My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant and a partner with a National Accounting Firm in Toronto. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are written solely in my personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which I am affiliated. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humor/sarcasm. You've been warned.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

SR&ED-ing the Misconceptions: What most Businesses don't know about SR&ED Credits

On Tuesday, I wrote about the financial benefits of claiming Scientific Research & Experimental Development (“SR&ED”) expenses. Today, I have a guest blog on SR&ED claims by James McDermott, the director of marketing & business development of the BeneFACT Consulting Group Inc. (“Benefact”) a SR&ED consulting company. My firm Cunningham LLP , has worked with various R&D consultants including Benefact over the years to assist clients in maximizing their SR&ED claims. This blog clarifies several points of confusion in regard to the SR&ED program and provides examples of qualifying SR&ED in industries you would not expect a SRED claim.

SR&ED-ing the Misconceptions: What most Businesses don’t know about SR&ED Tax Credits by James McDermott

The SR&ED program is among the most generous R&D tax incentives in the world, paying in excess of $4 Billion (CDN) to more than 20,000 eligible claimants every year. Based on program criteria, participants can receive significant cash refunds or tax credits to offset a portion of qualified projects. Eligible expenditures include salaries and wages, parts and materials, subcontracts and capital expenditures. In most cases, SR&ED tax credits are fully refundable for small and mid-sized businesses, even if no taxable income is present.

While the program is generous in its application, claimants often struggle with qualification criteria and face a litany of program misconceptions. In dealing with prospective SR&ED participants we regularly encounter intelligent professionals that are utterly baffled by the program. The good news -- nearly all of the collective confusion is based on inaccurate information and a widespread lack of awareness. Businesses that take steps to educate themselves and clarify their eligibility are typically pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

According to CRA’s own statistics, only 25% -33% of SR&ED eligible businesses actually file claims. These estimates, among many things, provide strong evidence that a large segment of eligible Canadian businesses are missing the boat. With overwhelming advantages for claimants (see Mark’s blog of Tuesday), why is the program underutilized? What are the factors that prevent program participation?

In our experience, there are a few recurrent “confusion points” that continue to stand out.

Do we really conduct SR&ED?

Businesses have a difficult time determining whether they actually carry-out SR&ED eligible activities. Without dedicated R&D facilities or labs devoted to research, businesses falsely assume they cannot apply for SR&ED credits. Potential claimants should instead consider time and cost overruns, difficult one-off jobs, recalls or onsite trouble-shooting as strong indicators of qualifying work.

Our work is “not new”

 For work to be considered SR&ED eligible, claimed projects do not have to be “new” to their relative industry. If the underlying technology is not accessible in the public domain and is new to the claimant’s organization, grounds for eligibility exist. Most notably, commercial success or failure is irrelevant so long as technological knowledge is gained. Incremental changes to existing products, methods or processes (regardless of the outcome) can be typically considered SR&ED eligible.

We have $0 in taxable income

Potential claimants often assume that losses preclude them from program participation. This is a myth. For most (small and mid-sized) organizations without taxable income, SR&ED credits are fully or partially refundable.

Outside of the three scenarios listed above, there are also numerous businesses that disqualify their own eligibility based entirely on industry identification. Although some are correct in their assumptions, it is prudent for businesses to fully investigate their eligibility. To support this, below are few interesting examples of often ignored SR&ED eligible work.

Occupational Therapy

While it is recognized by the CRA as an eligible field of science, the SR&ED program remains almost totally ignored by occupational therapy practices. Despite this, opportunities are found (especially in larger practices) where new test protocols, outcome measures and treatment techniques are being developed. Examples include, but are not limited to: Speech-Language Pathology, Orthopaedic Services, Maxilo-Facial Surgery, Audiology and various forms of Physical Rehabilitation.

Insurance industry & Financial Services

Outside of claimed IT projects, SR&ED is typically overlooked within insurance and financial services firms. Potential claimants in this area should also consider efforts in actuarial and mathematical modelling. The development of predictive algorithms or data correlation (through statistical modelling) can be leveraged into a SR&ED claim.

Construction & Civil Engineering

Construction and civil engineering businesses traditionally undervalue their eligibility and often go without filing claims. Most firms in this field incorrectly discount their development efforts due to the fact that a majority of their projects are regulated by “code”. In reality, exceptional value exists in work related to the use of new materials and the creation of more efficient processes. Environmental factors and site- specific conditions, as an example, introduce the type of technological obstacles that can form the base of a strong SR&ED claim.

For further assessment of your SR&ED eligibility, visit http://www.benefact.ca/ or contact James McDermott, Director, Marketing & Business Development at james.mcdermott@benefact.ca

The blogs posted on The Blunt Bean Counter provide information of a general nature. These posts should not be considered specific advice; as each reader's personal financial situation is unique and fact specific. Please contact a professional advisor prior to implementing or acting upon any of the information contained in one of the blogs.

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