IRS Issues Informal Guidance on Employee Retention Credit

The IRS has issued its first informal guidance on the employee retention credit, which passed as part of the CARES Act last week.

The credit is available to all employers regardless of size, including tax-exempt organizations, but not to state and local governments and their instrumentalities and small businesses that take small business loans — including Paycheck Protection Program loans.

To qualify for the employee retention credit, employers must fall into one of two categories:

  • The employer’s business is fully or partially suspended by government order due to COVID-19 during the calendar quarter; or
  • The employer’s gross receipts are below 50% of the comparable quarter in 2019. Once the employer’s gross receipts go above 80% of a comparable quarter in 2019, the employer no longer qualifies after the end of that quarter.

These measures are calculated each calendar quarter.

The amount of the credit is 50% of qualifying wages paid up to $10,000 in total. Wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before Jan. 1, 2021, are eligible for the credit. Wages also include a portion of the cost of employer-provided health care.

Qualifying wages are based on the average number of a business’ employees in 2019. The breakdown is as follows:

  • If the employer had 100 or fewer employees on average in 2019, the credit is based on wages paid to all employees, regardless of whether they worked or not. If the employees worked full time and were paid for full-time work, the employer still receives the credit.
  • If the employer had more than 100 employees on average in 2019, then the credit is allowed only for wages paid to employees who did not work during the calendar quarter.

For purposes of the credit, eligible wages do not include wages counted for purposes of the paid sick leave and paid family leave payroll tax credits

Employers can be immediately reimbursed for the credit by reducing their required deposits of payroll taxes that have been withheld from employees’ wages by the amount of the credit.

Eligible employers will report their total qualified wages and the related health insurance costs for each quarter on their quarterly employment tax returns beginning with the second quarter. If the employer’s employment tax deposits exceed the credit, the employer may receive an advance payment from the IRS.

Please reach out to us for assistance in navigating this tax credit.

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