Can the R&D Tax Credit Offset the AMT?

R&D Tax Credit

small business


Deborah Roth, CPA
July 27, 2023

The R&D tax credit can offer significant benefits to businesses engaged in qualified research activities. However, before the enactment of the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015, certain limitations, particularly the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) restrictions, hindered businesses from fully utilizing the credit. Here we will delve into how the PATH Act has addressed AMT limitations and allows businesses to offset their AMT liability with the R&D tax credit.

Eligibility of Business Types

The R&D tax credit is available to a wide range of business types, including non-publicly traded corporations, partnerships, and sole proprietorships across various industries. Some of the most common industries engaged in qualified R&D activities are:

AMT Limitations and PATH Act

Before PATH Act, AMT limitations prevented qualified companies from fully utilizing the R&D tax credit, leading to excess credits being carried forward. However, the PATH Act brought changes that allow small businesses to offset their AMT using the R&D tax credit for tax years beginning after December 31, 2015. Despite this improvement, certain restrictions like the 25/25 rule, limiting taxpayers with over $25,000 in regular tax liability to offset only up to 75% of their tax liability using the credit, still apply. Additionally, carryforwards before 2016 are also subject to AMT limitations.

  • Technology and Software
  • Manufacturing
  • Engineering
  • Life Sciences

Qualified Research Activities and Expenses

To determine eligibility for the R&D tax credit, businesses must meet the IRS-defined four-part test for qualified research activities:

  • The activity must aim to develop or improve the functionality, quality, reliability, or performance of a product, process, software, technique, formula, or invention.
  • The development must have a technological nature.
  • There should be technological uncertainty regarding the capability, method, or appropriate design at the outset.
  • A process of experimentation must be used to overcome the technical uncertainty.

Many activities can qualify for the R&D tax credit, and these are often the very activities that drive growth within a business:

  • Creating improved products, processes, formulas, software, and techniques.
  • Automating or enhancing internal manufacturing processes.
  • Designing tools, jigs, fixtures, and molds.
  • Integrating new equipment and technologies.
  • Developing data centers, big data, and data mining tools.
  • Integrating APIs and other technologies.
  • Creating financial or pricing models.
  • Engaging outside consultants for relevant activities.
  • Manufacturing new or improved products.
  • Developing prototypes and models.
  • Evaluating alternative materials.
  • Developing firmware and optimizing network hardware and software.
  • Creating simulators and risk management systems.

Understanding the qualification rules is crucial for claiming the R&D tax credit. This is often addressed during a feasibility analysis, where R&D activities and related qualified research expenses (QREs) are identified at a high level. This information aids in estimating federal and state R&D tax credits. Proper education on qualified activities and QREs ensures a more accurate benefit estimate.

Qualified expenses for research activities typically include employee compensation, materials, and contracted services. Adequate documentation, such as payroll records, financial records showing supply or contract research expenses, and vendor invoices, is essential to support these expenses.

Are Small Businesses Eligible for Offsetting the AMT with the R&D Tax Credit?

Many small businesses have been wondering whether they are eligible to offset the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) with the Research and Development (R&D) tax credit. The good news is that under certain conditions, small businesses can indeed take advantage of this tax credit.

To be eligible for offsetting the AMT with the R&D tax credit, a small business must meet the following criteria:

  • Business Type: The business must be a non-publicly traded corporation, partnership, or sole proprietorship.
  • Gross Receipts: The business should have an average of $50 million or less in gross receipts over the previous three years.
  • Qualified Research: The business must have conducted qualified research, as defined under IRC Sec. 41.

The R&D tax credit can be a significant benefit for qualifying businesses. On average, companies can claim 7-10% of their qualified expenses as a federal R&D tax credit. For example, a small business with eligible expenses of $100,000 could potentially generate tax savings of up to $10,000.

Let's explore a case study of a successful claim for the R&D tax credit by a company in the plastics and injection molding industry:

This particular company specializes in industrial plastics and has a history of innovating new applications for its products. They offer a range of services, including urethane casting, thermoforming, machining, and plastic injection molding, and continuously seek to expand their offerings into new industries and applications

The company's R&D journey usually begins with customer requests. They hold meetings with customers to identify the product's design, specifications, performance requirements, and desired functionality. Often, heads of various departments, including CNC, Fabrication, Injection Molding, Casting, design engineers, and operations managers, get involved to perform in-depth preliminary engineering calculations for more challenging projects.

Even if customers provide prototypes of their products, the company prefers to perform a detailed design for manufacturability review. In many cases, they need to redesign the customer-provided design drawings and prototypes to ensure large-scale manufacturability. This process often involves developing and fabricating molds, casts, or custom tooling necessary for production.

The company conducts preliminary engineering analyses to determine the best production method, whether it should be injection molding, fabrication, or molding with urethane. They experiment with molds and casts to ensure consistent flow and cure rates, leading to a repeatable manufacturing process. Design engineers create CAD/CAM design documents, which form the basis for developing CNC programming. Additionally, custom tooling and fixtures are developed to support the production process.

Prototypes are produced for validation once the part and process designs are complete. This validation process involves multiple trials to meet quality, regulatory, and performance standards. The iterative nature of this development process requires numerous adjustments and refinements.

Following the finalization of the process, the company produces the first articles and performs validation to ensure the part and production process work correctly. This stage also qualifies as an R&D activity. The team goes through an iterative optimization process, performing trial runs, analyzing samples, and further refining the process multiple times until they achieve a product that meets their customer's specifications. Once the product meets the required standards, the company scales up production while ensuring the quality of the final product.

Let's explore a case study of a successful claim for the R&D tax credit by a company in the plastics and injection molding industry:

With the complexity of its production process and substantial investments in technology and man-hours, this company greatly benefits from the R&D tax credit. Their qualified research expenditures exceed $1.4 million annually, resulting in an R&D Tax Credit of over $105,000.

In conclusion, the PATH Act has enabled businesses to offset their AMT liability with the R&D tax credit, offering valuable incentives for engaging in qualified research activities and fostering innovation across various industries.

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