Joe Burwick, CPA
Did your company develop any new products for the year? Make significant enhancements to products or processes? If you’re in financial management in any way in your company, you owe it to yourself and your firm to investigate if you qualify for the Research & Development (R&D) Tax Credit.
If you rely on the hard sciences or use technology in your business to create or improve products or processes, you might be able to reduce your federal taxes by a portion of the related costs incurred.
Investigating your eligibility for the credit includes an initial meeting with an R&D credit expert. What should you prepare for your initial meeting? Expect to be able to provide the following:
Access to Key Personnel Who Were or Are Involved in the R&D Activities
This might be one person or multiple individuals depending on your company size. In bigger companies, a team approach can often foster a better discussion, bringing ideas together and identifying other areas where one or more individuals in the company might be engaged in R&D activities.
Your key personnel must be available for meetings and interviews, and should also be able to identify who performed R&D-type work during the year and be able to assist in quantifying their time spent in this work. The identification should include both internal resources (employees) and external resources (outside contractors).
We have had great success with three to five attendees in these meetings with our clients, often one person from finance and others from the R&D activities.
Internal Documentation Concerning Your R&D Activities
Any contemporaneous documentation that monitors the activities qualifying as research activities will help to support the claim for the R&D credit. The more you can share the better—it’s less documentation that we the consultants have to do, and it will reduce the time R&D personnel spend with us on interviews and in other meetings. Examples might include blueprints or marketing materials, project write ups, status reports, modifications, etc. Detail highlighting unique features of your R&D is also generally very helpful. A product catalog with only pictures won’t be sufficient enough to stand on its own.
We understand that you probably won’t have all of this information at the initial meeting, but the more you have the better. As the R&D study progresses, we will work with company personnel to complete the information.
Your documentation should include financial information. Wages (box 1 of Form W-2) is usually the most important part of your potential R&D credit financial information. This includes wages paid to employees directly involved in R&D and employees in direct supervision or support of R&D.
Recording of your R&D activities to separate accounts is helpful. For example, bifurcating R&D material and supplies (property eligible for depreciation is excluded) and non-R&D materials and supplies saves time and effort at year’s end when calculating the credit.
The same point holds true regarding separate accounts for outside contractors for work in any of the four parts. In addition, copies of contracts with outside contractors showing who retains rights is important. As this can be a significant expenditure for many companies, copies of your larger contracts also help at initial meetings.
If you use a job-time tracking system, codes to signify R&D work vs. non-R&D work will assist in determining the project list and qualifying costs at the end of the year. If you don’t use a job-coding system, each eligible employee should keep a list of projects that may qualify for the R&D credit. (Some companies keep a simple Word document to track monthly R&D-related financials.)
If you find you need to retrofit your internal R&D documentation, you can begin to go back and build the records with a list of projects that your teams worked on that you believe are R&D. You will also need a list of employees in R&D with reasonable estimates of how much time they spent on the R&D projects, along with any other materials or outside contractor costs.
After our initial meeting all parties should practice timely follow up to questions, within a week generally. There must also be full disclosure of activities, especially work performed within the U.S. versus outside of the U.S. Only the former can qualify for the R&D credit.
Talk to our experts about your business' potential to claim the R&D credit today.