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Revealing the Benefits of R&D Tax Credits: An Extensive Overview


Introduction to R&D Tax Credits

In the realm of tax reform, one avenue stands out for businesses seeking substantial reductions in income tax liabilities—the Research and Development (R&D) tax credit. This tax credit claim remains a dependable tool that can save companies significant sums of money, often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, various misconceptions about its scope and eligibility criteria prevent many companies from fully capitalizing on its benefits.

What Exactly is the R&D Tax Credit?

The R&D tax credit serves as a dynamic solution for companies actively refining or creating business components. These components encompass a wide spectrum, including products, processes, computer software, techniques, formulas, and inventions. The tax credit continues and rewards ventures that yield enhanced functionality, performance, reliability, or quality in these components. This credit operates at both federal and state levels, with more than 30 states offering similar credits to offset state tax responsibilities.

Invention Tax credit

Understanding Eligibility for the R&D Tax Credit

A prevailing myth among businesses is that the R&D tax credit exclusively applies to industries with advanced technology or dedicated research departments. However, the development tax credit amount’s eligibility criteria extend far beyond this realm, covering a range of activities and operations beyond just product development. This incorporates initiatives involving new manufacturing processes, software and development activities, and quality enhancements. Startups can also tap into this credit, applying it to offset payroll tax for up to five years if certain conditions are met.

Quantifying the Impact of the R&D Tax Credit

The R&D tax credit directly translates into tax savings on a one-to-one basis, thereby further economic growth and reducing state tax liability and a company’s tax liabilities. Notably, there’s no upper limit on the expenses or credit that can be claimed each year. Unutilized credits can be carried forward for up to 20 years or carried back one year to offset taxes. State credits also adhere to their own carryover rules.

Generally, the R&D credit can cover up to 10% of annual R&D costs at the federal level, and when state credits are factored in, the benefit is even more substantial. This tax credit work serves as an infusion of extra capital, providing significant financial relief to businesses.

Dispelling Common Myths

Despite the company’s tax liability and its clear advantages, various common misconceptions may deter companies from pursuing the R&D tax credit:

1. Federal Income Tax Payment: Startups and small businesses can apply for the federal R&D credit against their payroll taxes and federal taxable income, given they meet specific criteria.

2. Limited to Research and Development Companies: The credit isn’t confined to high-tech sectors; it encompasses R&D conducted in diverse environments.

3. Exclusive to Degree-Holding Engineers and Scientists: The credit acknowledges basic research and experimentation, irrespective of the personnel involved.

4. Reserved for Brand-New Ventures: The R&D credit supports improvements to existing products, processes existing business components, and software.

5. Subject to Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT): Recent changes have made the credit more accessible even to those subject to AMT.

Science Tax Credit

The Four-Part Test for R&D Eligibility

Qualifying for the R&D tax credit hinges on satisfying a four-part test derived from the Internal Revenue Code and Treasury Regulations:

1. Qualified Purpose: Research must aim to discover information to create or enhance a business component, improving its function, performance, reliability, or quality.

2. Elimination of Uncertainty: Research must aim to resolve uncertainty about development or enhancement.

3. Process of Experimentation: Companies must demonstrate evaluating alternative methods to attain desired outcomes.

4. Technological in Nature: Experimentation must rely on the hard sciences, like engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, or computer science.

Navigating R&D Tax Credit Claiming

Companies can claim the R&D tax credit by filing Form 6765 alongside their business’ tax return elsewhere. Startups can even opt to apply up to $250,000 of the credit against their payroll taxes for their first five years. For cases where a company lacks taxable income or faces limitations on credit usage, the federal credit can be carried forward against tax liability or applied against federal payroll taxes under recently expanded rules. State credits also observe specific carryforward provisions.

R&D tax credit

Documenting the R&D Tax Credit

Effective documentation is vital for both current tax year and prior tax years when seeking R&D tax credits. Keeping contemporaneous records helps establish the amount of qualified research expenses. These records encompass payroll details, general ledger expense specifics gross receipts, project lists, lab outcomes, and pertinent communications.

Avoiding IRS Scrutiny and Ensuring Proper Reporting

Accurate calculation and documentation of qualified research expenditures and activities are vital to evade heightened IRS scrutiny and disqualification of claimed credits. The Siemer Milling Company case underscores the significance of proper reporting and documentation. The company’s failure to offer sufficient evidence resulted in the disqualification of claimed credits from tax returns.

Navigating Tax Reform's Impact on the R&D Credit

Tax reform brought several changes to the R&D tax subsidy and credit:

1. Impact of Decreased Tax Rates: The credit’s value increased due to tax incentives due to the reduced maximum corporate tax rate.

2. Retention of Eligible Small Business Credits: The provision permitting small businesses to do qualified research activity using existing business component of the R&D credit to offset AMT was retained.

3. Retaining Qualified Small Business Payroll Credits: Startups and new businesses can still opt to offset payroll taxes with R&D credits.

4. Enhanced Usability for Individual Taxpayers: The removal of AMT exemptions for individual taxpayers enhances R&D credit usability.


The R&D tax credit stands as a potent tool for businesses to alleviate tax liabilities while fostering innovation and progress. By dispelling misconceptions, grasping eligibility criteria, adhering to documentation requirements, and staying abreast of tax code reforms, companies can fully leverage the R&D tax credit and elevate their financial strategies. While the credit’s claiming process can be intricate, the potential advantages make it a rewarding endeavor for businesses committed to research and development.

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