Why You Might Want to Wait on an R&D Tax Credit Study… Even if You Pass the 4-part Test

By Joe Burwick, CPA on July 12, 2018
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Joe Burwick, CPA

Tax Principal

BlogBefore spending, consider these 2 additional R&D tax credit tests from the experts at Freed Maxick

New call-to-actionWe’ve written a lot about how the Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit delivers tax savings for businesses with qualifying activities. 

It’s important to know that claiming the Credit involves preparing a detailed study, documentation, and interactions with the IRS. Most firms engage a professional to help them claim the credit and consider the fees they pay as an investment. 

In our work helping businesses identify costs and calculate the credit, we’ve noticed that even though some businesses may have expenses that meet the 4-part test, they may still not benefit from the credit because of circumstances that limit its applicability. 

That’s why our R&D Tax Credit Team does a Situation Assessment prior to an engagement. That includes performing two initial additional “tests” complementing the 4-part test that can identify factors limiting your company’s ability to claim the credit. 

If the company does not pass these tests, we may recommend deferring activities pursuant to claiming the credit until a later date. These include: 

Additional Test 1: Do You Own the Risks and Rewards of the R&D Activity? 

If a business is hired to conduct qualified research activities by another business, the claim for the credit will generally flow to the business that bears the risk of failure and owns the rights to success. Businesses may be hired to develop a product or process by another company. These contracts often call for the researching business to receive a fixed fee for the work regardless of result and it transfers the rights to the results to the hiring business. 

Even though research costs might qualify for the credit, the company that hired the research business would be the one to claim it. 

The determining factor in a situation like this will be the contract between the two companies. If your company performs research on a contract basis for other businesses, it’s important to consider the value of the R&D tax credit when negotiating a contract. 

Your business might still end up in a better position if you are paid regardless of result, but understanding the value of the tax credit foregone can lead to more equitable pricing for both parties. 

Additional Test 2: Do You Owe Taxes? 

In addition to the ownership of risks and rewards, businesses sometimes find that they qualify for a credit but can’t claim it in the current year because they aren’t making money, and therefore have no tax liability.  For individuals, alternative minimum tax (AMT) limitations could prevent one from claiming credit, but recent tax changes significantly increased the AMT exemptions and therefore reduced the likelihood that AMT would limit credit on an individual taxpayer level. 

The R&D Tax Credit is not a refundable credit—it can reduce the balance of taxes that you owe, but if you don’t owe taxes it will not generate a refund. The PATH Act, passed in 2015, allows certain start-up businesses to apply the credit against payroll taxes owed, but if you don’t qualify for that break your business will have to carry the credit forward until a year in which it owes taxes. 

So, it may not make sense to invest in having an expert conduct an R&D study and prepare the documentation for claiming the credit.  However, at the time when you have taxable income, claiming the credit may be a prudent strategy … assuming the tax benefit you’ll receive is greater than the cost of the study that needs to be performed!  Regardless of when you do the study, you will want to maintain good internal documentation.  If you do multiple years of R&D credit claims together it is important to have good R&D tax credit documentation so you aren’t “recreating” records and reduce audit risk. 

Connect with a Freed Maxick R&D Tax Credit Expert

New call-to-actionThe important thing to remember is that a claim for the R&D Tax Credit requires careful planning. If you’re looking to hire research on a contract basis or to perform research for hire, your agreements should reflect an understanding of the value of the credit and who will have the right to claim it. 

If your business performs R&D activities but isn’t yet profitable enough to claim the credit now, you need to understand how soon you will get the value of those expenditures back on your tax return. 

These can be complicated issues, and it’s our recommendation that before pulling the trigger on a R&D Tax Credit Study, you look at applicability issues in detail. 

We can help. 

In a 30-minute phone call we can identify whether you’re eligible for the credit and if it makes sense to proceed with a claim. 

To discuss your situation contact us by clicking the button or call us at 716.847.2651.

For more insight, observations and guidance on the R&D Tax Credit, visit our Freed Maxick Guide to the Federal Research and Development Tax Credit webpage.


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