Jan 26, 2022
As 2022 begins, so does the amendment to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 174, originally introduced by 2017 tax reform legislation, the Tax and Jobs Act (TCJA.)
That amendment requires both US-Based and non US-Based research and experimental expenditures (R&E) for tax years starting after December 31st, 2021 be capitalized and amortized over a period of five or 15 years, respectively.
Previous to the TCJA amendment, taxpayers could elect to either capitalize and amortize R&E expenditures over a period of at least 60 months, or deduct the expenditures in the year paid or incurred, (taxpayers could also choose to make an election under Section 59(e) to amortize expenditures over 10 years.) Under the new legislation, amortization begins at the midpoint of the taxable year in which expenses are paid or incurred, which could create a significant year-one impact.
For example, if a taxpayer incurs $5 million of R&E expenditures in 2022, the taxpayer will now be entitled to amortization expense of $500,000 in 2022. We arrived at this calculated by dividing $5 million by five years, then cutting the annual amortization amount in half. Prior to the TCJA, the taxpayer would have immediately expensed all $5 million on its 2022 tax return, assuming it did not make an election under Section 174(b) or Section 59(e) to capitalize the amounts.
Additionally, software development costs have been added as R&E expenditures under Section 174(c)(3) and, therefore, are also subject to the same mandatory amortization period of five or 15 years. Previously, under Rev. Proc. 2000-50 options existed for taxpayers to either expense software development costs as they incurred, amortize over 36 months from the date the software was placed in service, or amortize over not less than 60 months from the date the development was completed.
Under the new Section 174 requirements, taxpayers should ensure that all R&E expenditures are properly identified, as some may be able to leverage from existing systems/tracking to identify R&E. Taxpayers that have existing systems in place to calculate the research credit will likely be able to use such computations as a helpful starting point for determining R&E expenditures. By definition, any costs included in the research credit calculation would then need to be recovered under the five-year amortization period.
Taxpayers currently not identifying any R&E expenditures should consider the steps necessary to assess the amount of their expenditures that are subject to Section 174. Under some circumstances, it may be wise to begin separating out R&E expenditure amounts to their own trial balance accounts, e.g. to have a separate “trial balance account” for R&E expenditure wages versus non-R&E wages. Determining which costs should be included in the relevant R&E expenditure trial balance accounts will likely involve interviews with the taxpayer’s operation and financial accounting personnel, as well as the development of allocation methodologies that determine which expenses (e.g., rent) relate to both R&E expenditure and non-R&E expenditure activities.
Additional Effects of Section 174 Amendment
It should be noted that under Section 174, the types of expenses eligible for duction are generally broader than those expenses eligible for credit under Section 41. For example, Section 41 allows supplies, wages and contract research, while Section 174 can include items such as utilities, depreciation, attorneys’ fees and other expenditures related to the development or improvement of a product.
The implemented changes of Section 174 may bring some potentially favorable tax developments for those previously employing the capitalization of R&E expenditures. With the new amendment allowing for amortization of R&E expenditures at the midpoint of the fiscal year they were incurred, certain taxpayers may be able to recoup those costs sooner.
It should also be noted that the language in the TCJA indicates that the Section 174 amendment should be treated as a “change in method of accounting” and applies on a cut-off basis beginning for tax year 2022. Any costs incurred before 2022 will remain as-is and fall under the previous rules mentioned above. It is still unknown if taxpayers that previously expensed their R&E expenditures will have to file an “Application for Change in Method of Accounting (Form 3115).”
The IRS is expected to release guidance on how taxpayers should comply with the new rule for the 2022 tax year, presuming the start-date of the provision is not again postponed by Congress. Because of this and other areas of uncertainly surrounding the new amendment, taxpayers should continue to monitor IRS and Treasury updates, or consult with their William Vaughan advisor before filing any 2022 tax returns in order to ensure compliance with the latest regulations.
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