Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC)

Eligible employers are entitled to an Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC) of up to 70 percent of the first $10,000 in wages and certain health care plan expenses paid per employee for each of the first two quarters of 2021 according to the New Stimulus Act.

What is the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERTC)?

Designed to incentivize businesses to keep employees on the payroll during the pandemic, the ERTC is a fully-refundable tax credit that is part of the federal government’s COVID-19 relief plan. As part of this plan, the New Stimulus Act includes the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020, which became effective January 1, 2021. This Act amends and extends the former ERTC and the availability of advance payments of the tax credits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Is My Company Eligible for the ERTC?

Previously, employers could only take advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) OR the ERTC, so the ERTC was not widely used. However, Congress revised this provision to make both plans available to qualifying businesses.

As of December 2020, small businesses (with 500 or fewer employees) that suffered a revenue reduction in 2020 can claim the ERTC. A revenue reduction specifically means a business experienced a decline in gross receipts by more than 20 percent in any quarter of 2020 compared to the same quarter in 2019. (Note this is a change from the previous ERTC rule that required a gross receipts decline of at least 50 percent.)

Further, the tax credit applies to employers, including tax-exempt organizations, that conducted business during 2020 and were forced to fully or partially suspend operation during any quarter due to government orders related to COVID-19, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

How is the Maximum Amount of ERTC Determined?

As mentioned, under the New Stimulus Act, eligible employers are entitled to a tax credit equal to 70 percent of the first $10,000 in wages and qualifying health plan expenses paid per employee for each of the first two quarters of 2021 (up to $14,000).

Note that the combined maximum $14,000 credit for the first two quarters of 2021 is available even if the employer previously received the $5,000 maximum credit for wages paid in 2020.

In addition to the aforementioned changes to the ERTC, the wage period has been extended. Under the New Stimulus Act, qualified wages are those paid after March 12, 2020 up until July 1, 2021. The previous cutoff date was January 1, 2021.

What are Qualified Wages?

Qualified wages are wages, compensation, and qualified health plan expenses paid by an eligible employer after March 12, 2020 and before July 1, 2021 for time that the employee did not provide services due to a full or partial COVID-19-related government suspension of operations OR a 20 percent or greater decline in gross receipts.

For specific determinants, see sections 3121(a) and 3231(e) of the Internal Revenue Code.

The determination of qualified health plan expenses is the same as qualified health plan expenses for the Family and Medical Leave Tax Credit under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

Number of Employees Matters

Under the CARES Act, companies with 100 or fewer employees were eligible for the ERTC; however, under the New Stimulus Act, the threshold increased to 500 employees. In other words, for the first two quarters of 2021, a company with 500 or fewer employees is eligible for the ERTC. This is true whether those employees are working or not.

Other Notable Changes to the ERTC

  • Previously, governmental entities were not eligible for the ERTC under the CARES Act; however, under the New Stimulus Act this tax credit is available to state or local run colleges, universities, and organizations providing medical or hospital care.
  • While the New Stimulus Act allows businesses with a PPP loan to qualify for the ERTC, the tax credit may not be claimed on wages paid with the PPP loan that has been or will be forgiven.

As always, seek counsel from your trusted accountant, tax preparer, or CPA to be certain your business is in compliance with current laws related to the ERTC or any tax matter.

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