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The Impact of the Employee Retention Credit on Small Businesses

Retention Credit

In the landscape of business, particularly among small businesses, navigating financial challenges and economic downturns is a constant reality. The year 2020 brought an unprecedented disruption to this landscape due to the COVID-19 pandemic, presenting fresh challenges to businesses worldwide. In response, governments across the globe rolled out various relief packages to help cushion the blow. In the United States, one such measure introduced was the Employee Retention Credit (ERC).

The ERC, as part of the CARES Act of 2020, is designed as a refundable tax credit for employers who kept their employees on the payroll during periods of business suspension or significant downturn. Essentially, it’s a lifeline to businesses that were hardest hit by the pandemic, ensuring they could retain their employees during the economic slowdown. It’s been a pivotal support measure, especially for small businesses that typically operate with leaner margins and less access to capital than their larger counterparts.

The significance of the ERC to small businesses cannot be overstated. It has provided them with crucial financial relief, helping to maintain employment and ensuring business continuity in uncertain times. This credit has been an essential component in the toolbox of survival strategies for many small businesses.

In this blog, we’ll delve deeper into the ERC, its immediate impact, its long-term implications, and how it’s changing the trajectory for small businesses across the country. As we dissect the qualifications and requirements, explore case studies, and analyze the potential improvements, you’ll gain a comprehensive understanding of how impactful the ERC has been to the backbone of our economy – the small businesses.

Stay with us as we take this journey of exploration into the impact of Employee Retention Credit on small businesses.

Overview of the Employee Retention Credit

To fully understand the impact of the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), we first need to clarify what exactly this credit entails, its requirements, and how it works.

Introduced as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the ERC is a refundable tax credit designed to encourage businesses to keep their employees on payroll during times of business disruption or significant downturn caused by COVID-19. The ERC applies to qualified wages paid after March 12, 2020, and before January 1, 2023.

Any company whose operations were either wholly or partially interrupted owing to government orders linked to COVID-19 or whose quarterly gross receipts were reduced by more than 20% from the same quarter in 2019 is eligible for the ERC.

The ERC is determined by taking into account both eligible wages and health plan expenses. All wages paid during qualifying quarters are creditable for enterprises with 500 or fewer full-time employees in 2019, regardless of whether or not the employees actually performed any services. Only salaries paid to employees for time they were not providing services owing to the suspension of the business or the fall in gross sales qualify for companies with more than 500 full-time employees.

As of 2021, the credit rate is 70% of qualified wages, with a maximum credit of $7,000 per employee per quarter. This provides a substantial benefit for small businesses by allowing them to reduce their employment tax liabilities.

However, it’s important to be aware of the limitations of the ERC. Businesses that received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan cannot use the same wages for both the PPP loan forgiveness and the ERC. They need to carefully track and allocate wages and health expenses between the two programs to avoid any disallowance or recapture of the ERC.

Despite these potential drawbacks and complications, the ERC has provided significant aid to struggling businesses. The infusion of funds has helped small businesses to weather the storm, retain their employees, and ultimately, continue serving their communities.

The Immediate Impact of the Employee Retention Credit

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) quickly proved its value following its inception, offering immediate relief to many small businesses across the country.

One of the primary purposes of the ERC is to provide a financial incentive for businesses to retain their staff, even during periods of significant income decline or full/partial shutdowns. By doing so, the ERC played a crucial role in maintaining employment levels. This, in turn, offered a semblance of economic stability in a time of upheaval and uncertainty.

Let’s take a closer look at some case studies to demonstrate how the ERC has helped small businesses on a more tangible level.

Consider a local restaurant in Ohio that had to drastically cut back its operations due to public health restrictions. Despite a significant drop in revenue, this restaurant was able to keep all of its staff employed, thanks to the ERC. By receiving a tax credit for keeping its workers on the payroll, the restaurant not only maintained its employee base but also managed to stay open, continuing to serve its community amidst a very challenging environment.

Or take the example of a small tech startup in California. This company experienced a sharp decline in sales due to the pandemic but managed to avoid layoffs and salary reductions by using the ERC. It allowed the company to keep its innovative team intact, preserving the potential for growth and expansion once the economic conditions started improving.

Beyond direct financial relief, the ERC has had another significant effect – it has reduced the psychological stress on both employers and employees. Business owners are given a lifeline, helping them keep their operations running, while employees have the reassurance of maintained income, adding a layer of stability during an unpredictable period.

While the ERC may not resolve all the financial issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, its immediate impact on small businesses and their employees has been profoundly positive. It has helped maintain jobs, sustain businesses, and ultimately, has been a key factor in holding communities together during these difficult times.

Long-Term Impact of the Employee Retention Credit on Small Businesses

While the immediate impact of the Employee Retention Credit (ERC) has been impressive, it’s the long-term effects of this policy that truly underscore its importance. The ERC has played a significant role in the sustainability of businesses and has influenced business strategies and future employment practices.

The ERC has done more than just provide temporary financial relief. For many small businesses, this tax credit has been a lifeline that has allowed them to weather the storm and come out the other side. By enabling businesses to keep their employees on the payroll, it has helped maintain business continuity, preserve valuable skills within the workforce, and speed up recovery as economic conditions start to improve.

Moreover, the ERC has also influenced changes in business strategies and growth patterns. For instance, by providing a financial cushion, it has given businesses the breathing space to reassess their operations, pivot their business models, and explore new avenues of growth. For example, some retail businesses have shifted towards e-commerce, restaurants have expanded their takeout and delivery services, and other service providers have transitioned to remote or digital offerings.

In terms of future employment practices, the ERC may pave the way for more flexible working arrangements. The crisis has shown that many businesses can operate effectively with remote or part-time workers. Combined with the financial support of the ERC, businesses might be more willing to adapt to more flexible work arrangements in the future.

However, it’s also important to acknowledge the challenges. While the ERC has provided vital support, it’s not a silver bullet. Many businesses are still grappling with reduced demand, supply chain disruptions, and an uncertain economic outlook. It will take time, resilience, and continued support measures like the ERC for small businesses to fully recover.

The long-term impacts of the ERC on small businesses are multifaceted. It has undoubtedly played a pivotal role in ensuring business survival and has the potential to shape the future of work and business growth in the post-pandemic era.

Comparative Analysis

To fully understand the Employee Retention Credit’s impact, it’s crucial to examine it in a broader context. This comparative analysis offers a dual perspective – comparing the ERC’s effects on small businesses versus larger businesses, and juxtaposing the U.S.’s retention credit scheme with those implemented in other countries.

ERC’s Impact: Small Businesses vs. Larger Businesses

While the ERC benefits all qualifying businesses, its impact is most profound for small businesses. Large corporations typically have access to more resources and a larger financial buffer to weather economic downturns. Small businesses, on the other hand, often operate with leaner margins and less financial cushion, making the financial relief from the ERC all the more crucial.

A tech startup with ten employees, for instance, would feel the benefits of the ERC far more tangibly than a multinational corporation with thousands of employees. The ERC can cover a significant portion of a small business’s payroll costs, offering substantial relief and enabling it to maintain its staff. For larger businesses, the relief, while helpful, may not be as transformative.

International Perspective: U.S. vs. Other Countries

When we compare the U.S.’s ERC with similar schemes implemented in other countries, interesting differences and similarities emerge. Many countries worldwide have adopted some form of wage subsidy or employee retention program to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

For example, the United Kingdom’s furlough scheme, officially known as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, covered up to 80% of an employee’s salary for hours not worked. Similarly, Canada’s Emergency Wage Subsidy provided a percentage of employees’ wages, up to a weekly maximum, for businesses experiencing a drop in revenue.

The U.S.’s ERC, with its 70% credit rate and a maximum credit of $7,000 per employee per quarter, has been one of the more generous schemes. However, each country’s approach varies based on unique economic conditions and policy priorities.

By studying these comparisons, we can gather valuable insights and potential improvements for the ERC. As we continue navigating the pandemic and its economic repercussions, such comparative analysis can guide policy decisions, ensuring the continued support of small businesses, the engines of our economy.

Potential Improvements to the Employee Retention Credit System

Despite the evident benefits of the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), there’s always room for improvement. Based on feedback from small businesses and industry experts, we have identified a few areas where modifications could enhance the effectiveness of the ERC system.

Streamlining the Application Process

One area of concern that many small business owners have voiced is the complexity of the ERC application process. The current application, involving comprehensive documentation and intricate calculations, can be daunting for small businesses without extensive tax knowledge or access to professional accounting services. Simplifying this process or offering additional guidance could increase accessibility for all eligible businesses.

Expanding Eligibility

While the ERC has been a boon to many businesses, the eligibility requirements exclude certain businesses from taking advantage of it. For instance, new businesses that started after the onset of the pandemic do not have a comparable 2019 quarter for gross receipts and are thus ineligible. Adjusting the eligibility criteria could provide much-needed support to these businesses.

Improving Coordination with Other Programs

The interaction between the ERC and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been a point of confusion for many businesses. Greater clarity on how these programs can be used concurrently without penalization could be beneficial.

Increased Funding and Extension

Given the ongoing effects of the pandemic on small businesses, there have been calls to increase the funding allocated to the ERC and extend its duration beyond the current expiration date. This would provide more sustained support to businesses still struggling with the pandemic’s economic fallout.

These potential improvements highlight the evolving nature of the ERC. As we continue to understand the pandemic’s impacts better, it’s crucial that support measures like the ERC adapt to meet the changing needs of small businesses. With these improvements, the ERC could provide even more robust support to the small businesses that form the backbone of our economy.


As we conclude our exploration into the Employee Retention Credit (ERC), it’s clear that this policy has had a profound impact on small businesses across the United States. The ERC, born out of a period of unprecedented economic disruption, has served as a lifeline to many businesses, helping them navigate the stormy waters of the pandemic.

From its immediate effects in maintaining employment and providing financial relief to its long-term impacts on business sustainability and strategy, the ERC has played a pivotal role in supporting small businesses. It’s evident in the testimonials of the restaurant in Ohio that managed to keep its doors open, or the tech startup in California that retained its innovative team, that the ERC has been instrumental in preserving jobs and businesses in the face of adversity.

Yet, it’s also clear that the ERC is not a panacea. Small businesses continue to face substantial challenges, and the road to recovery is still long. Improvements to the ERC system, such as streamlining the application process, expanding eligibility, enhancing coordination with other programs, and increasing funding, could bolster the support it provides.

Looking ahead, it’s crucial that we continue to adapt and refine measures like the ERC to meet the evolving needs of small businesses. As we weather the ongoing economic impacts of the pandemic, we must remain committed to supporting the small businesses that form the backbone of our economy. Their resilience and success are key to our collective recovery and future prosperity.

In the end, the story of the ERC is about more than just a tax credit. It’s a testament to our capacity to adapt, innovate, and persevere in the face of adversity. It’s a reminder that when we support our small businesses, we’re investing in our communities, our economy, and our future.

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