The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a refundable tax credit available to eligible employers who kept employees on their payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic. This refundable tax credit was introduced to support businesses that retained their employees, even amidst the economic challenges posed by the pandemic. The credit is designed to help employers offset the cost of wages and health insurance premiums paid to qualified employees.
Navigating complex financial programs can be challenging, and the ERC is no exception. Without a clear understanding of its intricacies, well-intentioned individuals might inadvertently commit fraud.
Eligibility Criteria for the ERC
For an employer to qualify for the ERC, they must satisfy at least one of the following conditions:
- They faced a complete or partial halt in their operations due to a government directive related to the pandemic in 2020 or during the first three quarters of 2021.
- They witnessed a substantial drop in gross receipts within the specified eligibility periods in 2020 or the initial three quarters of 2021.
- They were recognized as a recovery startup business in either the third or fourth quarters of 2021.
Determining the ERC Amount
The ERC is calculated as 50% of the qualified wages disbursed to employees during the eligible periods. For 2020, these wages are limited to $10,000 for each employee per quarter. This cap remains at $10,000 per employee for the cumulative first three quarters of 2021, making the maximum credit attainable per employee for 2021 a sum of $26,000.
Procedure to Claim the ERC
Employers can stake their claim for the ERC on their quarterly employment tax returns, specifically using Form 941. An added advantage of this credit is its refundable nature. If the credit amount surpasses their employment taxes, employers are entitled to a refund.
The IRS’s Stance on ERC Fraud
The IRS has been proactive in identifying and penalizing fraudulent ERC claims. Several enforcement actions have been initiated against entities and individuals who have deceitfully claimed this credit. The IRS has also been vigilant in educating employers about prevalent scams linked to the ERC. Some widespread fraudulent tactics include:
- Individuals offering to process ERC claims for a fee.
- False promises to hasten ERC disbursements.
- Misleading claims stating eligibility for the ERC even when the criteria are not met.
Preventing Fraudulent ERC Claims
To steer clear of ERC-related scams, employers should:
- Collaborate with a reputable tax professional who can guide them on their eligibility and ensure accurate claim filing.
- Be skeptical of unsolicited offers to process ERC claims.
- Remember that the IRS does not impose a fee for ERC claim filings and be cautious of anyone demanding payment for expedited processing.
If there’s uncertainty regarding ERC eligibility or the claim process, it’s always wise to consult a seasoned tax professional.
The Role of an Experienced Attorney in ERC Fraud Cases
For those accused of ERC fraud, legal representation is invaluable. An attorney can:
- Clarify the charges and potential repercussions.
- Conduct a thorough investigation to gather supporting evidence.
- Engage in negotiations with governmental bodies to mitigate charges or broker plea deals.
- Represent the accused in court if the case proceeds to trial.
Specifically, if someone is charged with intentionally filing a deceptive ERC claim, an attorney can argue for an honest error. If the accusation is based on misguided advice from a tax consultant, a legal representative can argue for the accused’s genuine belief in their eligibility. In cases of inadequate record-keeping, an attorney can assist in procuring the necessary documentation to validate the claim.
For those facing criminal charges or civil penalties from the IRS, attorney Norman Spencer can help negotiate to reduce sentences or fines. If accused of ERC fraud, it’s crucial to seek legal counsel promptly.
Additional Guidance for Those Accused of ERC Fraud
- Refrain from discussing the case with the IRS or other law enforcement without an attorney.
- Compile all relevant documentation, including tax returns, payroll details, and any communication with the IRS.
- Maintain transparency with your legal counsel.
- Adhere to your attorney’s recommendations.
- Always remember the principle: one is innocent until proven guilty. With the right legal support, you can uphold your rights and secure your future.