The R&D tax credit was established in the early 1980s as an incentive to stimulate growth in the US economy. But due to the fact it was an income tax credit, it saw little use by pre-revenue startups. In late 2015, the government changed the rules about how companies could claim the R&D tax credit. Early-stage companies can now take advantage of this lucrative incentive, up to $250k per year, that traditionally only went to the big guys.
Still, many startups don’t understand they’re eligible to claim the R&D credit and continue to miss out on money they’ve already earned. At Clarus R+D, we talk to entrepreneurs every day, and we’ve heard it all. Here are the top reasons startups miss this non-dilutive funding opportunity.
1. It sounds too good to be true.
Entrepreneurs expect to work hard for funding, so they can initially be skeptical about this benefit they’ve already earned. The R&D tax credit is a legitimate government program that rewards investments in innovation.
2. I’m not earning any revenue, so I didn’t think I qualified for the R&D tax credit.
Companies don’t need revenue to claim the credit and don’t need to be paying income tax. The credit can be taken as a payroll tax offset, up to $250K per year, by qualified small businesses. You are considered a qualified small business if you have less than $5 million in revenue and are within five years of your first gross receipt.
3. I don’t have any employees so I didn’t think I could take the R&D tax credit.
Although wages are typically the biggest component of the credit calculation, contracted costs and supplies are also eligible. If you take the R&D credit as a payroll tax offset but have no payroll, the credit can be carried forward to the next quarterly return. The credit doesn’t expire and continues to be available until it can be fully used against payroll tax.
4. I’m not a qualified small business, so I didn’t think I could claim the R&D tax credit.
While only qualified startups can take the R&D credit against payroll tax, other companies can take it against income tax. This benefit can then be carried forward for a period of 20 years. Credits generated in net loss years can be recorded as Deferred Tax Assets, enhancing your balance sheet and making your company more attractive to potential acquirers.
5. I might not do R&D work.
Many different industries and products qualify for this credit where development activities pass a four-part test. Most technology startups, including software companies, qualify.
6. My work wasn’t incorporated into my end product, so I didn’t think it qualified.
The work does not need to be successful to qualify. If you spent time and money working in a certain direction then needed to change, that effort still qualifies.
7. I already filed my taxes, so I thought it was too late to claim the R&D credit.
The R&D tax credit must be submitted with your annual business tax return. Some companies can amend their returns to monetize it as an income tax credit—and can even consider performing a ‘look back’ (up to 3 years) to capture unclaimed tax credits.
8. I thought the cost of an R&D study wouldn’t be worth the benefit.
The concept of an R&D tax credit is simple. The government wants to reward you for investing in innovation. While the concept is simple, a traditional R&D tax study is notoriously complex. The challenge is getting it done right for a reasonable effort and cost. At Clarus R+D, our web-based application reduces the costs and complexities of claiming the R&D tax credit.
If you’ve never claimed the credit, it’s time to reconsider. Move past any skepticism or misconceptions and use this financial benefit as a meaningful way to fuel your company’s growth. Clarus R+D has deep expertise in helping startups with the R&D tax credit—ensuring compliance, simplifying the process, maximizing your benefit, partnering with your tax preparer, and integrating with your payroll provider for easy monetization.
About the Author:
Jeff Haskett is the Co-Founder and President of Clarus R+D. Clarus R+D helps innovative companies claim the R&D tax credits they’ve earned.