Tax Credits

Is The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) Taxable Income? (2023)

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The ERC was initially introduced as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March 2020, and it has undergone subsequent legislative updates. It was designed to provide financial support to businesses adversely affected by the pandemic, enabling them to retain employees and sustain their operations. However, the question of whether the ERC is taxable income has been a point of consideration for many employers.

In this article, we will explore the tax implications of the ERC and provide an overview of its eligibility criteria. By gaining a clearer understanding of the tax treatment of the ERC, employers can make informed decisions and properly plan for their tax obligations.

Overview of the Employee Retention Credit

The Employee Retention Credit was established under the CARES Act in response to the economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. It aimed to provide financial relief to eligible employers, encouraging them to retain their employees and continue their business operations. The ERC was later extended and expanded by subsequent legislation, including the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

Under the ERC provisions, eligible employers can claim a refundable tax credit against certain employment taxes. Initially, the ERC was available for qualified wages paid between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2020. However, subsequent legislation extended the eligibility period to include wages paid through December 31, 2021. Employers can still apply for the ERC in 2023, though most businesses would only qualify for the first three quarters of 2021.

Is the ERC Taxable Income?

One of the key concerns for employers claiming the Employee Retention Credit is whether the credit itself is considered taxable income. The short answer is no, the ERC is not taxable income at the federal level in the US. In other words, the amount received through the ERC is not included as taxable income when calculating federal income tax liability.

The Internal Revenue Service has stated that the ERC is treated as an offset to the qualified wages paid by the employer, rather than taxable income to the employer. The IRS guidance and regulations have emphasized that the purpose of the ERC is to provide financial relief to eligible employers, helping them retain employees and continue their business operations during the challenging economic conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, treating the ERC as taxable income would significantly diminish its intended purpose. Exempting the ERC from taxable income ensures that employers can fully benefit from the credit without facing additional tax burdens.

Impact of ERC on Federal Income Tax

The ERC can have a significant impact on federal income tax liability for eligible employers. Since the ERC is not considered taxable income at the federal level, it does not increase an employer’s taxable income when calculating their federal tax liability.

By reducing the taxable income, the ERC effectively lowers the amount of income subject to federal income tax. This can result in a reduction in the overall tax liability or potentially generate a refund if the credit exceeds the tax owed. The ERC can provide much-needed financial relief for businesses by directly offsetting their federal tax obligations.

While the ERC is not considered taxable income for federal tax purposes, it may have implications for other calculations or limitations tied to taxable income, such as the deduction for wages paid. Employers should carefully review the IRS guidance and consult a tax professional to understand the interplay between the ERC and other tax provisions.

Although the ERC can reduce federal income tax liability, consider other factors that may influence an employer’s tax situation, including the employer’s overall financial situation, other eligible tax credits or deductions, and any limitations or restrictions imposed by the tax code.

State and Local Tax Considerations

Some states may conform to the federal treatment of the ERC and exclude it from taxable income at the state level as well. In these cases, the ERC would have a similar non-taxable status for state income tax purposes. However, states also have the authority to adopt their own tax rules and determine the treatment of various tax provisions, including the ERC.

Conforming states generally adopt the federal tax treatment of the ERC, meaning they exclude the credit from taxable income at the state level. However, non-conforming states may have their own rules for calculating taxable income, and the ERC may be treated differently or subject to specific modifications.

Employers should review state tax statutes, regulations, and any relevant guidance issued by the state tax authority to determine how the ERC is treated for state income tax purposes. This information will help businesses navigate the complexities of state taxes and ensure they are meeting their obligations appropriately.

Potential Future Changes

It is important to recognize that tax laws and regulations are subject to change, and this includes the tax treatment of the Employee Retention Credit. The government has the authority to amend or revise tax laws, and new legislation may be enacted that could affect the tax treatment of the ERC.

Changes to the tax treatment of the ERC could come in the form of new legislation or updates from the Internal Revenue Service. Congress may pass additional legislation that modifies the ERC provisions or introduces new tax considerations. The IRS may also issue new guidance or regulations that impact the tax treatment of the ERC.


In summary, the tax treatment of the Employee Retention Credit is an important consideration for eligible employers. While the ERC is generally not considered taxable income at the federal level in the United States, it is crucial to stay informed about the specific tax treatment in your jurisdiction, as state and local tax laws may vary.

Understanding the non-taxable nature of the ERC at the federal level can provide relief to employers, as it reduces their federal income tax liability or potentially generates a refund. By understanding the tax implications of the Employee Retention Credit, employers can effectively utilize this relief measure and manage their tax obligations, ultimately helping them navigate the financial challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.