Jonathan Tretter, CPA
Cash is king in the early days of a new company, and you may be able to use federal R&D credits to generate much needed cash during the initial years of your new company.
R&D and the QSB Election
The R&D credit, which rewards companies for increasing research expenditures, was permanently extended by the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015. In addition, for tax years beginning after December 31, 2015, the PATH Act allows qualified small businesses (QSBs) to elect to offset the employer portion of Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) payroll taxes with R&D credits.
A QSB is a corporation, including an S corporation or partnership that has gross receipts of less than $5 million for the current tax year and did not have gross receipts in any tax year preceding the five-tax-year period that ends with the current tax year.
Start-up companies generally incur losses during the initial years of operations and are unable to use R&D credits. The QSB election allows start-up companies to use R&D credits that might otherwise go unused or are not claimed. In addition, claiming R&D credits in the initial years of operations can generate larger tax credits in future years when research expenditures increase and profits grow.
The QSB election must be made on a timely filed tax return, including extensions, and can be made for up to five tax years. A QSB can elect to apply up to $250,000 of current year federal R&D credits against their employer portion of FICA payroll tax liability beginning with the calendar quarter following the date on which the tax return is filed. Any excess elected amount exceeding the employer portion of FICA payroll tax liability is carried forward to the next calendar quarter. A QSB must also file IRS Form 8974 with Form 941each quarter.
For example, let’s say your new company is a QSB and has R&D expenditures of $25,000 per year for the first five years of operations. As a result, your new company generates $2,500 of R&D credits each year. By making the election to apply R&D credits against the employer portion of FICA payroll tax, your company enjoys $12,500 of cash savings.
Do You Qualify?
Basic questions to determine whether your company is eligible to claim R&D credits include:
- Do you have payrolled employees?
- Are you developing a new products or processes? What’s in the pipeline?
- Do you have wages associated with that development? Who’s doing the R&D?
- Do you retain rights to what you developed? To qualify, you don’t need to hold exclusive rights, just significant ones. For instance, can you take what you’re developed and apply it to your next project without anyone’s legal permission?