R&D Tax Credit Qualified Expenses to Maximize Savings in 2023

12 Minute Read
Posted by Randy Eickhoff on Nov 30, 2023 11:30:00 AM

Did you know that understanding and identifying R&D tax credit-qualified expenses can lead to substantial tax savings for your business? That’s right, the R&D tax credit is a powerful tool for businesses looking to invest in research and development, but maximizing its benefits requires a solid grasp of the expenses that qualify for the credit. In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the ins and outs of R&D tax credit-qualified expenses and provide you with the knowledge you need to make the most of this valuable tax incentive.

Short Summary

  • Understand qualified research expenses and the four-part test to maximize R&D tax credit savings in 2023.
  • Identify employee wages, supply expenses, contract research costs, and industries with opportunities for credits.
  • Utilize strategic approaches and work with professionals to optimize claims while conserving time & resources.

Understanding Qualified Research Expenses

Man working on a computer with financial data on the screen and background

The R&D tax credit is designed to encourage innovation and growth in various industries. To ensure that businesses make the most of this opportunity, it’s crucial to understand which expenses qualify for the credit and how they can be claimed. Eligible qualified research expenses for R&D tax credits include wages, supplies, and contract research costs associated with the development or enhancement of products, processes, or software.

These expenses must be directly related to qualified research activities as defined by the Internal Revenue Code. Research and development labor conducted in the United States may qualify for the R&D tax credit, including employee wages, contract expenses, and supplies. However, some expenditures, such as travel, meals, and entertainment expenses, are not eligible research expenditures for R&D tax credits.

To better understand qualified research expenses, let’s delve deeper into the two main categories of these expenses and the four-part test that research activities must pass to qualify for the credit.

Categories of Qualified Research Expenses

Qualified research expenses can be broadly divided into two primary categories: in-house research expenses and contract research expenses. In-house research expenses are eligible if they are wages paid to employees for work directly related to qualified research and development activities and constitute qualified services. Supplies used in the conduct of qualified research also fall under the category of in-house research expenses, which can be considered as a type of qualified research expense.

On the other hand, contract research expenses pertain to costs incurred when businesses collaborate with external entities for research activities. To be considered as qualifying expenses, contract research expenses must be directly related to qualified R&D activities and cannot be applied to other products or projects that are not qualified research activities.

Understanding the distinction between these two categories and their respective eligibility criteria is vital for businesses aiming to maximize their R&D tax credit claims.

The Four-Part Test for Qualified Research Activities

To qualify for R&D tax credits, research activities must pass the four-part test, which includes the section 174 test, discovering technological information test, the business component test, and the process of experimentation test. The section 174 test requires that the expenditure must be business related. It should also be related to research & development activities for obtaining information for the development or improvement of products. This is done with the intention of eliminating uncertainty.

Furthermore, the research must be technologically oriented, meaning that the experimental methodology used to acquire information must be based on the fundamental principles of the physical, biological, engineering, or computer sciences in an experimental or laboratory sense.

The business component test is another requirement for research activities to be eligible for R&D tax credits. If the requirements for the business component test are not satisfied, the taxpayer can reduce the scope of the business component elements until the requirements are met.

Finally, the process of experimentation test is one of the four-part tests for qualifying research activities.

Identifying Qualified Employee Wages

Employee wages are a critical component of qualified research expenses, and accurately identifying them is essential for businesses looking to claim R&D tax credits. Employee wages qualify for R&D tax credits if they are related to qualified research activities, as outlined in the source section. To ensure that the wages are directly connected to R&D activities and accurately recorded, businesses must determine qualified employee wages.

Employers should review and document the wages paid to employees engaged in qualified research activities and track these wages to guarantee that they are directly related to research and development activities. This documentation process will ensure that businesses accurately claim the R&D tax credit, also known as the research credit, and maximize their potential tax savings.

Assessing Qualified Supply Expenses

Supply expenses are another key component of qualified research expenses. To assess qualified supply expenses, businesses must determine if the supplies are tangible properties applied directly in research activities, excluding depreciable equipment and office materials. Qualified expenses are tangible personal property required for research activities. This property is not capitalized or depreciated.

However, some expenses, such as administrative costs, utilities, depreciable property, land, and land improvements, are not eligible for R&D credit claims. By evaluating and accurately identifying the eligible supply expenses, businesses can maximize their R&D tax credit claims and reduce their tax liability.

Navigating Contract Research Expenses

When dealing with contract research expenses, it’s crucial to understand the IRS guidelines for third-party research and ensure proper financial risk and ownership. To ensure appropriate financial risk and ownership, businesses should familiarize themselves with the Internal Revenue Service’s regulations for third-party research.

By understanding these guidelines, businesses can accurately claim R&D tax credits for their contract research expenses, thereby maximizing their tax savings and minimizing potential liabilities.

Industries With R&D Tax Credit Opportunities

R&D tax credits can be beneficial to a range of industries, such as agriculture, architecture, construction, and retail, by recognizing and claiming qualified research activities and costs. For example, the agriculture industry can claim R&D tax credits for activities like discovering new methods of hybridization, developing new strains of crops, plants, or livestock, and experimenting with new feeds or feeding techniques for livestock.

Similarly, the architecture industry might claim R&D tax credits for activities like developing energy-efficient features and designing site orientations to capitalize on natural elements. The construction industry, on the other hand, can benefit from R&D tax credits for activities like exploring construction techniques, designing electrical systems, and developing construction equipment.

By identifying and pursuing eligible research activities and expenses, these industries can take advantage of R&D tax credits and drive innovation and growth in their respective sectors.

Strategies for Identifying R&D Expenses

To maximize R&D tax credit claims, businesses must employ strategic approaches to identifying R&D expenses. First and foremost, understanding the guidelines for qualified research is essential. Qualified research expenses must meet the four-part test, which includes conducting research activities for the purpose of discovering technological information, eliminating uncertainty, and developing a new or improved business component.

Furthermore, businesses should eliminate non-qualifying expenses, such as those related to the development of an existing product or process, the duplication of an existing product or process, or the improvement of a product or process that does not result in technological advancement.

Finally, determining financial risk and ownership in contracted research is crucial for maximizing R&D tax credit claims. By employing these strategies, businesses can accurately identify eligible R&D expenses and maximize their tax savings.

Impact of Tax Legislation on R&D Credits

Recent tax legislation has had a significant impact on R&D tax credits, providing new opportunities for businesses to minimize tax liability and maximize savings. The PATH Act of 2015 had a beneficial effect on the utilization of R&D credits for qualified small businesses, yet the alternative minimum tax (AMT) for corporations prevented many companies from fully taking advantage.

The TCJA of 2017 has had a comprehensive effect on the corporate advantages of the R&D credit, including the repeal of the corporate AMT. The repeal of the corporate AMT presents a beneficial opportunity for businesses previously subject to the AMT, as they can now offset their taxable income with the R&D credit. Corporations have not been able to benefit from R&D credits in AMT years. However, they can now take the R&D credit and carry it forward.

Staying informed about these tax legislation changes is crucial for businesses aiming to maximize their R&D tax credit claims and savings.

Working With Professionals to Maximize R&D Tax Credits

Engaging professionals, such as CPAs and specialized firms like ADP and Boast, can facilitate businesses in accurately identifying eligible expenses, adhering to tax legislation changes, and optimizing R&D tax credit claims. These professionals can assist businesses in conserving time and resources by accurately recognizing eligible expenses, navigating tax regulation modifications, and optimizing R&D tax credit claims.

By collaborating with Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) and specialized firms like Acena Consulting, businesses can ensure that they are accurately claiming R&D tax credits and maximizing their potential tax savings. This partnership can be a valuable asset in navigating the complex world of R&D tax credit claims and ensuring that businesses take full advantage of this powerful tax incentive.


Understanding and correctly identifying qualified research expenses is essential for businesses to maximize their R&D tax credit claims and savings. By following the strategies discussed in this blog post, such as understanding the guidelines for qualified research, eliminating non-qualifying expenses, and determining financial risk and ownership in contracted research, businesses can ensure that they are taking full advantage of the R&D tax credit. Don’t miss out on this valuable opportunity to drive innovation, growth, and tax savings for your business.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the qualified expenses for the R&D tax credit?

Qualified expenses for the R&D tax credit include employee wages, supplies, contract research expenses, computer leasing expenses, payments to secure the use of computers, and materials necessary for conducting qualified research and development.

These expenses must be related to the development of a new or improved product, process, or software, and must be for activities that are intended to result in a new or improved function, performance, reliability, or quality.

What is the 80% rule for the R&D tax credit?

The 80% rule  for the R&D tax credit states that businesses can claim 100% of W-2 wages paid to employees spending at least 80% of their time on qualified R&D activities. This allows businesses to estimate the qualified R&D amount to be 80% or more for salaried employees and use the full 100%.

The 80% rule is a great way for businesses to maximize their R&D credit and take advantage of tax savings. It is important to note that the 80% rule is only applicable to salaried employees and not to contractors or other non-employees. Additionally, there are numerous reasons for it.

What are qualifying bodies for R&D?

Qualifying bodies for R&D are charities, universities, research organizations or health service bodies that can receive contributions from large companies for independent research activities.

The Treasury may also add additional qualifying bodies to the list.

What qualifies as R&D activity?

Research and development activities include developing experimental models and prototypes, testing an experimental product or process, beta testing, improving processes or the manufacturability of a product, and designing, developing, or improving the functionality, quality, reliability, or performance of a business component.

These activities are essential for businesses to stay competitive and remain innovative. They can also help to reduce costs and increase efficiency. By investing in research and development, businesses can gain a competitive edge and remain ahead of the competition.

What industries can benefit from R&D tax credits?

R&D tax credits can be beneficial for industries such as agriculture, architecture, construction, and retail by allowing them to recognize and claim qualified research activities and costs.

These credits can help businesses reduce their tax burden and reinvest in their operations, allowing them to remain competitive and grow. They can also be used to fund research and development projects, which can lead to new products and services.

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.