Don Warrant, CPA
Director | Tax Practice
R&D Tax Credit allowed to offset payroll taxes for qualifying small businesses and start-ups
It is estimated that more than 70% of eligible small businesses and start-up companies failed to claim start-up R&D tax credits and small business R&D tax credits to which they were entitled for the 2016 tax year resulting in overpayment of taxes. By failing to claim R&D tax credits to which they were entitled, they also failed to make a new election that was first available for the 2016 tax year, to apply the federal R&D tax credit against their federal payroll tax liability.
The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act (PATH Act) of 2015 created this new election allowing “qualified small businesses” to apply R&D tax credits generated beginning with the 2016 tax year, to their federal payroll tax liability instead of their federal income tax liability. Congress recognized that many small businesses and startups weren’t claiming R&D tax credits due to insufficient, or no federal income tax liability. However, most startups and small businesses have payroll tax liabilities. Therefore, the PATH Act created a new election that was first available for the 2016 tax year, to allow a qualified small business claiming the federal R&D tax credit, to elect to apply the credit against their federal payroll tax liability instead of their federal income tax liability.
Many eligible small businesses and startups failed to claim the federal R&D tax credit for the 2016 tax year. Therefore, they were unable to make this election. Fortunately, the IRS issued interim guidance in Notice 2017-23 allowing qualified small businesses to amend their 2016 tax returns by December 31, 2017, to claim the R&D tax credit which would then allow them to make this election.
To qualify to make this election, the following requirements must be met:
- Be a qualified small business which is a business entity (excluding tax-exempt organizations) whose gross receipts for the current taxable year are less than $5 million and who did not have gross receipts for more than five taxable years, ending with the current taxable year. Gross receipts must be aggregated with related persons and among members of a controlled group of corporations.
- Elect to apply R&D tax credits generated for the 2016 tax year against the employer’s portion of the social security tax. The election does not affect the payroll tax deduction amount. In the case of a pass-through entity, the election is made at the entity level.
The payroll tax credit is allowed for the first calendar quarter that begins after the filing date of the original or amended tax return that includes the election. The amount elected may not exceed the lesser of 1) the current year R&D tax credit generated, 2) $250,000, or 3) the amount of the R&D tax credit carryover or carryback to the taxable year. If the payroll tax credit exceeds the employer’s portion of social security tax for the calendar quarter, the excess is applied to succeeding calendar quarters.
Freed Maxick CPAs, P.C. is one of Western and Upstate New York’s largest public accounting firms and a Top 100 firm in the United States. The start-up R&D tax credit and small busines R&D tax credit experts at Freed Maxick can assist you to determine if your business is eligible for R&D tax credits, whether your business or its owners could benefit from claiming R&D tax credits, and eligibility for the payroll tax election. Please contact us for assistance.