The Work Opportunity Tax Credit program (WOTC) has been around for several decades, yet many employers are still not aware of its features and benefits. By hiring from a pool of eligible employees and applying for this voluntary program, employers claim over $1 billion in tax credits every year. To optimize a WOTC program, it’s important to fully understand Form 8850.
Per employee, the tax credits can reach up to $9,600, giving employers a reason to hire someone less skillful and experienced as compared to other applicants. In other words, they can benefit by hiring the eligible individuals belonging to one of the vulnerable target groups.
The entire WOTC process is designed with simplicity in mind and includes completing two easy forms, mailing them off to a State Workforce Agency, and receiving a certification in return, thus allowing the claiming of the WOTC credits to begin. Still, millions of dollars in available tax credits go unclaimed each year due to incomplete or inefficient WOTC screening. To prevent this, employers need to understand how the WOTC program works, Form 8850 as well as other documentation necessary for WOTC certification.
What Is Form 8850 Used For and How Do Companies Qualify?
One of the essential tools in the implementation of WOTC is Form 8850, Pre-Screening Notice and Certification Request for the Work Opportunity Credit. The IRS designed it to streamline the screening and certification process for hiring qualified individuals belonging to target groups as defined by the program. Prior to making an employment offer, the employer needs to obtain information about the job applicants’ WOTC eligibility status. They are asked to self-identify as members of one of the following eligible groups:
- Qualified veteran;
- Qualified IV-A recipient;
- Qualified ex-felon,
- Designated community resident;
- Vocational rehabilitation referral;
- Summer youth employee;
- Supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) recipient;
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipient;
- Long-term family assistance recipient; and
- Qualified long-term unemployment recipient.
Minimum Hours for Targeted Groups and Analyzing Screening Compliance
While there is no limit to the number of workers an employer can hire to qualify for WOTC, there is a cap on the credit per individual. This amount varies for each WOTC target group. Credit accumulation begins once an employee works a minimum of 120 hours. The credit continues to accumulate until the employee works a certain number of hours that maximizes the credit – for many credit categories that number ranges from 400-500 hours.
Employers can also improve their WOTC benefits by improving their standard screening compliance rate. A company that hires 3,000 employees annually and has a screening compliance rate of 80% (i.e. 8 out of 10 applicants complete the WOTC Survey) may earn, for example, $150,000 or more per year by claiming WOTC. There are a few factors that impact Credits Earned including the type of industry, the Applicant Tracking System, Average Credit Certified and the Eligibility Rate.
It is important to note that some applicants may be concerned about having to answer the personal questions on the WOTC certification forms. This can cause employers not to include WOTC screening into the hiring process in an effort to keep the number of applicants higher. However, any employer participating in the WOTC program is protected against any discriminatory claims or lawsuits for asking the questions on WOTC screening and application forms.
At the same time, employers need to remember that applicants give the required information on or before the day a job offer is made. If they determine that an applicant is a member of a target group, employers complete the rest of the form 8850 no later than the day the job offer is made. Both the applicant and the employer must sign Form 8850 no later than the date for submitting the form to the SWA.
Not complying with this requirement can expose employers to an IRS audit and the repayment of credits obtained in a non-compliant manor. Recently, the IRS has increased its audit capacity by hiring of 87,000 new agents. This challenge can be solved with automated WOTC management solution fully compatible with the WOTC process. Streamlined pre-employment screening improves the user experience and simplifies the process resulting in a higher application completion rate and an increase in tax credits.
The WOTC represents a powerful incentive for employers, offering significant savings in tax credits. When selecting from a qualified applicant pool, considering applicants who will provide maximum tax savings to the organization is a smart and far-sighted business decision. However, many employers are reluctant to enter this procedure due to fears of discrimination claims stemming from the nature of questions posed in the form. This apprehension could be a big roadblock to ttaking full advantage of the WOTC program.
Benefits of Outsourcing WOTC and Capturing Savings with Form 8850
In the current complex and unpredictable marketplace, every responsible employer is looking for different ways to maximize profit and ensure savings wherever possible. The WOTC program is one of the clear-cut ways to enable tax credit savings and, while demonstrating corporate social responsibility, empower the individuals belonging to targeted groups by hiring them.
Form 8850 has a clear intent and design to streamline the procedure in compliance with the relevant legislation. The businesses not yet taking advantage of the WOTC program ultimately fail to secure available tax savings and lose out to competitors who do.
Misconceptions are what stand between an employer and these savings rather than real reasons to avoid it. Yet, understanding Form 8850, as well as the safeguards built into it, allow employers a successful implementation of the available WOTC credits without any fear of possible discrimination against employees.
It is undeniable that there are challenges to this process, which may seem overwhelming and take up valuable time and resources. However, an effective electronic WOTC platform is an obvious solution – enabling employers to capture available tax credits while remaining compliant. In addition to helping applicants complete WOTC forms quickly and correctly, employers can stay compliant with the necessary requirements, eliminate errors and meet WOTC screening deadlines. Through this transition, they streamline the procedure, reduce its length and secure another best practice in business, reaping the benefits along the way. Automate WOTC management to simplify the process, ensure compliant pre-screening, streamline the forms necessary for certification and identify more eligible applicants resulting in efficient capture of available tax credits.