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Comprehensive Guide to the Employee Retention Credit (ERC)

Comprehensive Guide to the Employee Retention Credit (ERC)

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a valuable tax incentive introduced by the United States government to help businesses retain employees during challenging economic times. Originally established as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020, the ERC has been extended and expanded in response to the ongoing economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This article provides a detailed overview of the ERC, explaining its purpose, eligibility criteria, calculation methods, and recent updates. Understanding the ERC is crucial for businesses looking to maximize their tax benefits while retaining their workforce.

1. Purpose of the Employee Retention Credit (ERC)

The ERC was initially created to provide financial assistance to businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and encourage them to retain their employees. Its primary objectives include:

  • Preventing layoffs: The ERC aims to incentivize employers to keep their employees on the payroll by providing a tax credit for retaining workers during challenging economic times.

  • Promoting business recovery: By offering financial relief to businesses, the ERC supports their efforts to recover from economic hardships, ensuring they remain operational and can rebound once the crisis has passed.

  • Easing the tax burden: Eligible employers can use the ERC to reduce their employment tax liabilities, allowing them to allocate funds toward retaining their workforce.

2. Eligibility Criteria for ERC

To qualify for the ERC, businesses must meet specific eligibility criteria. These criteria have evolved since the program's inception, with the latest updates reflecting the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

  • Employer Size: The size of the employer, determined by the number of full-time employees, plays a crucial role in eligibility. Small businesses with fewer than 500 full-time employees are generally eligible.

  • Gross Receipts: Initially, eligibility was determined by a significant decline in gross receipts. In 2021, this was defined as a 20% reduction when compared to the same quarter in 2019. For 2022, this was modified to a 10% reduction when compared to the same quarter in 2019. However, businesses that started operations after 2019 have alternative eligibility criteria.

  • Government Restrictions: Businesses that experienced government-mandated restrictions related to COVID-19 may qualify for ERC, even if their gross receipts did not decline significantly.

  • Aggregation Rules: Affiliated entities must consider aggregation rules that may affect eligibility.

  • Tax-Exempt Organizations: Non-profit organizations are eligible for the ERC, subject to specific rules.

  • PPP Loan Recipients: ERC eligibility has been extended to businesses that received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, but restrictions apply.

3. ERC Calculation Methods

The ERC can be calculated using two methods: the original method and the alternate method.

  • Original Method: In this method, employers compare their quarterly gross receipts to the same quarter in the previous year. If there's a significant decline in gross receipts, they can claim a credit equal to 50% of qualified wages paid to employees, up to a maximum of $10,000 in wages per employee for all eligible quarters.

  • Alternate Method: This method is used for businesses that started after 2019. It allows them to claim a credit based on their qualified wages, up to a maximum of $10,000 per employee per quarter.

  • Incremental ERC: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, effective January 1, 2022, introduced the Incremental ERC, which provides an additional credit for certain eligible employers. Under this provision, eligible employers may receive a 70% credit on qualified wages paid in 2022, with a maximum credit of $12,000 per employee per quarter.

4. Recent Updates and Extensions

The ERC has undergone multiple extensions and updates to address the changing economic landscape. It's essential for businesses to stay informed about the most recent changes to maximize their benefits.

  • Extension through 2022: The ERC was extended through 2022 as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). This extension expanded eligibility, increased the credit rate, and introduced the Incremental ERC, allowing businesses to claim even more significant tax benefits.

  • Recovery Startup Businesses: ARPA also introduced the concept of "recovery startup businesses." These are businesses that began operations after February 15, 2020, and had average annual gross receipts of less than $1 million. These businesses can claim up to $50,000 per quarter in ERC.

  • PPP Loan Recipients: The ERC was extended to businesses that received PPP loans, but certain limitations apply. Employers cannot claim ERC on wages paid with forgiven PPP loan funds.

  • Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021: This legislation clarified and expanded ERC provisions, making it available to more businesses and extending it through June 30, 2021.

5. How to Claim the ERC

To claim the ERC, eligible employers should follow these steps:

  • Determine eligibility: Ensure your business meets the criteria based on size, gross receipts, and other factors.

  • Calculate the credit: Determine the amount of the ERC by assessing your qualified wages and applicable periods.

  • Report the credit: Include the ERC on your employment tax return (usually Form 941 for quarterly filers).

  • Claim the credit: The credit can be claimed as an offset against your employment tax liabilities or requested as an advance payment using Form 7200.

  • Document your eligibility: Maintain records and documentation to support your ERC claim in case of an IRS audit.


The Employee Retention Credit is a valuable tax incentive for businesses seeking to retain their employees during challenging economic times. It has undergone significant updates and extensions to adapt to the evolving economic landscape, making it more accessible and beneficial for a wide range of businesses.

To make the most of the ERC, it's crucial for employers to understand the eligibility criteria, calculation methods, and recent updates. Staying informed and taking advantage of this tax credit can help businesses navigate economic uncertainty while supporting their employees and promoting recovery. It is recommended that businesses consult with tax professionals or the IRS for specific guidance on their unique situations and eligibility for the ERC.



Pat Raskob
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