The small business health insurance tax credit, created by the health care reform package, rewards employers that offer health insurance to their employees with a tax break. The credit is targeted to small employers; generally employers with 25 or fewer employees. In May 2010, the IRS issued Notice 2010-44, which describes the steps employers take to determine eligibility for the credit and how to calculate the credit.

Initial Steps
1. Determine the employees taken into account for purposes of the credit.
Generally, any employee who performs services for you during the tax year is taken into account in determining your full-time employees (FTEs), average wages, and premiums paid. However partners and certain business owners are excluded. Additionally, family members of these owners and partners are also not taken into account as employees.

Example. A partnership employs five individuals, including one of the partners, Elise, and her spouse, Ron. For purposes of the credit, Elise and Ron are not taken into account as employees in determining the number of FTEs for purposes of the credit.

2. Determine the number of hours of service performed by those employees.
An employee’s hours of service include (1) each hour for which an employee is paid, or entitled to payment, for the performance of duties for the employer during the employer’s tax year; and (2) each hour for which an employee is paid, or entitled to payment, by the employer on account of vacation, holiday, illness, and similar events. The IRS allows you to use one of three alternative methods to calculate hours of service: (1) actual hours of service; (2) days-worked equivalency; or (3) weeks-worked equivalency.

Example. Priscilla is an employee of ABC Co. ABC’s payroll records show that Priscilla worked 2,000 hours and was paid for an additional 80 hours on account of vacation, holiday and illness in 2010. Priscilla performed 2,080 hours of service.

3. Calculate the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) employees.
Employers use a formula to calculate the number of FTEs. Total hours of service credited during the year to qualified employees (but not more than 2,080 hours for any employee) are divided by 2,080. The result, if not a whole number, is then rounded to the next lowest whole number.

Example. An employer pays five employees wages for 2,080 hours each, pays three employees wages for 1,040 hours each, and pays one employee wages for 2,300 hours. The employer’s FTEs would be calculated as follows:

(1) Total hours of service not exceeding 2,080 per employee is the sum of:

(a) 10,400 hours of service for the five employees paid for 2,080 hours each (5 x 2,080);

(b) 3,120 hours of service for the three employees paid for 1,040 hours each (3 x 1,040); and

(c) 2,080 hours of service for the one employee paid for 2,300 hours (the lesser of 2,300 and 2,080).

The sum of (a), (b) and (c) equals 15,600 hours of service.

(2) The hours of service — 15,600 — are divided by 2,080, which equals 7.5. That number is rounded to the next lowest whole number, which is seven. The employer has seven FTEs.

4. Determine the average annual wages paid per FTE.
Employers also use a formula to determine average annual wages paid for a tax year. The amount of total wages paid to qualified employees is divided by the number of the employer’s FTEs for the year. The result is then rounded down to the nearest $1,000 (if not otherwise a multiple of $1,000).

Example. XYZ Co. has 10 FTEs and pays average annual wages of $224,000 for the 2010 tax year. The amount of XYZ’s average annual wages is $224,000 divided by 10, which equals $22,400. When rounded down to the nearest $1,000, is $22,000.

5. Determine the amount of premiums paid by the employer.
Only premiums paid by the employer for health insurance coverage are counted in calculating the credit. If an employer pays only a portion of the premiums for the coverage provided to employees (with employees paying the rest), only the portion paid by the employer is taken into account.

However, an employer’s premium payments are not taken into account for purposes of the credit unless the payments are for health insurance coverage under a qualifying arrangement. Generally, this is an arrangement under which the employer pays premiums for each employee enrolled in health insurance coverage offered by the employer in an amount equal to a uniform percentage (not less than 50 percent) of the premium cost of the coverage.

Additionally, the amount of an employer’s premium payments taken into account in calculating the credit is limited to the premium payments the employer would have made under the same arrangement if the average premium for the small group market in the state (or an area within the state) in which the employer offers coverage were substituted for the actual premium.

Example. MNO Co. offers a health insurance plan with single and family coverage to its nine FTEs with average annual wages of $23,000 per FTE. Four employees are enrolled in single coverage and five are enrolled in family coverage.

MNO pays 50 percent of the premiums for all employees enrolled in single coverage and 50 percent of the premiums for all employees enrolled in family coverage. The premiums are $4,000 a year for single coverage and $10,000 a year for family coverage. The average premium for the small group market in employer’s State is $5,000 for single coverage and $12,000 for family coverage.

MNO’s premium payments for each FTE ($2,000 for single coverage and $5,000 for family coverage) do not exceed 50 percent of the average premium for the small group market in employer’s state ($2,500 for single coverage and $6,000 for family coverage).

The amount of premiums paid by the employer for purposes of computing the credit equals $33,000 ((4 x $2,000) + (5 x $5,000) = $33,000).

Calculating the credit
After determining eligibility for the credit, employers calculate the amount of their credit. The maximum credit is 35 percent for employers with 10 or fewer FTEs paying average annual wages of not more than $25,000. The maximum credit for a tax-exempt employer is 25 percent. The maximum 35 percent and 25 percent credits are available for 2010 through 2013. The maximum amounts rise for 2014 and 2015, but at that time the credit is linked to an employer’s participation in a state insurance exchange.

The credit is subject to phase-out. The credit is reduced by 6.667 percent for each FTE in excess of 10 employees and by four percent for each $1,000 that average annual compensation paid to an employee exceeds $25,000.

The following examples illustrate calculation of the credit
Small for-profit employer: PRS Co. employs nine FTEs with average annual wages of $23,000 per FTE for the 2010 tax year. PRS pays $72,000 in health insurance premiums for those employees (which does not exceed the average premium for the small group market in the employer’s state) and otherwise meets the requirements for the credit. PRS’s credit for 2010 is $25,200 (35 percent x $72,000).

Small tax-exempt employer
TUV employs 10 FTES with average annual wages of $21,000 per FTE for the 2010 tax year. TUV pays $80,000 in health insurance premiums for its employees (which does not exceed the average premium for the small group market in the employer’s state) and otherwise meets the requirements for the credit. The total amount of the employer’s income tax and Medicare tax withholding plus the employer’s share of the Medicare tax equals $30,000 in 2010.

The credit is calculated as follows: (1) The initial amount of the credit is determined before any reduction: (25 percent x $80,000) = $20,000; (2) The employer’s withholding and Medicare taxes are $30,000; (3) the total 2010 tax credit equals $20,000 (the lesser of $20,000 and $30,000).

We’ve covered a lot of material in this article. Please contact our office if you have any questions about the small employer health insurance tax credit.