Don Warrant, CPA
Director | Tax Practice
IRS proposed regs indicate that more costs may qualify for the credit than many people realized.
Rules proposed by the IRS suggest that costs a business incurs to develop software for internal use might be more likely to qualify for the Research and Development Credit than many taxpayers had previously understood. Internal use software (IUS) has always been held to a higher standard when it comes to qualifying for the R&D credit. The IRS guidance clearly suggests some software development costs that were previously thought to be IUS were in fact likely to be exempt, and it eases some requirements on software that is IUS when it comes to qualifying for the credit.
The new rules don’t change the four criteria that qualify an activity for the R&D credit:
- It must be intended to discover information that would eliminate uncertainty concerning the development, improvement, or design of a product or business component.
- It must be undertaken to discover information that is technological in nature.
- The intended result must be useful in the development of a new or improved business component.
- Substantially all of the activities must relate to a process of experimentation.
Once an activity meets these criteria, the business needs to determine if the activity relates to IUS. If it does, it must meet three additional criteria to qualify for the credit:
- The activity must involve significant economic risk.
- It must meet a high threshold of innovation.
- No comparable third-party software is available for purchase.
Non-Internal Use Software
On one hand, the new rules clarify that some types of internally developed software are not IUS. Software that is developed to interact with third parties or to enable third parties to initiate functions or review data on a business’ systems likely no longer need to meet the additional criteria to qualify for the R&D credit. Examples of software that no longer needs to meet the three-part IUS test include bank transaction software, delivery tracking sites, and programs that allow a customer to search a business’ inventory.
Lowering the Bar for IUS
On the other hand, the IRS made it easier to comply with the three criteria that IUS must meet in order to qualify for the credit. The new rules allow that IUS meets the innovation test if the development “is or would have been successful,” a significant relaxation on the previous requirement that the development must be successful in order to meet the innovation standard.
On the whole, these new rules represent a significant easing of requirements on businesses that would like to claim the R&D credit for software that they develop themselves or pay outside contractors to develop. If your business incurs costs for software development, this is a great time to take a closer look at those costs in light of the new rules to find out if you may be eligible for additional credits.