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Most Software Development Qualifies for R&D Tax Credits

I spend a lot of time speaking to founders and entrepreneurs about Research and Development (“R&D”) Tax Credits (IRC § 41). While these folks are exceptionally talented technologists and business operators, most have never heard of this tax credit  or have wrongly assumed that they did not qualify and/or could not use the credits, putting them at a disadvantage. Often, the misconception is further compounded by their receipt of incomplete, or partially inaccurate, advice from other business professionals. 

The truth is that most software development (there are some exceptions) qualifies for R&D tax credits. Below are a few checklists to help you understand what types of activities can qualify for R&D tax credits from both federal and state governments. Understanding and identifying which initiatives and related expenses are considered “Qualified Research Expenses”, or QREs, is the first step towards claiming your credit. 

When it comes to qualified activities and tasks for research and development purposes, the following activities are approved for the R&D tax credit:

Software Development

  • Improving an existing software; for commercialization or internal use
  • Programming and testing source code
  • Developing feature enhancements
  • Creating new or specialized technologies
  • Improving performance and optimizing functionality
  • Creating, designing, and developing software architecture

Software Development Planning & Design

  • Discovering and analyzing the specific functional requirements
  • Attending meetings for technical purposes
  • Analyzing the function of new software end requirements
  • Prototyping - user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design
  • User research and user testing

Supervision & Testing

  • Technical project and product management
  • Executive guidance and oversight of R&D projects

Quality Assurance & Testing

  • Conducting unit, integration, functional, or regression testing
  • Conducting performance or load testing
  • End-to-end application testing and user acceptance testing (UAT)

For start-ups to be eligible to apply R&D tax credits against payroll tax liabilities (FICA), your company must also:

  • Have less than $5 million in gross receipts for the current tax year
  • Have no more than five years of gross receipts

If you do not qualify under these two stipulations, the credits can still be used against federal, and potentially, state income tax liabilities.

Records and Documentation Necessary to Sustain Your Claim:

  • Payroll records
  • General ledger expense details
  • Project lists
  • Project notes/tasks
  • Software commit logs
  • Email records
  • Build/release notes 
  • Patent filings and issued patents
  • Employee interviews/testimony 
  • Organizational charts
  • Documented project uncertainties
  • Methods and alternatives researched
  • Records of testing performed and errors encountered

 What Does Not Qualify for R&D Tax Credits?

Although a majority of software developers' time is considered to be qualified, per the IRS, there are still some activities and tasks that do not qualify for R&D tax credits. Below is a list of those activities: 

  • Social sciences, arts, or humanities
  • Surveys or market studies
  • Any activities conducted outside the United States
  • Research funded by another person or entity
  • Routine maintenance and support (bug fixes)
  • Configuration of software and/or use of turn-key solutions (e.g. deploying a licensed content management system (CMS) or ecommerce platform)

‍With an experienced team like the one at Strike Tax, your company will have the expertise required to support the intricate requirements needed for IRS approval of R&D tax credit claims. We make the process of claiming R&D credits as simple as possible and provide unlimited audit support if the claims are ever challenged. Contact us today to get a clear understanding of where you stand and how to get the most out of this game-changing tax credit.

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