IRS Provides Interim Guidance for Claiming Payroll Tax Credit for Research Activities

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April 19, 2017

The Treasury and the IRS recently released Notice 2017-23 providing interim guidance related to  the payroll tax credit for research expenditures by qualified small businesses under Code § 3111(f).  (See prior coverage.)  Specifically, the notice provides interim guidance on the time and manner of making the payroll tax credit election and claiming the credit, and on the definitions of “qualified small business” and “gross receipts.”  Comments are requested by July 17, 2017.

Code § 41(a) provides a research tax credit against federal income taxes.  Effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2015, Code §§ 41(h) and 3111(f) allow a “qualified small business” to elect to apply a portion of the § 41(a) research credit against the employer portion of the social security tax under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act.  Generally, a corporation, partnership, or individual is a qualified small business if its “gross receipts” are less than $5 million and the entity did not have gross receipts more than 5 years ago.  The election must be made on or before the due date of the tax return for the taxable year (e.g., Form 1065 for a partnership, or Form 1120-S for an S corporation).  The amount elected shall not exceed $250,000, and each quarter, the amount that the employer may claim is capped by the employer portion of the social security tax imposed for that calendar quarter.

The notice provides that, to make a payroll tax credit election, a qualified small business must attach a completed Form 6765 to its timely filed (including extensions) return for the taxable year to which the election applies.  The notice provides interim relief for qualified small businesses that timely filed returns for taxable years on or after December 31, 2015, but failed to make the payroll tax credit election.  In this case, the entity may make the election on an amended return filed on or before December 31, 2017.  To do so, the business must either: (1) indicate on the top of its Form 6765 that the form is “FILED PURSUANT TO NOTICE 2017-23”; or (2) attach a statement to this effect to the Form 6765.

A qualified small business can claim the payroll tax credit on its Form 941 for the first calendar quarter beginning after it makes the election by filing the Form 6765.  Similarly, if the qualified small business files annual employment tax returns, it may claim the credit for the return that includes the first quarter beginning after the date on which the business files the election.  A qualified small business claiming the credit must attach a completed Form 8974 to the employment tax return.  On the Form 8974, the taxpayer filing the employment tax return claiming the credit provides the Employer Identification Number (EIN) used on the Form 6765.

For qualified small businesses filing quarterly employment tax returns, they must use the Form 8974 to apply the social security tax limit to the amount of the payroll tax credit it elected on Form 6765 and to determine the amount of the credit allowed on its quarterly employment tax return.  If the payroll tax credit elected exceeds the employer portion of the social security tax for that quarter, then the excess determined on the Form 8974 is carried over to the succeeding calendar quarter(s), subject to applicable social security tax limitation(s).

The notice also provides guidance for purposes of defining a “qualified small business.”  Specifically, the notice provides that the term “gross receipts” is determined under Code § 448(c)(3) (without regard to Code § 448(c)(3)(A)) and Treas. Reg. § 1.448-1T(f)(2)(iii) and (iv)), rather than Code § 41(c)(7) and Treas. Reg. § 1.41-3(c).  Therefore, gross receipts for purposes of the notice do not, as Treas. Reg. § 1.41- 3(c) does, exclude amounts representing returns or allowances, receipts from the sale or exchange of capital assets under Code § 1221, repayments of loans or similar instruments, returns from a sale or exchange not in the ordinary course of business, and certain other amounts.