The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) extends and expands the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) through December 31, 2021. The ERC was originally enacted in March of 2020 as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (CAA) previously extended and enhanced the ERC, most notably by retroactively allowing employers to claim the ERC even if they took a PPP loan. Under the CARES Act, you could take a PPP loan or claim the ERC, but not both. Eligibility for the ERC is based on a significant decline in gross receipts, or fully or partially suspended operations due to a government order related to COVID-19.

The enhanced ERC under ARPA follows the more favorable 2021 rules originally enacted as part of the CAA. These rules include:

  • Lowering the threshold for meeting the “eligible employer” standard under the gross receipts test (requiring only a 20% decline in gross receipts compared to a 50% decline required for the 2020 ERC)
  • Raising the credit rate to 70% (from 50% in 2020)
  • Raising the maximum qualified wages to $10,000 per quarter (from $10,000 aggregate for all of 2020)
  • Raising the “small employer” limit to 500 full-time employees (compared to 100 full-time employees for the 2020 ERC)—a small employer is allowed to claim all wages paid during the eligibility period; while large employers can only claim the ERC for wages paid to employees not providing services

As a result, the maximum ERC per employee for 2021 is now $28,000, compared to $5,000 for the 2020 version of the ERC.

Expanded Benefits Under the New Relief Legislation

In addition, ARPA provides additional expanded benefits for the ERC—these two changes are only applicable to the third and fourth calendar quarters of 2021.

First, the ERC is now available for “Recovery Startup Businesses.” This provision is applicable to startup companies that opened a trade or business after February 15, 2020, and have average annual gross receipts that do not exceed $1M. Start-up companies that meet these criteria are eligible to claim the ERC even if they don’t meet the significant decline in gross receipts or suspension of operations tests outlined above. The amount of ERC available per employer under this provision is capped at $50,000 per quarter.

Secondly, ARPA also provides an expanded ERC benefit to “Severely Financially Distressed Employers.” To qualify under this provision, an employer must suffer at least a decline of 90% gross receipts in the quarter compared to the same quarter in 2019. Large employers (over 500 full-time employees) that meet this threshold are eligible to claim the ERC for all wages paid (not limited to wages being paid when no services are being provided).

What You Need to Know About New ERC Provisions

Here’s a breakdown of changes to the ERC across 2020 and 2021.

We’re Here To Help

If you haven’t explored the ERC yet, you may be missing out on up to $19,000 in payroll tax relief per employee—even if you had a PPP loan!

ERC is a refundable payroll tax credit available to employers who experienced a significant revenue loss or had to reduce/suspend operations due to government COVID-19 orders. If you skipped ERC in favor of a seemingly-less-complicated PPP loan in 2020 or have not used any federal COVID-19 relief programs, you may be leaving “free” money on the table!

The continuation and expansion of the ERC in 2021 warrants serious consideration. With some review and planning, you may be able to claim hundreds of thousands or more in payroll support for your organization. We’ve seen far too many business owners uninformed or misguided on whether or not their business qualifies for the ERC. If you have any questions, please give us a call – we’d be happy to help walk you through things.