The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (the Act) signed into law by President Trump on Dec. 27, 2020 includes significant modifications to the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC) enacted under the CARES Act. The credit originally provided a 50% refundable tax credit for businesses that maintain employee payroll, even amidst temporary business closures due to government-mandated lockdowns, or considerable downturns in gross receipts due to loss of business. This article will highlight changes to the ERC for 2021.
Period of Credit Availability
The CARES Act originally provided credit for qualified wages paid after March 12, 2020 and before Jan. 1, 2021. The new law extends availability of the credit for qualified wages to the first two quarters of 2021 (before July 1, 2021).
Amount of Credit
Under the original law, the credit amount was set at 50% of the qualified wages paid to the employee, plus the cost to continue providing employee health benefits. The Act increases the credit amount to 70% of qualified wages, which is intended to include the cost of employee health benefits.
Maximum Credit Amount
The CARES Act capped the credit at $5,000 per employee for all qualified wages paid during 2020, but the Act increases the maximum credit to $7,000 per employee for each of the two quarters in 2021, so the maximum credit for 2021 will be $14,000.
Eligibility Requirements for the Credit
In order to qualify for the ERC under the original law, businesses must have been experiencing full or partial suspension of operations due to a Covid-19 lockdown order. They could also qualify if, for any quarter in 2020, gross receipts were less than 50% of gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019. With the passage of the Act, businesses whose operations are either fully or partially suspended by a government-mandated lockdown order due to Covid-19 or whose gross receipts are less than 80% of gross receipts for the same quarter in 2019 can qualify for the ERC.
Credit Eligibility Whether or Not Employees Are Working
For a company with more than 100 employees, the original law under the CARES Act did not provide credit for wages paid to employees who were performing services for the employer in some capacity. However, a company with 100 employees or less did qualify for the credit, even if the employee was working. The Act raises this threshold to 500 employees, so that for the first two quarters of 2021, a company with 500 or fewer will be eligible for the credit, even if employees are working.
PPP Loan Eligibility
A company that received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan was not eligible for the ERC under the original CARES Act. With the passage of the Act, companies that received a PPP loan in 2020 may also qualify for the ERC. To prevent double dipping, a credit may not be claimed for wages paid with the proceeds of a PPP loan that have been forgiven. However, amounts paid that were either not forgiven or are over and above the PPP loan amounts can be included for ERC purposes.