There’s a lot of attention right now on programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and disaster loans offered by the Small Business Administration. Those options were meant to help business owners receive immediate funding as a crisis management strategy resulting from COVID-19. But there’s another big federal benefit that may apply to you: The Payroll Tax Credit (also known as the Employee Retention Credit).
1. The payroll credit is part of the federal response to the pandemic.
Are you asking yourself what is payroll tax relief? Or what is a payroll tax credit? As part of one of the numerous pandemic-related stimulus bills passed by Congress in March, the Payroll Tax Credit, otherwise known as the Employee Retention Credit, is a way to receive funding from the government. Eligible businesses must have been impacted by COVID-19 between March 12, 2020 and January 1, 2021. The intention of this credit is to help keep employees on the payroll for as long as possible by providing some tax incentives to employers. Non-profits also qualify, but self-employed individuals do not. Can owners of S-corporations, independent contractors or self-employed people apply for the payroll tax credit? Yes, as long as you have employees and you file a quarterly Federal 941 return. There’s no need to apply though. You just take the credit at the time of filing the return. A new 941 return will have a new line on it for you to do the calculation.
2. The credit only applies if you don’t take money from the Paycheck Protection Program.
Because the credit is intended to provide additional subsidies to help employers maintain payroll levels, you can not apply for it if you’ve already opted in to the Paycheck Protection Program, which offered low cost forgivable loans that also cover payroll expenses. You are, however, eligible to apply for other types of loans, like the Economic Injury Disaster Loans, from the SBA. Also remember this is not a loan. It’s a credit against the employer’s share of FICA (6.2%) owed on your quarterly payroll.
3. The payroll tax credit is in addition to the tax credit for Emergency Family Medical Leave.
This credit is not to be confused with the tax credit under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (which includes Emergency Family Medical Leave provisions). This article is not intended to go into detail on that legislation, but know that if you’re paying for your employees to take time off for themselves or their families as a result of COVID-19, you’re also entitled to an additional credit to help you afford those expenses. You can use both tax credits, but just not for the same wages. You can learn more about the Families First Legislation on The Hartford’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Resource Center.
4. You must show your business has been significantly harmed by the pandemic.
To be eligible for this paycheck credit, you must demonstrate that either your business had to shut down during a payroll quarter because of the pandemic (as a result of a government order), or that your business suffered a 50% or greater loss of revenue during the quarter when compared to the previous year.
5. The credit is quite generous.
The credit is 50% of up to $10,000 of each employee’s wages (including healthcare premiums) each quarter through December 31, 2020. In other words, it’ll likely be $5,000 per employee each quarter, assuming they make more than $10,000 that quarter. So, if you have ten employees, you’ll get a $50,000 credit against your payroll taxes that quarter. If you had more than 100 full time employees in 2019, you include only full time workers. If you had less than 100 full time employees in 2019, you can include both full time and part time workers.
6. The credit is taken on your payroll tax returns.
This is not an income tax credit. It’s a payroll tax credit. That means you can take it against the employer’s share of FICA you owed during the eligible quarter when you do quarterly Federal 941 payroll tax returns.
7. The big news: it’s refundable!
More importantly, it’s refundable, which means that whatever portion of the credit you don’t need will be considered an over-payment of payroll taxes and will be returned back to you as cash.
8. You can also reduce your tax deposits.
If you think that you’ll be qualifying for the credit during a quarter, the IRS will allow you to hold back on your tax deposits so that you’ll have more cash available, rather than waiting for them to send you the cash back after you file your 941.
This payroll tax deduction in 2020 may not be for everyone, but it’s certainly applicable for your business if you’re not receiving any other aid. If that’s the case, it could be a substantial cash infusion from the government and may make the difference for your company’s survival. Talk to your accountant and payroll company to make sure you’re taking advantage!
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