Maximize Your Savings with R&D Payroll Tax Credit Election in 2023

8 Minute Read
Posted by Randy Eickhoff on Sep 8, 2023 12:00:00 PM

The R&D Payroll Tax Credit election is a powerful tool that can help small businesses grow and innovate by offsetting their payroll tax liability. Are you aware of the potential benefits and eligibility criteria for this tax credit? Do you know how the Inflation Reduction Act has impacted it? Dive into this comprehensive guide to learn how your business can maximize savings with the R&D Payroll Tax Credit in 2023.

Short Summary

  • The R&D Payroll Tax Credit election allows eligible businesses to claim a federal credit on their payroll tax up to 10% of their R&D expenses.
  • Businesses must meet the criteria for being a Qualified Small business which includes having less than $5 million in gross receipts over five years and engaging in qualifying research activities.
  • The Inflation Reduction Act has doubled the R&D payroll tax credit from $250,000 to $500,000 for qualified small businesses effective 2023.

Understanding the R&D Payroll Tax Credit

The R&D payroll tax credit election provides a significant opportunity for small businesses to offset $250,000 in social security (FICA) and an additional $250,000 in medicare for the calendar year. This credit can be especially beneficial for companies with substantial R&D expenses and little to no income tax, as it allows them to reinvest more funds into their research and development efforts, ultimately driving innovation and growth.

Companies with eligible R&D costs can qualify for a federal credit to offset payroll taxes by up to 10% of their total R&D expenses, regardless of the amount. This can be a great incentive for businesses that invest heavily in research and development. The potential credit benefit increase for a qualified small business with $500,000 in payroll expenses per quarter is illustrated in the chart in the source section.

Keep in mind that to claim the credit, businesses must meet specific eligibility criteria outlined in the subsequent sections.

R&D Payroll Tax Credit Eligibility Criteria

To qualify for the R&D payroll tax credit, a business must meet the definition of a qualified small business, have gross receipts for the prior 5 years and engage in qualifying research activities.

Let's delve deeper into these eligibility criteria and understand how they apply to your business.

Qualified Small Business Definition

A qualified small business is an eligible entity or person with less than $5 million in gross receipts and no more than five years of generating gross receipts, including the current year. It's important to understand this definition, as it determines whether your business can benefit from the R&D payroll tax credit.

Starting from the 2023 tax year, the maximum amount that a qualified small business can utilize from the Sec. 41 research credit (R&D credit) to offset certain payroll tax liabilities will be increased from $250,000 to $500,000. This increase means that businesses meeting the qualified small business criteria can now receive an even greater financial benefit from the R&D payroll tax credit.

Gross Receipts Threshold

The gross receipts threshold is a critical component of the R&D payroll tax credit eligibility. To be eligible, a company must have annual gross receipts of less than $5 million. Gross receipts encompass all revenue received or accrued, regardless of form or source, including sales of products or services, interest, dividends, rents, royalties, and fees.

Understanding and accurately calculating your gross receipts is crucial for determining your eligibility for the R&D payroll tax credit. If your business meets this threshold, you can proceed with assessing whether your research activities qualify for the credit.

Research Activities

Research activities that qualify for the R&D tax credit include activities related to the development or enhancement of a product, process, technique, invention, formula, or software. Such activities can range from conducting experiments to designing prototypes and developing software.

To take advantage of the R&D Payroll tax credit election, businesses must meet the same requirements for the R&D tax credit. These requirements include engaging in qualifying activities and documenting the associated expenses. While claiming this credit can minimize the amount of taxes owed and augment the amount of funds available for research and development, it's essential to be aware of the potential risks, such as audits and penalties for inaccurate or incomplete documentation.

Claiming the R&D Payroll Tax Credit: Step-by-Step Guide

Now that you understand the eligibility criteria for the R&D payroll tax credit, let's walk through the step-by-step process of claiming it. This includes completing the necessary forms and providing the required documentation.

Form 6765: Credit for Increasing Research Activities

Form 6765 is an essential document that qualified small businesses must complete and attach to their timely-filed business income tax return in order to elect to claim the payroll tax credit. This form is used to calculate the research credit,which is based on 20 percent of the qualified research expenditures (QREs) over a base amount.

Another method for determining the research credit is the alternative simplified credit (ASC) rule, which calculates the credit as 14 percent of the qualified research expenses (QREs) for the taxable year over 50 percent of the average QREs for the 3 taxable years preceding the credit year. Choosing the right method for your business can help maximize your R&D credit benefits. To claim the research tax credit against payroll taxes, Part C of Form 6765 must be completed. This section will require the taxpayer to affirmatively acknowledge they meet the qualified small business requirements and designate the amount of credit they elect. This may be the full credit calculated or some smaller amount. 

Form 8974: Qualified Small Business Payroll Tax Credit for Increasing Research Activities

Form 8974 is another crucial document that must be submitted in order to claim the payroll tax credit. It's important to note that the credit can only be claimed on a business's employment tax return for the first quarter that commences after it files the income tax return reflecting the payroll tax election on Form 6765.

Keep in mind that it's not permissible for taxpayers to file for the payroll tax credit on an amended return. This emphasizes the importance of timely and accurate filing to ensure that your business can take advantage of the R&D payroll tax credit.

Documentation Requirements

To claim the R&D Payroll Tax Credit, taxpayers must generally provide qualitative details to validate claimed qualified research expenses (i.e., wages, supplies, contract research, and computer leasing). Thorough documentation is essential for avoiding potential penalties that could be assessed under audit if the activities and expenses are not fully documented.

In addition to completing Forms 6765 and 8974, businesses should consider enlisting the expertise of a CPA, attorney, or enrolled agent with knowledge of the relevant tax law and accounting regulations, as well as the IRS examination and appeals process, to analyze their activities. This can help ensure greater certainty in relation to their credits and aid management with R&D-credit decision-making processes.

Impact of the Inflation Reduction Act on R&D Payroll Tax Credit

The Inflation Reduction. The Act has significantly impacted the R&D payroll tax credit by doubling it from $250,000 to $500,000. This increase benefits businesses meeting the qualified small business criteria by providing an even greater financial advantage from the R&D payroll tax credit.

The alteration to the R&D credit becomes effective for taxable years commencing after Dec. 31, 2022. This means that businesses eligible for the R&D payroll tax credit in 2023 will be able to take advantage of the increased credit amount to further support their research and development efforts.

Benefits and Risks of Claiming the R&D Payroll Tax Credit

Claiming the R&D payroll tax credit offers numerous benefits, such as minimizing the amount of taxes owed and augmenting the amount of funds available for research and development. The payroll tax credit election is an advantageous option for startup businesses that don't have to pay income taxes. This allows them to take immediate advantage of the Research & Development (R&D) credit and be eligible for cash back right away.

However, claiming the credit also comes with its risks. Potential repercussions of failing to remit the required payroll tax include trust fund recovery penalties, which can result in a 100% penalty and personal responsibility for the amounts owed. To avoid such penalties, it's crucial for businesses to ensure compliance with eligibility criteria and documentation requirements, as well as enlist the help of experts knowledgeable in the relevant tax law and accounting regulations.


In conclusion, the R&D Payroll Tax Credit is an invaluable financial tool for small businesses looking to invest in research and development. Understanding eligibility criteria, the claim process, and the impact of recent legislation is essential for maximizing the benefits of this credit. By taking advantage of the R&D payroll tax credit, your business can not only offset payroll tax liability, but also fuel innovation and growth, ultimately contributing to long-term success. Work with our experienced team of R&D Tax Credit Consultants to maximize your benefit this upcoming tax year.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is payroll R&D tax credit?

The R&D tax credit includes an election for qualified small businesses to use their R&D credit against future payroll taxes including FICA and Medicare. This incentive is designed to help support and promote innovation within the small business sector.

Can R&D credits offset payroll taxes?

Yes, R&D credits can offset payroll taxes, according to the Inflation Reduction Act. The Act increased the maximum amount that a qualified small business (QSB) can use from the Sec. 41 research credit (R&D credit) to offset certain payroll tax liabilities from $250,000 to $500,000 for tax years beginning after Dec. 31, 2022.

What wages qualify for R&D credit?

To qualify for the R&D credit, wages must be paid for qualified research activities or services performed directly to support or supervise such activities. The wages must also be reported in Box 1 of Form W-2 and be subject to withholding.

This includes salaries, bonuses, stock option redemptions, and other taxable compensation.

What are the changes for the R&D tax credit in 2023?

From 2023 onwards, businesses can enjoy a higher R&D tax credit limit of up to $250,000 to be applied against their Medicare tax liability.

This is in addition to the qualified small businesses who could already elect to apply their credits against Social Security taxes.

What is the 5-year limitation on the R&D payroll tax election?

The 5-year R&D payroll tax election limits qualified small businesses to elect to use R&D credit against payroll taxes for a maximum of five years. 

This credit can be used to fund research and development activities such as product design, prototyping, testing, and market research. It can also be used to hire additional staff or purchase equipment and materials needed for research and development.

Randy Eickhoff

Randy Eickhoff

Acena Consulting President Randy Eickhoff, licensed CPA, has partnered with more than 200 companies during more than 20 years of experience securing tax credits and other government incentives. His corporate partners range from multinational technology firms to smaller, privately held manufacturing, sports, and technology enterprises.