February 1, 2023 By Suzanne Robertson

The 2020/2021 pandemic and economic shut downs impacted small businesses across America. To mitigate steeper financial damage, the CARES Act was signed into law on March 27, 2020. The act implemented a variety of programs to address financial issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Calculate your refund

One component of the CARES Act is the Employee Retention Refund (ERC). It’s a refundable payroll tax credit from the Federal government to help businesses recoup some financial losses from certain periods in 2020 and 2021. The American Rescue Plan extended the availability of the ERC for small businesses through December 2021.

Deadlines to apply for the Employee Retention Refund

There are two deadlines to apply for the ERC: For all quarters in 2020, the deadline to apply for the ERC is April 15, 2024, and for all quarters in 2021, the deadline is April 15, 2025.

How the Employee Retention Credit may help

Because of the pandemic, a decade-long economic expansion came to a halt early in 2020. Businesses suspended operations or closed, resulting in a record number of layoffs.

The refund, under the CARES Act, encouraged businesses to keep employees on their payroll. The ERC provides a refundable employment tax credit to help businesses with the cost of keeping staff employed.

The American Rescue Plan extended the availability of this payroll tax refund for small businesses through December 2021. Eligible businesses may be able to offset their current payroll tax liabilities per employee per quarter. This credit is available to small businesses who saw their revenues decline, or were at least partly closed due to a government order.

What is a small employer for Employee Retention Credit purposes?

A small employer is defined as having 100 or fewer full-time equivalents (FTE) when claiming the 2020 ERC. A small employer is defined as having 500 or fewer FTEs in order to claim the 2021 ERC. The reference period is 2019 employment.

A full-time employee for any calendar month is an employee who has, on average, at least 30 hours of service per week during the calendar month or at least 130 hours of service during that month.

Do you qualify for the Employee Retention Credit?

Before you start gathering paperwork, make sure that you meet the requirements to apply for this credit. You may qualify if you are a small business that meets the following:

  • Experienced a significant decline in gross receipts during 2020 or a decline in gross receipts during the first three quarters of 2021
  • Qualified as a recovery startup business for the third or fourth quarters of 2021. (A recovery startup business is one that began operating after February 15, 2020, and has annual gross receipts not exceeding $1 million)
  • Sustained a full or partial suspension of operations due to orders from a governmental authority during 2020 or the first three quarters of 2021
  • You paid full or part-time wages for W-2 employees during 2020 and 2021

See if you pre-qualify

Revenue decline details

The quarterly revenue decline eligibility requirement differs based on the year.

  • For 2020, the quarterly revenue decline needs to be more than 50%. To determine this, employers would compute their 2020 quarterly revenue and compare it to the same quarter for 2019.
  • For 2021, the quarterly revenue decline needs to be more than 20%. Employers would compare their 2021 quarterly revenue to the same quarter for 2019. The 2021 ERC is available for the first three quarters of 2021.

ERC and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)

Businesses that took out a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan in 2020 may still claim the Employee Retention Credit, but they cannot use the same wages to apply for forgiveness of PPP loans and claim the refund. If your business had payroll costs that were more than the amount covered by your PPP loan, you may be able to claim tax credits for those additional payroll costs.

Use caution

In October 2022, the IRS issued a press release stating that businesses are encouraged to be cautious of advertised schemes. Taxpayers are always responsible for the information reported on their tax returns.

How can SmartBiz help?

SmartBiz is on a mission to equip every business owner with access to capital. To that end, we have partnered with ERTC*, an ERC-focused consortium of accountants that are available to help small businesses navigate the ERC filing process. Start your claim or give us a call.

Additional resources for business owners

If you’re still recovering from the pandemic and resulting economic shut downs, the SmartBiz blog has resources that may help.


See if you pre-qualify