• Derek Carter

Employee Retention Credit

On March 2 the IRS released guidance related to the interaction between the Payment Protection Program (PPP) and Employee Retention Credit (ERC) programs. The guidance runs through seven examples that cover most scenarios borrowers will face.


I will provide a link to the IRS notice at the bottom of the post. You will find relevant information beginning with Question 49 (page 73). Below I will provide the exact examples from the IRS notice followed by my thoughts.


Example 1: Employer A received a PPP loan of $100,000. Employer A is an eligible employer and paid $100,000 in qualified wages that would qualify for the employee retention credit during the second and third quarters of 2020. In order to receive forgiveness of the PPP loan in its entirety, Employer A was required, under the Small Business Administration (SBA) rules, to report a total of $100,000 of payroll costs and other eligible expenses (and a minimum of $60,000 of payroll costs). Employer A submitted a PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and reported the $100,000 of qualified wages as payroll costs in support of forgiveness of the entire PPP loan. Employer A received a decision under section 7A(g) of the Small Business Act in the first quarter of 2021 for forgiveness of the entire PPP loan amount of $100,000.


Employer A is deemed to have made an election not to take into account $100,000 of the qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit, which was the amount of qualified wages included in the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application up to (but not exceeding) the minimum amount of payroll costs, together with any other eligible expenses reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application, sufficient to support the amount of the PPP loan that is forgiven. It may not treat that amount as qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit.


My Thoughts - The IRS is very clearly stating that the wages you included on your PPP forgiveness application is an election not to use those wages for the ERC program. It is very important to ensure you are only including the minimum amount of payroll costs on your PPP forgiveness application (60% of your loan). Remember, payroll costs include more than just wages. If you have already filed for forgiveness your options are either very limited or non-existent. Example 2: Employer B received a PPP loan of $200,000. Employer B is an eligible employer and paid $250,000 of qualified wages that would qualify for the employee retention credit during the second and third quarters of 2020. In order to receive forgiveness of the PPP loan in its entirety, Employer B was required, under the SBA rules, to report a total of $200,000 of payroll costs and other eligible expenses (and a minimum of $120,000 of payroll costs). Employer B submitted a PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and reported the $250,000 of qualified wages as payroll costs in support of forgiveness of the entire PPP loan. Employer B received a decision under section 7A(g) of the Small Business Act in the first quarter of 2021 for forgiveness of the entire PPP loan amount of $200,000.


Employer B is deemed to have made an election not to take into account $200,000 of the qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit, which was the amount of qualified wages included in the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application up to (but not exceeding) the minimum amount of payroll costs, together with any other eligible expenses reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application, sufficient to support the amount of the PPP loan that is forgiven. It may not treat that amount as qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit. Employer B is not treated as making a deemed election with respect to $50,000 of the qualified wages ($250,000 reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application, minus $200,000 reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application up to the amount of the loan that is forgiven), and it may treat that amount as qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit.


My Thoughts - Those that have filed for forgiveness and had wages that exceeded their PPP loan amount can still get a piece of the ERC, but much, much smaller than what they may be expecting. Unfortunately, there is no way to go back and revise your PPP forgiveness application to reduce the wages included or to add in non-payroll costs.


Example 3: Employer C received a PPP loan of $200,000. Employer C is an eligible employer and paid $200,000 of qualified wages that would qualify for the employee retention credit during the second and third quarters of 2020. Employer C also paid other eligible expenses of $70,000. In order to receive forgiveness of the PPP loan in its entirety, Employer C was required, under the SBA rules, to report a total of $200,000 of payroll costs and other eligible expenses (and a minimum of $120,000 of payroll costs). Employer C submitted a PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and reported the $200,000 of qualified wages as payroll costs in support of forgiveness of the entire PPP loan, but did not report the other eligible expenses of $70,000. Employer C received a decision under section 7A(g) of the Small Business Act in the first quarter of 2021 for forgiveness of the entire PPP loan amount of $200,000.


Employer C is deemed to have made an election not to take into account $200,000 of qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit, which was the amount of qualified wages included in the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application up to (but not exceeding) the minimum amount of payroll costs, together with any other eligible expenses reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application, sufficient to support the amount of the PPP loan that is forgiven. Although Employer C could have reported $70,000 of eligible expenses (other than payroll costs) and $130,000 of payroll costs, Employer C reported $200,000 of qualified wages as payroll costs on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application. As a result, no portion of those qualified wages reported as payroll costs may be treated as qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit. Employer C cannot reduce the deemed election by the amount of the other eligible expenses that it could have reported on its PPP Loan Forgiveness Application.


My Thoughts - Similar to example 1, this is the worst-case scenario. Through no fault of your own, you may have simply used payroll wages to cover your PPP forgiveness obligation - out of simplicity and ease of providing supporting documentation. You are getting penalized for that now based on this guidance.

Example 4: Same facts as Example 3, except Employer C submitted a PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and reported the $200,000 of qualified wages as payroll costs, as well as the $70,000 of other eligible expenses, in support of forgiveness of the PPP loan. Employer C received a decision under section 7A(g) of the Small Business Act in the first quarter of 2021 for forgiveness of the entire PPP loan amount of $200,000. In this case, Employer C is deemed to have made an election not to take into account $130,000 of qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit, which was the amount of qualified wages included in the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application up to (but not exceeding) the minimum amount of payroll costs, together with the $70,000 of other eligible expenses reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application, sufficient to support the amount of the PPP loan that was forgiven. As a result, $70,000 of the qualified wages reported as payroll costs may be treated as qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit.


My Thoughts - This example is positive for borrowers. If you listed non-payroll expenses you will essentially get credit for the wages you didn’t need on your PPP forgiveness application.


Example 5: Same facts as Example 4, except Employer C paid $90,000 of other eligible expenses, and reported the $200,000 of qualified wages as payroll costs, as well as the $90,000 of other eligible expenses, in support of forgiveness of the entire PPP loan. In this case, Employer C is deemed to have made an election not to take into account $120,000 of qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit, which was the amount of qualified wages included in the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application up to (but not exceeding) the minimum amount of payroll costs, together with the $90,000 of other eligible expenses reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application, sufficient to support the amount of the PPP loan that was forgiven. As a result, $80,000 of the qualified wages reported as payroll costs may be treated as qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit.


My Thoughts - This example is positive for borrowers. If you listed non payroll expenses you will essentially get credit for the wages you didn’t need on your PPP forgiveness application.


Example 6: Employer D received a PPP loan of $200,000. Employer D is an eligible employer and paid $150,000 of qualified wages that would qualify for the employee retention credit during the second and third quarters of 2020. In addition to the qualified wages, Employer D had $100,000 of other payroll costs that are not qualified wages and $70,000 of other eligible expenses 17. In order to receive forgiveness of the PPP loan in its entirety, Employer D was required, under the SBA rules, to report $200,000 of payroll costs and other eligible expenses (and a minimum of $120,000 of payroll costs).


Employer D submitted a PPP Loan Forgiveness Application and reported $130,000 of payroll costs and $70,000 of other eligible expenses, in support of forgiveness of the entire PPP loan. Employer D can demonstrate that the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application consist of $100,000 of payroll costs that are not qualified wages and $30,000 of payroll costs that are qualified wages. Employer D received a decision under section 7A(g) of the Small Business Act in the first quarter of 2021 for forgiveness of the entire PPP loan amount of $200,000.


Employer D is deemed to have made an election not to take into account $30,000 of qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit, which was the amount of qualified wages included in the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application up to (but not exceeding) the minimum amount of payroll costs, together with any other eligible expenses reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application, sufficient to support the amount of the PPP loan that is forgiven. It may not treat that amount as qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit. Employer D is not deemed to have made an election with respect to the $120,000 of qualified wages that are not included in the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application. Accordingly, Employer D may take into account the $120,000 of qualified wages ($150,000 of qualified wages paid minus $30,000 of qualified wages included in the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application) for purposes of the employee retention credit.


17 Employer D may have payroll costs that are not qualified wages for various reasons. For example, Employer D may be a large eligible employer that paid wages to employees who continued to provide services during the period of a partial suspension of business operations.


My Thoughts - This example will likely not apply for most small businesses. It certainly would apply for large employers (over 100) and those that had significant employer benefit expenses that could be claimed on the PPP forgiveness application.


Example 7: Same facts as Example 6 except Employer D’s PPP loan is not forgiven by reason of a decision under section 7A(g) of the Small Business Act. Employer D may treat the full $150,000 as qualified wages (the $30,000 of qualified wages included in the payroll costs reported on the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application, plus the additional $120,000 of qualified wages not included in the payroll costs) as qualified wages for purposes of the employee retention credit.


My Thoughts - If you are denied forgiveness (full or partial), wages allocated to the denial are fully allowed for the ERC program.


Overall - This guidance is fresh and it would not surprise me to see additional FAQ’s come out in the coming days or weeks. It is very likely that this guidance is not going to be received favorably by small businesses and those that serve these critical employers.


If you have filed for forgiveness, your options are going to be limited. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t review the payroll and non-payroll costs you included in your application to ensure you take full advantage of the ERC program.


If you haven’t filed for forgiveness, I strongly encourage you to take a deep breath. Now is the time to gather supporting documentation. What do you need?


  • Payroll reports (registers) for your PPP covered period and for all periods you are eligible for the ERC program in 2020. May be easiest to pull payroll reports for all of 2020.

  • Pull proof of payment related to rent, utility, mortgage interest, covered operations expenses, covered property damage costs, covered supplier costs, and covered worker protection expenses.

  • You absolutely want to maximize your use of non-payroll costs given this guidance.


We will continue to work through the guidance provided and determine how we can best support our small business customers. We will cover this update on our next webinar, March 11 at 2 PM EDT.


IRS Guidance

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