The IRS is urging employers to take advantage of the newly-extended employee retention credit (ERC), which makes it easier for businesses that have chosen to keep their employees on the payroll despite challenges posed by COVID-19. The Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020 (Division EE of P.L. 116-260), which was enacted December 27, 2020, made a number of changes to the ERC previously made available under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) ( P.L. 116-136), including modifying and extending the ERC, for six months through June 30, 2021.
Eligible employers can now claim a refundable tax credit against the employer share of Social Security tax equal to 70-percent of the qualified wages they pay to employees after December 31, 2020, through June 30, 2021. Qualified wages are limited to $10,000 per employee per calendar quarter in 2021. Thus, the maximum ERC amount available is $7,000 per employee per calendar quarter, for a total of $14,000 in 2021.
Effective January 1, 2021, employers are eligible if they operate a trade or business during January 1, 2021, through June 30, 2021, and experience either:
- a full or partial suspension of the operation of their trade or business during this period because of governmental orders limiting commerce, travel or group meetings due to COVID-19; or
- a decline in gross receipts in a calendar quarter in 2021 where the gross receipts for that calendar quarter are less than 80% of the gross receipts in the same calendar quarter in 2019 (to be eligible based on a decline in gross receipts in 2020, the gross receipts were required to be less than 50-percent of those in the same 2019 calendar quarter).
In addition, effective January 1, 2021, the definition of “qualified wages” for the ERC has been changed:
- For an employer that averaged more than 500 full-time employees in 2019, qualified wages are generally those wages paid to employees that are not providing services because operations were fully or partially suspended or due to the decline in gross receipts.
- For an employer that averaged 500 or fewer full-time employees in 2019, qualified wages are generally those wages paid to all employees during a period that operations were fully or partially suspended or during the quarter that the employer had a decline in gross receipts, regardless of whether the employees are providing services.
The IRS points out that, retroactive to the enactment of the CARES Act on March 27, 2020, the law now allows employers who received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to claim the ERC for qualified wages that are not treated as payroll costs in obtaining forgiveness of the PPP loan.
PPP Loan Forgiveness
In a recent posting on its webpage (see “Didn’t Get Requested PPP Loan Forgiveness? You Can Claim the Employee Retention Credit for 2020 on the 4th Quarter Form 941”), the IRS has clarified that, under section 206(c) of the 2020 Taxpayer Certainty Act, an employer that is eligible for the ERC can claim the credit even if the employer received a Small Business Interruption Loan under the PPP. Accordingly, eligible employers can claim ERS on any qualified wages that are not counted as payroll costs in obtaining PPP loan forgiveness. Note, however, that any wages that could count toward eligibility for ERC or PPP loan forgiveness can be applied to either program, but not to both programs.
If an employer received a PPP loan and included wages paid in the 2nd and/or 3rd quarter of 2020 as payroll costs in support of an application to obtain forgiveness of the loan (rather than claiming ERC for those wages), and the employer’s request for forgiveness was denied, the employer an claim the ERC related to those qualified wages on its 4th quarter 2020 Form 941, Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return. An employer can could report on its 4th quarter Form 941 any ERC attributable to health expenses that are qualified wages that it did not include in its 2nd and/or 3rd quarter Form 941.
Employers that choose to use this limited 4th quarter procedure must:
- Add the ERC attributable to these 2nd and/or 3rd quarter qualified wages and health expenses on line 11c or line 13d (as relevant) of their original 4th quarter Form 941 (along with any other ERC for qualified wages paid in the 4th quarter).
- Include the amount of these qualified wages paid during the 2nd and/or 3rd quarter (excluding health plan expenses) on line 21 of its original 4th quarter Form 941 (along with any qualified wages paid in the 4th quarter).
- Enter the same amount on Worksheet 1, Step 3, line 3a (in the 941 Instructions).
- Include the amount of these health plan expenses from the 2nd and/or 3rd quarter on line 22 of the 4th quarter Form 941 (along with any health expenses for the 4th quarter).
- Enter the same amount on Worksheet 1, Step 3, line 3b.
The IRS recognized that it might be difficult to implement these special procedures so late in the timeframe to file 4th quarter returns. Therefore, employers can instead choose the regular process of filing an adjusted return or claim for refund for the appropriate quarter to which the additional ERC relates using Form 941-X.
For more information on the employee retention credit, the IRS urges taxpayers to visit its “COVID-19-Related Employee Retention Credits: How to Claim the Employee Retention Credit FAQs” webpage (at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/covid-19-related-employee-retention-credits-how-to-claim-the-employee-retention-credit-faqs).