The Employee Retention Credit: An Overview for Ministries

Nonprofit churches, schools, colleges, camps, and ministries are among those who could benefit from a payroll tax credit that offers financial relief during the coronavirus pandemic. This article provides an overview of the federal Employee Retention Credit, its eligibility requirements, and how to claim the credit.

What is the ERC?

The Employee Retention Credit (ERC) is a fully refundable tax credit for eligible employers. It was initially created by the 2020 CARES Act to encourage businesses to keep employees on their payroll during widespread business interruptions caused by the pandemic.

Originally, the ERC was unavailable to employers who received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Subsequently, Congress expanded ERC eligibility in the Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2020. The act was part of a larger COVID-19 relief bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which became law on December 27, 2020. 

The Tax Relief Act of 2020 made the ERC available to employers who received PPP loans, as long as non-PPP funds were used to calculate the credit. The act also extended the employee retention tax credit through June 30, 2021. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 extended the ERC through December 31, 2021. Subsequent legislation reduced ERC eligibility to the first three quarters of 2021.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which took effect November 15, 2021, retroactively ended employer's ability to claim ERC credits for eligible wages paid after September 30, 2021. This reduced the maximum credit available in 2021 by $7,000 per qualified employee.

Going forward, eligible organizations can receive a tax credit of up to $5,000 per qualified employee in 2020 and up to $21,000 per qualified employee in the first three quarters of 2021. This tax credit cannot be claimed for pastors and clergy, because they are exempt from the federal employment taxes (FICA), upon which the credit is based. 

Organizations with more than 100 employees may claim the ERC in 2020 only for wages paid to employees who were not working. The Tax Relief Act raised this threshold to 500 employees in 2021. Therefore, employers with fewer than 500 workers can claim the credit for wages paid to all employees during the first three quarters of 2021.

Who is an eligible employer? 

Eligible employers include businesses and tax-exempt organizations that experienced EITHER ONE of these situations:

  • They at least partially suspended operations between March 13, 2020, and September 30, 2021, because of a government order limiting commerce, travel, or group meetings due to COVID-19.
  • They experienced a significant decline in gross receipts in any calendar quarter, compared to the same quarter in 2019. For tax-exempt organizations, “gross receipts” would be the amount typically reported on IRS Form 990.

The Tax Relief Act modified the ERC significantly, making the credit more widely available in 2021. The chart below shows the ERC credit requirements in 2020 versus 2021.

ERC Requirements

  • Operations at least partially suspended due to a federal, state or local government order limiting commerce, travel or group meetings for any time between March 13, 2020, and December 31, 2020
  • OR
  • Decline in gross receipts of at least 50% for any one quarter, compared to 2019.
  • Operations at least partially suspended due to a federal, state or local government order limiting commerce, travel or group meetings for any time between January 1, 2021, and September 30, 2021
  • OR
  • Decline in gross receipts of at least 20% for any one quarter, compared to 2019.
Maximum Credit, Per Employee
$5,000 total
(50% of the first $10,000 in qualified wages)
$7,000 per quarter; $21,000 total
(70% of the first $10,000 in qualified wages)
Interaction with PPC Loans
Wages paid with PPP loan funds aren't eligible for ERC
Wages paid with PPP loan funds aren't eligible for ERC
Average Number of Employees in 2019
100 or less
500 or less
Time Period
March 13, 2020 - December 31, 2020
January 1, 2021 - September 30, 2021
Are Clergy Members Eligible for Credit?


Be sure to read this guidance from the IRS about claiming the ERC. You may also wish to review the IRS FAQs: Employee Retention Credit under the CARES Act. Check the IRS FAQs regularly to see the latest updates.

What wages may be used to calculate the ERC?

Employers may include up to $10,000 in qualified wages paid to non-clergy employees during the time period for which the credit is being claimed. Employer health plan costs can be included in ERC calculations for each eligible employee.

The following wages may not be included in ERC calculations:

  • Emergency paid sick leave funded by the Family First Coronavirus Response Act. 
  • Leave taken under the Emergency Family Medical Leave Extension Act
  • Employer payroll expenses covered by forgivable PPP funds
  • Qualified disaster relief payments

How does an eligible employer claim the ERC?

There are three ways employers can claim the ERC:

1. Reduce tax deposits. Employers who are eligible to claim the ERC in 2021 can immediately begin reducing their required deposits of payroll taxes that have been withheld from employees' wages by the amount of the available credit.

2. Seek advance payment. If employment tax deposits are not sufficient to cover the 2021 credit, employers with an average of 500 or fewer full-time employees in 2019 may seek an advance payment from the IRS. This can be done by submitting IRS Form 7200, Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19. In 2021, advances are not available for employers larger than this.

3. Claim the credit retroactively. Employers can claim the COVID-19 tax credit for 2020 or 2021 by reporting their total qualified wages and the related health insurance costs of each applicable quarter on their quarterly federal tax return, IRS Form 941. If quarterly tax returns have already been filed for the affected time periods, employers can use IRS Form 941-X to claim the ERC retroactively.

Ministries who believe they qualify for the ERC are strongly encouraged to consult a local attorney or tax advisor to ensure eligibility before claiming the Employee Retention Credit.

Need help claiming the ERC? Contact MinistryWorks today

Because each ministry's circumstances are unique, MinistryWorks cannot determine eligibility for the tax credit. This responsibility rests with your ministry. We strongly encourage you to consult a local attorney to ensure that you qualify before claiming the Employee Retention Credit.

If you would like to learn more, visit our Ministry Guide or School Guide to Claiming the Employee Retention Credit. MinistryWorks customers can also reach out to their payroll specialist for help. If you’re not yet a customer, learn how MinistryWorks could help your ministry save money and simplify payroll by calling 888-953-6123.


Updated December 1, 2021

The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.


You could claim up to $33,000/employee with the
Employee Retention Credit.

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to learn more.

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