R&D Tax Credits: What You Need to Know

Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credits are a powerful tool for businesses looking to innovate and grow. These tax incentives have some big benefits, helping companies offset the costs of game-changing research and development activities.

In this article, we’ll explore the essentials of R and D Tax Credits, including eligibility criteria, benefits, common misconceptions, and the process for claiming these credits. We’ll also delve into the four-part test for qualifying activities and offer guidance on necessary documentation and potential IRS audits.

Understanding the R&D Tax Credit

The R&D Tax Credit, established in 1981,encourages American businesses to invest in innovation. This credit provides a tax incentive for companies who focus on research and development activities, enabling them to reduce their tax liabilities and reinvest in their operations. This credit applies to both federal and state levels, which can save your company tens of thousands of dollars come tax season.

R&D Tax Credits

Benefits of R&D Tax Credits

The benefits of R and D Tax Credits go beyond the financial relief. By reducing tax liabilities, these credits can help you reinvest in further innovation, hire additional staff, and enhance your competitive edge.

How Hard Is It To Qualify for the R&D Tax Credit?

Contrary to popular belief, R&D Tax Credits aren’t just for high-tech or large companies. Businesses in many other industries, including manufacturing, agriculture, and software development, can qualify.

The New Law for the R&D Tax Credit

Recent updates to the R&D Tax Credit, introduced by the PATH Act of 2015, expanded both its benefits and accessibility. Key changes from the PATH Act include:

  1. Payroll Tax Offset for Startups: Startups with less than $5 million in gross receipts can offset up to $250,000 in payroll taxes every year.
  2. Alternative Simplified Credit (ASC): Businesses can claim a credit of up to 14% of their qualified research expenses, simplifying the process for companies without much history.
  3. Expanded Eligibility: More small to mid-sized businesses across various industries can now qualify for the credit as well.

The Four-Part Test for Qualifying Activities

To qualify for the R&D Tax Credit, you need to engage in activities that meet specific criteria. The IRS calls this criteria the Four-Part Test for Qualifying Activities. To meet the standards, you’ll need to develop or improve products, processes, techniques, formulas, inventions, or software.

The eligibility criteria are:

  1. Qualified Research Expenses (QREs): These include wages paid to employees involved in R&D, costs of supplies used in R&D activities, and expenses related to contract research.
  2. Permitted Purpose: Your aim in R&D should be to create a new or improved product or process that enhances performance, functionality, reliability, or quality.
  3. Technical Uncertainty: Your R&D activities must involve an element of uncertainty and  — you can’t know the outcome of your work.
  4. Process of Experimentation: The research that you conduct needs to involve experimentation, including testing and evaluation of different options.
Tax Credit

How To Claim the R&D Tax Credit

Claiming the R&D Tax Credit starts with identifying qualifying activities and expenses, documenting your research process, and filing the appropriate tax forms. If you’re not sure where to start or wonder what your qualifying projects might be, make sure to partner with finance specialists like the TGG Accounting team.

Necessary Documentation and IRS Scrutiny

The IRS requires businesses to provide detailed records that demonstrate the eligibility of their research activities. This documentation should include:

  • Project Descriptions: Detailed descriptions of each R&D project, including objectives, technical challenges, and experimental processes.
  • Time Tracking: Records of employee time spent on qualifying R&D activities.
  • Financial Records: Documentation of expenses related to wages, supplies, and contract research.
  • Experimentation Records: Evidence of the process of experimentation, such as test results, prototypes, and technical notes.

Be prepared to go under the IRS’s microscope. By maintaining comprehensive records and working with experienced tax professionals, you can confidently navigate any audits or inquiries.

Partner with TGG Accounting for Success

We’re here to help you get the biggest possible tax breaks for your research and development work. Our team of experienced professionals specializes in maximizing your R&D Tax Credit benefits while locking in full compliance with IRS regulations.

We offer comprehensive services, from identifying qualifying activities to careful documentation and filing, giving you all the expertise and support you need to get the most out of the credit. Contact TGG Accounting today to schedule a consultation and discover how we can help your business take full advantage every tax credit available to you.

FAQs About R&D Tax Credits



Qualified research expenses (QREs) include wages paid to employees directly involved in R&D activities, the costs of supplies used in the research process, and expenses for contract research conducted by third parties. Make sure you accurately track and document these expenses to meet IRS requirements.


Small businesses and startups can save thousands of dollars thanks to the R&D Tax Credit. The PATH Act of 2015 introduced provisions that allow startups with less than $5 million in gross receipts to offset up to $250,000 in payroll taxes annually, making the credit more accessible to new and growing companies.

Software development activities often qualify for the R&D Tax Credit, provided they meet the eligibility criteria. This criteria includes developing new software, improving existing software, and overcoming technical uncertainties during the development process. Both internal and external software development projects often qualify for the credit.

Businesses usually claim R&D Tax Credits for the current tax year and amend their tax returns to claim credits for the previous three tax years. This approach provides an opportunity to retroactively benefit from R&D activities in prior years. Make sure you talk with a tax professional to accurately determine the eligible periods for your business.

If your business gets audited by the IRS, having thorough and well-organized documentation can save you from serious trouble. Detailed records of your R&D projects, expenses, and the process of experimentation will help you navigate the audit. Working with experienced tax professionals can also offer backup and support during an audit.

Start by assessing whether your activities meet the four-part test criteria: permitted purpose, technical uncertainty, process of experimentation, and technological in nature. Consulting with R&D tax credit specialists can help you accurately identify and document qualifying activities if you’re not sure where certain projects fall.