SR&ED tax credits: How your daily business activities could yield major tax returns

Tax Bulletin

Many companies from various industries are often unaware that through their daily activities, they perform scientific research and experimental development (SR&ED).

  • Are you in a start-up or growth phase?
  • Have you developed some form of customized equipment or machinery?
  • Have you created or modified a process or product?
  • Are you planning to change an existing process or develop a new product in the near future?
  • Have you tried to create a new product, process, or technology but failed in the attempt?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, your company could be eligible to federal and provincial SR&ED tax credits!

What are SR&ED tax credits?

SR&ED tax credits are fiscal measures through which the federal and provincial governments reimburse investments in innovation. Millions of dollars are allocated annually to these programs to foster innovation. Last year, 24,000 companies in Canada claimed such tax credits, among which 75% are SMEs.

Common myths debunked

Many companies perform research and development without claiming the credits they are entitled to. Why is that? Common misconceptions about SR&ED often keep companies from taking advantage of the program. It’s time to debunk some of those myths.

“Just part of my business”

In order to be eligible, SR&ED expenses do not need to be part of a specific or special research and development program. If you have developed any new product, process, or technology as part of your normal activities, you may be entitled to tax credits.

“Secrets will be revealed”

SR&ED claims do not require that you reveal industrial secrets but only that you demonstrate the scientific value of your activities. The documentation will be shared with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) exclusively, which is bound by strict confidentiality rules.

“Lab coats and PhD are required”

You do not have to fit the mold of traditional research to be eligible to SR&ED claims. The lack of a dedicated laboratory or professional researchers is not an obstacle.

“It will trigger a full-blown audit by the CRA”

This common fear is unfounded. In the many years working on SR&ED claims for a number of clients at Richter, I have never encountered a case where such a file triggered a complete audit by the CRA.

“We didn’t achieve results”

SR&ED credits regulation specifically states that research and development activities do not need to succeed for expenses to be eligible. As explained in this article, the process and the methodology used are what matters.

“SR&ED claim is an onerous process”

SR&ED claims should not be viewed as an expense. In reality, it is an investment that could provide you with a significant return.

How does it work?

SR&ED tax programs simply reimburse a part of the expenses incurred by companies with non-refundable tax credits (lowering your income tax payable) or refundable tax credits (cash).

How much can you get? The ABC example

The amount of tax credits you can get depends on the expenses incurred for the development (or failure ) of your new process, product, or technology. The Quebec credits feature an exclusion threshold. The first $50,000 of eligible expenses is automatically excluded and up to $225,000 can be excluded, depending on the company’s assets.

Let’s look at the fictitious case of ABC Company Inc., who worked on developing a new artificial intelligence tool. ABC’s expenditures are as follows:

  • Salaries: $100,000
  • Sub-contractors: $10,000
  • Material: $1,000

As shown in the table below, ABC’s $111,000 in SR&ED expenditures could translate into $68,125 for the company in net cash refund.


Do you qualify?

To assess your SR&ED tax credits claim and determine its eligibility, the CRA uses five questions:

  • Was there a scientific or a technological uncertainty?
  • Did the effort involve formulating hypotheses specifically aimed at reducing or eliminating that uncertainty?
  • Was the overall approach adopted consistent with a systematic investigation or search, including formulating and testing the hypotheses by means of experiment or analysis?
  • Was the overall approach undertaken for the purpose of achieving a scientific or technological advancement?
  • Was a record of the hypotheses tested and the results kept as the work progressed?
If the answers to these questions are positive, you are ready to file a claim!

What do you need to file a claim?

The key to file a successful claim for SR&ED is to provide comprehensive and relevant information clearly stating the expenses incurred and the scientific value of the activities, as well as showing that the criteria exposed above are met. This documentation can include:

  • project planning documents;
  • timesheets (or equivalent);
  • design of experiments;
  • project records, lab notebooks;
  • design, system architecture, source code;
  • records of trial runs;
  • progress reports;
  • test protocols, test data, analysis of test results;
  • photos, videos;
  • samples, prototypes, scrap;
  • contracts; and
  • meeting notes.
It is of the utmost importance that the documentation submitted shows that it is contemporaneous to the activities.

How to maximize your SR&ED claim

There are many factors to consider when preparing or filing a claim in order to maximize your return. Here are a few things to consider.

A timely claim

You have up to 6 months after the end of the fiscal year to file a claim as part of your original annual income tax return. You can also file a claim to amend an already filed tax return up to 18 months after the end of the fiscal year. No claims can be submitted or adjusted thereafter. Claims filed within 6 months after the corporate tax return deadline are processed faster (average of 120 days) than those filed up to 18 months after the corporate tax return deadline (240 days).

Plan your expenses to maximize your return

Some expenses are fully eligible, while others are only partially eligible. Therefore, you should plan expenses in order to maximize reimbursement. For example, expenses related to employees will provide you with greater returns than those incurred by sub-contractors.

Pay yourself

The amount of SR&ED tax returns is directly related to the expenses incurred for a given project. Maximizing shareholder remuneration will enhance the value of the claim and the credits to which you are entitled.

Consider tax implications on the following year’s income

Don’t forget that SR&ED tax credits are considered taxable income the year they are received. Robust tax planning is needed in order to minimize the fiscal impact of this added income.

Is SR&ED the best program?

Some projects may have components that qualify for multiple tax credits: the E-Commerce tax credit (Crédit d’impôt pour le développement des affaires électroniques), the tax credit for the production of multimedia titles, or the Design tax credit (Crédit d’impôt pour la réalisation d’une activité de design à l’interne). The Ontario government also offers specific tax credits for digital media and innovation. While you are allowed to claim different tax credits for the same project, all claims must be related to different elements of the project. Since you cannot claim multiple credits for a single expense, you should take time to determine which fiscal program will generate the most beneficial return.

Stay focused on your business

While it is possible to manage the filing of a SR&ED tax credit claim internally, we strongly recommend using the help of seasoned professionals for this process. The Richter team has gained the experience to ensure that your returns are maximized and that no expenses are left unclaimed. Our professionals will also accelerate the CRA approval process and significantly increase your claims’ success rate. Fiscal planning and administrative paperwork will be taken care of, meaning you can stay focused on what matters most: your business.

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