How to Apply for a R&D Tax Credit?

A quick guide for startups to determine if you qualify for a R&D Tax Credit, and how to apply!

If you’re hoping to apply for a research and development payroll tax credit, the process can be a little daunting. That’s why the tax experts at Graphite wrote the guide below… an overview of the ins-and-outs of the IRS R&D tax credit.


Before you apply, make sure you qualify!

In general, an Internal Revenue Service tax credit is a source of cash, a dollar-for-dollar tax savings, a way to offset future federal and state tax liabilities, and, in certain circumstances, payroll tax liability.

An R&D tax credit, specifically, is only available to companies that are developing new or improved business components or projects that result in new or improved functionality, performance, reliability, or quality. This can include products, processes, computer software, techniques, formulas, or inventions. 

You can use the IRS R&D tax credit in one of two ways:

  • To reduce your company’s income tax liability. If the federal R&D tax credit cannot be used immediately or completely or if your company does not have a tax liability, then any unused credit can be carried back one year or carried forward for up to 20 years.
  • Alternatively, start-up companies and qualified small businesses may be eligible to apply up to $1.25 million—or $500,000 each year for up to five years—of the federal R&D credit to offset their employer paid portion of FICA portion of their payroll taxes each year (i.e., Qualified Small Business Payroll Tax Credit for Increasing Research Activities).

To be eligible for the qualified small business payroll tax credit for R&D, your company must meet two requirements:

  1. Have less than $5 million in gross receipts for the year in which you are claiming the credit.


  2. No gross receipts in any tax year preceding the five-tax-year period that ends with the tax year of the election (For example, for the 2022 tax year, no gross receipts prior to 2018).

If you do not qualify for the Payroll Tax Credit, you may still be eligible to offset your federal income tax liability (approximately 40 states provide incentives for the R&D tax credit) for R&D or carry it forward up to 20 years, but only if you owe no income tax for the year.

You can use our simple R&D tax credit calculator to estimate your company’s tax credit!

    Use our simple R&D tax credit calculator to estimate your company’s tax credit

    If you qualify, get your documents in order!

    Before you can apply, your company and your research and development processes must pass this four-part test:

    1. Qualified Purpose. The purpose of the R&D activity is to improve the functionality, performance, reliability, or quality of a product, process, software, technique, invention, or formula that is intended to be used by your business or held for sale, lease, or license (component).


    2. Technological Uncertainty. Your company encounters uncertainty regarding whether it can or how it should develop the component, or regarding the component’s appropriate design.


    3. Process of Experimentation. To eliminate the uncertainty, you evaluated alternatives through modeling, simulation, systematic trial and error, or other methods.


    4. Technological in Nature. The success or failure of the evaluative process is determined by the principles of engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, or similar natural or “hard” science, as opposed to principles of, e.g., economics, social sciences generally.

    The IRS, of course, requires contemporaneous documentation to be submitted to back up your R&D tax credit claim. Need help doing your R&D tax credit analysis and filing for your credit? Shameless plug: Reach out to Graphite! We only charge you if we actually get you a credit.

    To establish exactly how much was spent on qualified research activities, we highly recommend that you rigorously document any activities you wish to claim toward research. The burden of proof lies with the taxpayer—that’s you! —so, as a result, we suggest you keep documents such as:

    • Payroll records for employees involved in R&D.
    • Expenses, receipts and accounts for supplies and equipment related to R&D.
    • Contracts and invoices paid to any third-party partners involved in R&D.
    • Blueprints, patents, designs, drawings, and prototypes related to research.
    • Project and meeting notes related to research. 

    If you need a little help organizing and managing all this documentation, our tax experts at Graphite are here to help. We’re ready to assist you in finding and documenting qualified R&D expenses like:

    1. Taxable wages for employees who perform or directly supervise or support qualified activities.

    2. Cost of supplies used in qualified activities, including extraordinary utilities, excluding capital items or general administrative supplies.

    3. 65% of contract research expenses for qualified activities, provided the taxpayer retain substantial rights to the activity’s results and must pay the contractor whether it succeeds or fails.

    4. Rental or lease costs of computers used in qualified activities, e.g., payments to cloud service providers (CSPs) for the cost of renting server space to develop or improve a component.

    Time to claim your R&D tax credit!

    When tax time rolls around, make sure you’re ready to apply and claim your R&D credit. Work with your accountant to ensure you have the proper R&D documentation before filing. And if you don’t have an accountant, Graphite can help you out with any startup accounting needs.

    Take the first step in getting the R&D tax credit for your company. Get started with our R&D tax credit calculator and determine if your company qualifies for a credit.

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    Born out of a VC fund, Graphite fully understands the strategic and financial needs of high growth companies. If you need accounting support or simply have a question about accounting at your company, feel free to connect with us!

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