The Benefit of the Research & Development Tax Credit

Is your organization working to improve existing products, processes or software? Or are you developing new ones? The research and development (R&D) tax credit has the potential to benefit your organization by providing valuable tax savings.

Is the R&D Tax Credit right for you?

What is the research and development tax credit?
Business tax credits, like the R&D tax credit, are government incentives designed to encourage and reward certain types of behaviors. Tax credits often reduce your tax liability on a dollar-for-dollar basis and can be claimed in addition to the deduction for the expenses that generate the credit.

In the case of the research and development credit, the goal is to encourage and incentivize businesses to undertake research and development related activities, either through new or improved processes, products or software.
Research and development expenditures that qualify for the credit include:

  • Wages paid for technical, support or supervision personnel
  • Supply expenses for materials used in R&D activities
  • Outside contractor costs for third parties assisting with R&D activities

In addition to the federal R&D tax credit, many states also offer R&D tax incentives.

There are a number of industries who have seen substantial benefit from the R&D tax credit.

These include:


When did the research and development tax credit take effect?
The R&D tax credit was first enacted in 1981. The permanent extension of the R&D tax credit was effective as of Jan. 1, 2015.

How do you qualify for the research and development tax credit?
At a high level, in order to qualify for the R&D tax credit, you must be trying to develop something new or improved, where some kind of technical design uncertainty exists, and where an iterative process of design and testing is in place to evaluate different design alternatives. Activities related to product development / improvement, manufacturing process development / improvement, or software development / enhancement typically meet the qualification criteria for the credit.

Examples of qualifying activities include:

  • Development of new, improved or more reliable products, processes or techniques
  • Development of prototypes or models
  • Design of tools, jigs, molds, fixtures or dies
  • Development of customization of software
  • Automation and/or streamlining of internal processes

In order to qualify, businesses must pass a four-part test:

  1. Permitted purpose. Develop a new or improve an existing, product, process or software.
  2. Eliminate uncertainty. Discover information to eliminate uncertainty concerning capability, methodology, or appropriateness of design.
  3. Process of experimentation. Substantially all the activity constitutes a process of experimentation.
  4. Technological in nature. Discover information that fundamentally relies on principles of hard sciences.

Learn more about the four-part test to determine your R&D tax credit qualifications.

Do small businesses qualify for the research and development tax credit?
The tax credit was made permanent as part of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015. Prior to this legislation, the research and development tax credit could only be used to offset regular tax. This rule limited many small to mid-sized businesses in their ability to use the credit if they were subject to alternative minimum tax (AMT). This is especially true for many owners of pass-through entities.

With the permanency of the R&D tax credit came an enhancement that specifically benefited small businesses. “Eligible small businesses” may now claim the R&D tax credit against AMT liability. An eligible small business is defined as a business with less than $50 million in average gross receipts (i.e. revenues) for three preceding years.

Research & development tax credits can be of great benefit to your organization.
Research and development tax credits can also benefit "Qualified Small Businesses." A Qualified Small Business, defined as a business with less than $5 million in annual gross receipts and having gross receipts for no more than five years, can use the R&D tax credit to offset the FICA employer portion of payroll tax. The amount of credit that can be used to offset payroll tax is capped at $250,000 for each eligible year. The credit will be available to offset the FICA employer portion of payroll tax for the first calendar quarter beginning after the date on which the Qualified Small Business files its income tax or information return for the taxable year.

How do I apply for the research and development tax credit?
There is no formal “application” for the federal R&D tax credit; the credit is simply claimed by filing a form on your original or amended return to claim the credit.

The R&D tax credit has various rules and criteria that need to be met to qualify for the credit. For example, the definition of a “qualified activity” includes a set of criteria outlined in the tax code that must be met in order for the associated costs to be eligible for the credit. The R&D credit also involves a number of computation rules that must be followed to properly compute and claim the credits.

When to consider the research and development tax credit
The R&D tax credit offers opportunity to receive cost-saving benefits to organizations trying to improve their existing products and services, as well as create new ones. There’s a potential your organization could qualify.

Find out if the R&D Tax Credit is right for you with our R&D Tax Calculator.

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