Understanding Qualified Research Expenses for the U.S. R&D Tax Credit


July 19, 2023


Research and development are excellent ways to stay ahead of the competition and spur innovation in your business. But did you know that the US government provides tax incentives to businesses that undertake qualifying R&D activities? The R&D Tax Credit is an attractive incentive that encourages businesses of all sizes to conduct R&D activities in the United States by cutting their federal and state taxes. One key aspect of the R&D Tax Credit is the Qualified Research Expenses (QREs). In this blog, we’ll discuss what QREs are, how they’re calculated, and how they affect your business.

What are Qualified Research Expenses (QREs)?

Qualified research expenses refer to the incremental costs that businesses incur when they engage in qualifying research activities. These expenses must meet four criteria: they must be directly connected to qualified research activities (QRAs), be necessary for the QRA, be reasonable and consistent, and be properly documented. QREs include wages for employees involved in the R&D project, supplies, equipment, and consulting fees paid to third-party contractors.

How are QREs calculated?

Calculating QREs can be challenging, and it's essential to be thorough to maximize the tax benefits available. There are two ways to calculate QREs: the traditional method and the simplified credit method. The traditional method requires a more in-depth analysis and breaks down expenses into eight categories. These categories include wages, supply expenses, contract research expenses, and overhead expenses. In contrast, the simplified credit method covers wages and supplies, making it easier to calculate QREs.

What activities qualify as QRAs?

QRAs are activities that involve developing new or improving existing products, processes, techniques, formulas, prototypes, software, or invention patents. The activities should aim to discover new information because they rely on scientific experimentation or involve technologies in engineering and physical, biological, or computer sciences. To claim the R&D Tax Credit, your QRAs must also meet four criteria. They must meet the business component test, the process of experimentation test, the technological uncertainty test, and the permitted exclusion test.

How do QREs affect your business?

QREs play a crucial role in determining the value of your R&D Tax Credit. The tax credit is calculated by multiplying the eligible expenses by the credit rate. The credit rate is determined by the type of research conducted and its location. Federal law provides a base credit of 20% of eligible QREs, while some states offer additional credits. Depending on the state, the credit can range from 1% to 24% of QREs. Therefore, the higher your QREs, the more valuable the credit. The R&D Tax Credit can be used to offset federal and state income taxes and also be carried forward up to 20 years.

In conclusion, qualified research expenses are essential components that determine the R&D Tax Credit's value. By understanding QREs and following the proper procedures, your business can take advantage of the R&D Tax Credit, which can provide significant tax savings. It's essential to note that working with tax experts can be an excellent way to ensure that your R&D activities meet the necessary requirements and reduce tax risks. At the end of the day, small businesses that innovate and invest in research and development will be better positioned to succeed in the long term.