed for businesses that qualified in 2020.
ERTC credits were extended through 9/30/21 with lower qualification requirements.
The per-employee cap on qualifying wages increased from $10,000 for all of 2020 to $10,000 per quarter for the first 3 quarters of 2021.
The refundable credit amount increased from 50% of qualifying wages in 2020 to 70% in 2021.
So the short answer is “Yes” . . . you can claim ERTC even if you received PPP funds.
HOW DO I APPLY FOR ERTC TAX CREDITS?
Unlike the Payroll Protection Program (administered by the Small Business Administration), there is actually no “application process” for the Employee Retention Tax Credits.
You simply claim the ERTC tax credit like you would any other tax credit – by asserting to the IRS that you can legally claim the credit.
When you claim a child tax credit, you do so by asserting this fact on your Form 1020 Personal Income Tax Return.
The difference is that when you claim an ERTC tax credit, you do so on your Form 941 Employer Quarterly Tax Filing.
For prior quarters, you must file an amended form (the Form 941-X) to reduce your current quarter’s tax contribution and request a refund of excess credits (which is highly likely).
Another perk of ERTC, is that since you can often estimate these credits in advance of distributing cash for payroll, you can file a Form 7200 to receive a cash advance to avoid waiting until the end of the quarter to apply for the refund.
MY REVENUE IN Q1 2021 IS BACK TO PRE-PANDEMIC LEVELS - SO I MUST BE INELIGIBLE - RIGHT?
Even though you may feel like revenue is back to normal, there are some items you want to consider before passing on this ERTC assessment.
First, even if revenues have returned to “normal” in 2021, you may have qualified in 2020 and you can retroactively claim those credits. That eligibility criteria in 2020 was based on revenue declines from 2019, or if your business was partially or fully closed due to governmental mandate.
Second, while your revenue may have returned to “normal” in Q1 2021, remember that we are comparing your Q1 2021 to Q1 2019. If 2019 was a year of growth for your business, then your revenue levels 2 years ago may have been much less than Q1 2020.
And lastly, if your revenues were down in Q4 2020 by just 20% compared to Q4 2019, then you may also be eligible for Q1 2021. There is a safe harbor provision that few advisors are talking about, and it means that many businesses are qualifying for $7,000 per employee in Q1 2021.
I know, it seems too good to be true, but the government wants to incentivize and reward you for keeping US residents employed and money flowing through our economy as we rebuild bigger and stronger than before.
I THOUGHT PAYROLL TAXES DEFERRED IN 2020 HAD TO BE RE-PAID. DOES ERTC WORK THE SAME WAY?
You are most likely referring to a provision of the CARES Act that allowed employers to defer the deposit and payment of the employer’s share of Social Security taxes. Those deferrals must then be repaid – with at least 50% of the balance due by 12/31/21 and the remaining balance due by 12/31/22.
ERTC credits are NOT a deferral. They are dollar-for-dollar credits against wages you’ve paid. Not taxes you’ve paid, but actual wages.
These credits can offset future tax contributions or you can receive a refund check – it’s your choice.
And you will NOT have to re-pay these funds (unless, of course, you don’t provide adequate documentation in the course of an audit).
WHY ISN'T MY BANK (OR MY CPA) TALKING ABOUT THIS?
Your banker, CPA, or Financialk Advisor was probably very helpful when it came to getting your PPP funds because they were effectively signing you to an SBA-guaranteed loan. The SBA paid the bank administrative fees based on the PPP loans they made, and so they were incentivized to educate you about the program and get all your paperwork in order.
Compared to the ERTC, the PPP program was also a rather simple calculation. 2 ½ times your average monthly payroll including health insurance and state unemployment taxes.
From the conversations we’ve had with bankers, they have no interest in involving themselves in your employment tax compliance. For them it is a liability and beyond their scope of services.
WHAT ABOUT MY PAYROLL SERVICE PROVIDER? SHOULDN'T THEY BE ON TOP OF THIS?
Your Payroll Service does an excellent job of executing the fundamentals of paying your employees, paying your employment taxes and filing your quarterly reports.
But computing your ERTC credits requires visibility into your P&L and PPP forgiveness applications. Not only that, but the complex requirements around eligibility and allocating ERTC credits at the employee-level while accounting for annual and quarterly qualifying wage gaps and . . . well, you can probably tell why Payroll Services are not offering to do all of this for you.
The Payroll Services that we’ve worked with so far are happy to provide the payroll registers that we need to perform the allocations. And they are happy to file the Amended Form 941-X with the IRS on our client’s behalf.
But that’s the extent of it.
In fact, most wise Payroll Services are asking clients to sign an indemnification waiver before submitting a Form 941-X because the Payroll Service can take no responsibility for the accuracy of the ERTC credits you are claiming.
For them to involve themselves in the intricacies of this calculation, it is a liability and beyond their scope of services.
WILL MY TAX CPA HANDLE THIS FOR ME SINCE THEY HANDLE MY INCOME TAX RETURNS?
Whether your tax accountant is a CPA or EA, he or she most likely only prepares your Federal and State Income Tax Returns. However, ERTC credits are claimed against Employment Taxes on Form 941, and cash advanced through Form 7200.
The complexity of the ERTC program is a beast unto itself and every tax accountant we’ve talked to has said they focus on staying up-to-date on the ever-evolving income tax code, and they can’t now become experts in the ERTC program as well.
If your tax accountant is comfortable determining your eligibility by quarter and year, computing your credits, and preparing contemporaneous documentation to support an IRS audit, then you should certainly let them handle all of this.
If you want a second set of eyes on this, we’re happy to take a look.
MY BOOKKEEPER HAS ALL MY INFO . . . CAN THEY HANDLE MY ERTC CLAIMS?
Your Bookkeeper should certainly have access to all the information that is needed for an accurate calculation of your legal ERTC claim. They will have your financial reports, payroll registers, and PPP loan forgiveness documents.
The Million Dollar Question is . . . Do They Have The Time?
Do they have the time to dig into the text of American Rescue Plan Act of 2021
And its accompanying referenced laws like: CARES Act, Families First Act, Payroll & Healthcare Enhancement Act, PPP Payroll Flexibility Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act.
Time to read the IRS Interpretations and FAQ’s? And cross-reference those definitions with that of PPP which was separately defined and dissimilarly interpreted in the Small Business Administration’s Bulletins and IFRs?
Do they have the time to ensure accuracy in eligibility determination, maximize your computation and create the supporting documentation you’ll need to support an IRS audit of employer taxes?
So far, we have not found a bookkeeper who is able to take all this on, while handling the day-to-day of bookkeeping. If yours can, then take them up on their offer. We’re happy to take a second look.