A tax credit that encourages businesses impacted by the coronavirus to keep employees on the payroll has been extended.

The second pandemic relief act that Congress passed in late December modifies and extends the employee retention tax credit through June 30, 2021.

The extension means eligible employers can now claim a refundable tax credit against the employer share of Social Security tax equal to 70% of the qualified wages they pay to employees after Dec. 31, 2020, through June 30, 2021.

The IRS said qualified wages are limited to $10,000 per employee per calendar quarter in 2021.

So the maximum ERC amount available is $7,000 per employee per calendar quarter, for a total of $14,000 in 2021.

Accessing Credits

Employers can access the ERC for the first and second quarters of 2021 before filing their employment tax returns by reducing employment tax deposits.

Small employers—those with an average of 500 or fewer full-time employees in 2019— may request advance payment of the credit on form 7200.

Advances are subject to certain limits, and in 2021 are not available for employers with more than 500 employees.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, employers are eligible if they operate a trade or business during Jan. 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 of 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%).

Gross Receipts

Businesses that didn’t exist in 2019 can use the corresponding quarter in 2020 to measure the decline in gross receipts.

In addition, for the first and second calendar quarters in 2021, employers may elect in a manner provided in future IRS guidance to measure the decline in their gross receipts using the immediately preceding calendar quarter—such as the fourth calendar quarter of 2020 and first calendar quarter of 2021, respectively—compared to the same calendar quarter in 2019.

Also effective Jan. 1, 2021, the definition of qualified wages was changed to provide:

  • For an employer who averaged more than 500 full-time employees in 2019, qualified wages are generally those wages paid to employees who are not providing services because operations were fully or partially suspended or due to the decline in gross receipts
  • For an employer who 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  

Retroactive to the Mar. 27, 2020, enactment of the CARES Act, the law now allows employers who received Paycheck Protection Program loans to claim the ERC for qualified wages that are not treated as payroll costs in obtaining forgiveness of the PPP loan.

For more information, see these FAQs from the IRS.