Tax Credits

Nonrefundable & Refundable Portion Of Employee Retention Credit (2023)

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In today’s ever-evolving business landscape, organizations face the formidable task of retaining their valuable employees while navigating the complex terrain of economic uncertainties.

Enter the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), a key component of government relief measures aimed at providing financial support to businesses during challenging times. As employers explore various avenues to optimize their workforce and sustain operations, understanding the intricacies of the ERC becomes crucial. In this article, we delve into the fundamentals of the Employee Retention Credit, shedding light on its non-refundable portion—a vital aspect that warrants careful examination. By unraveling its nuances, we aim to equip employers with the knowledge needed to take advantage of this valuable resource effectively.

Employee Retention Credit

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) emerged as a vital incentive during the challenging times of the coronavirus pandemic, aimed at encouraging companies to retain their workforce. This credit allowed businesses to claim a 70% tax credit on qualifying wages, up to $10,000 per employee per quarter, during the first three quarters of 2021.

Additionally, companies that commenced operations after February 15, 2020, and generated gross receipts below $1,000,000 were eligible for a $7,000 credit in the fourth quarter of 2021. For the year 2020, companies could also avail themselves of up to $5,000 in credit. It is important to note that while the ERC reduces a business’s total owed taxes, it differs from a deductible as it does not lower taxable income.

Initially targeted towards small businesses with fewer than 500 employees in 2021 or less than 100 employees in 2020, the ERC extended its eligibility criteria to encompass any business that meets the required conditions. To qualify for the credit, businesses must have experienced a lockdown or a significant loss of revenue. Notably, in 2021, the ERC was expanded to benefit startup businesses as well, referred to as “Recovery Startup Businesses.”

Such companies, established after February 15, 2020, and earning less than $1 million in revenue, can apply for the ERC in the third and fourth quarters of 2021, potentially receiving up to $50,000 in ERC per quarter. Exploring the details of the ERC and determining eligibility becomes essential for businesses seeking financial support and resilience in these trying times.

Nonrefundable Portion of the ERC

To grasp the concept of a nonrefundable credit, it is essential to understand its fundamental nature. Essentially, a nonrefundable credit is unable to generate a refund that would reduce tax liability below zero. While it can effectively decrease the tax liability, its impact ceases once the tax obligation is eliminated, and it cannot surpass the amount of tax owed before the credit is applied.

In the context of the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), the nonrefundable portion predominantly comprises the employer’s contribution to specific payroll taxes, which may involve either Social Security or Medicare, depending on the claim period. For wages disbursed between March 12, 2020, and July 1, 2021, the nonrefundable portion is calculated based on the employer’s 6.2 percent share of Social Security taxes.

Conversely, for wages paid between June 30, 2021, and January 1, 2022, this portion is determined by the employer’s 1.45 percent share of Medicare taxes. It is important to note that the nonrefundable portion of the ERC must be utilized first, thereby reducing the employer’s relevant share of tax, but it cannot bring the liability below zero.

Refundable Portion of the ERC

Employers who have an Employee Retention Credit (ERC) that exceeds their applicable tax share can still enjoy the full credit, provided they file their claim on time. The portion of the ERC that surpasses the nonrefundable amount is typically referred to as the refundable portion.

In contrast to the nonrefundable portion, the refundable component of the ERC has the potential to reduce an employer’s overall tax liability below zero. Consequently, when an employer claims the ERC using Form 941-X, they are likely to receive a tax refund greater than the amount originally paid or assessed for the qualifying period. Once Form 941-X has been submitted, employers have the option to verify whether the IRS has received the form and track the progress of their ERC refund.


The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) has played a crucial role in incentivizing businesses to retain their employees during uncertain times. This credit offers a valuable opportunity for eligible employers to claim a tax credit on qualifying wages, reducing their tax liability. While the ERC consists of a nonrefundable portion that cannot generate a refund beyond the tax owed, there is also a refundable portion that can potentially result in a tax refund larger than the amount paid. It is important for employers to understand the nuances of these portions and their calculations. By navigating the ERC effectively, businesses can mitigate financial strain, foster employee retention, and pave the way for organizational resilience in the face of economic challenges.