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Demystifying the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) - An In-Depth 2023 Guide

Demystifying the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) - An In-Depth 2023 Guide

Navigating the intricate landscape of tax credits is a fundamental aspect of strategic financial planning for businesses and individuals. Among the myriad tax incentives available, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a significant contributor to reducing tax liability while fostering inclusivity in the workforce. As of 2023, understanding the nuances of the WOTC can lead to substantial savings for businesses and promote employment opportunities for targeted groups. 

I. The Essence of Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC)

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is a federal tax credit that incentivizes businesses to hire individuals from specific groups facing employment barriers. The primary aim is to promote economic diversity by offering tax benefits to employers who extend employment opportunities to individuals who might otherwise struggle to find work. The program, administered by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), has undergone various changes over the years, expanding its scope and eligibility criteria.

II. Eligibility Criteria

The eligibility criteria for the WOTC target several specific groups, each representing a segment of the population that encounters difficulties in finding employment. These groups include:

  1. Unemployed Veterans: This category encompasses veterans who have been unemployed for at least four weeks within the year prior to being hired. Long-term unemployed veterans (unemployed for at least six months in the year prior to hire) and disabled veterans with service-related disabilities hold higher credit rates.

  2. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Recipients: Individuals who are members of families receiving TANF benefits during the past two years or for 18 consecutive months, including any part of the 18-month period ending on the hiring date.

  3. Designated Community Residents: Individuals living within designated empowerment zones or rural renewal counties who are between 18 and 39 years old and have a residence within the zone or county at the time of hiring.

  4. Ex-Felons: Those convicted of a felony who are hired within a year of their conviction or released from prison.

  5. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Recipients: Individuals between 18 and 39 years old who are part of a family receiving SNAP benefits for at least six of the last nine months.

  6. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Recipients: Individuals receiving SSI benefits.

  7. Long-Term Unemployed Individuals: Those unemployed for at least 27 consecutive weeks and have received unemployment compensation during some time of the unemployment period.

  8. Vocational Rehabilitation Referrals: Individuals with disabilities referred by state rehabilitation agencies.

  9. Summer Youth Employees: Individuals who are 16 to 17 years old and reside in an empowerment zone.

III. Calculating the Credit

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is calculated as a percentage of the qualified employee's first-year wages, up to a maximum amount per employee. The percentages vary based on the target group:

  • Maximum Credit: For most target groups, the credit is 40% of the first-year wages up to $6,000.

  • Long-Term Unemployed Veterans: The credit can be up to 40% of the first-year wages up to $14,000, and for disabled veterans, it can be up to 40% of the first-year wages up to $24,000.

IV. The Application Process

To claim the WOTC, employers need to follow a systematic process:

  1. Pre-Screening: Employers must have their potential hires complete IRS Form 8850, the Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit, and ETA Form 9061, the Individual Characteristics Form.

  2. Certification: The employer then submits Form 8850 to their state workforce agency within 28 days of the employee's start date. The workforce agency will certify whether the employee is a targeted group member.

  3. Documentation: Alongside Form 8850, the employer needs to submit ETA Form 9061, or a state-specific variant, along with documentation supporting the employee's eligibility.

  4. Claiming the Credit: Once certified, the employer can claim the credit on their federal income tax return using IRS Form 5884, detailing the calculated credit amount for each qualifying employee.

V. Recent Developments and Benefits

The WOTC has consistently evolved to encompass a broader range of eligible groups, reflecting the changing demographics of the workforce. The program has demonstrated substantial benefits, including:

  1. Tax Savings: Businesses can significantly reduce their federal tax liability by claiming the WOTC for eligible employees, providing a valuable incentive for hiring from targeted groups.

  2. Diversity and Inclusion: The WOTC supports companies in fostering diverse and inclusive workplaces by encouraging the hiring of individuals who often face social and economic challenges.

  3. Community Engagement: Employers investing in WOTC-eligible individuals contribute to the betterment of their communities by offering employment opportunities to those who need them the most.

  4. Employee Retention: Hiring from target groups can lead to increased employee loyalty and retention, as these individuals are often grateful for the chance at stable employment.


The Work Opportunity Tax Credit stands as a testament to the government's commitment to encouraging inclusive employment practices while alleviating tax burdens for businesses. In 2023, the program expanded its scope to embrace an array of individuals who face difficulties securing employment. By understanding the eligibility criteria, calculation methods, and application process, businesses can contribute to their communities and benefit from substantial tax savings. As the employment landscape continues to evolve, leveraging the advantages offered by the WOTC can be a strategic financial decision with a positive societal impact.



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