Are the Employee Retention Credits (“ERCs”) a Reliable Source of Liquidity?
Many businesses have qualified for ERCs, and are using this program as a source of liquidity – to help fund operations and deal with the impacts of emerging trends such as labor shortages, inflation, supply chain issues, etc. The question is - Are these credits the reliable source of liquidity many businesses and their lenders expected?
The first ERCs were part of the CARES Act and were available for 2020. The 2020 ERCs were limited to $5,000 per employee receiving Qualified Wages.
The ERC program was expanded in the March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act and eligibility was evaluated using the criteria below.
Initially 2021 ERCs were evaluated based on whether a business experienced:
A full or partial suspension of operation of the business due to government orders limiting commerce, travel or group meetings as a result of Covid-19.
A quarter over quarter reduction in gross receipts when comparing 2019 to 2021. The threshold measurement is that calendar quarter receipts must be less than 80% of receipts during the same quarter in 2019.
If the business meets either of those two ERC requirements, the business could qualify for up to $7,000 per employee per quarter, or $14,000 for the first two quarters of 2021. The qualified wages are limited to $10,000 per employee per calendar quarter with a 70% factor applied to arrive at a maximum of $7,000 per employee per quarter.
For example, if a business experienced a decline in gross receipts during a quarter in 2021 compared to 2019, and met the 80% or less receipts threshold, the business qualified for the ERC. If the business was paying 100 employees at least $10,000 per quarter in 2021, the business could qualify for $1,400,000 of ERCs (100 employees X $14,000 = $1.4 million). A business with 25 employees could qualify for $350,000 of ERCs (25 employees X $14,000 = $350,000). If the business qualifies for all four quarters of 2021 compared to 2019, the amounts calculated could be doubled.
As a result, ERCs provided the opportunity for a significant liquidity boost for a business, and many businesses included this liquidity impact in their 2021 and 2022 business plans.
The March 2021 American Rescue Plan Act extended the ERC to all quarters of 2021, with a $10,000 per employee maximum amount of qualified wages / qualified health plan expenses. For Q3 and Q4 the ERC will be a credit against the Medicare tax, rather than the Social Security tax.
The current infrastructure plan discussions may impact ERCs, and the impact will not be known until the final version of the infrastructure plan is approved and signed into law, and the IRS issues additional guidance.
The draft infrastructure bill completed over the weekend of August 7, 2021 is expected to eliminate the ERCs for Q4 of 2021. While the final document has not been available for review, and the final legislation will be impacted by additional negotiations in Washington DC, it is important for businesses to consider the dollar impact of eliminated Q4 ERCs.
In addition to the infrastructure plan discussion impacts, businesses need to be aware that the Department of Treasury and the IRS continue to issue guidance on qualified businesses and other defined terms. For example, in recent weeks, guidance has been issued on owner and family member wages, and on startup business eligibility. The guidance often confuses in the attempt to clarify.
What is the next step?
First, a business should be in contact with its accounting firm and its payroll processor to evaluate the ongoing eligibility for the ERCs.
Then, the business needs to develop alternative cash flow management plans based on what is currently expected, and then develop a Plan B cash flow without access to ERCs.
This planning needs to evaluate the performance of the business with and without the originally expected eligibility amounts. It is important for businesses to develop alternative performance strategies to include the possible impact of ERC or other liquidity injections overlaid on the current and future impact of emerging trends.
Businesses that sensitize their performance plans for these types of changing economic impacts will be the successful businesses in 2021 and 2022.