Tax Credits for startups - All you need to know
With the arrival of the R&D Tax Credit that brings up to $250,000 back in your pocket, you might be wondering if your startup is eligible for any other tax credits out there. In an exhaustive study, we scoured over 1000 tax credits and incentives that are offered at the Federal, State, and Local levels to see if our startups could qualify and collect some money. Here’s what we found.
Before we dive into whether or not the typical startup is eligible for tax credits, we first need to define what a typical startup is.
First, a typical startup is one that is a venture backed Delaware C-Corporation. Many folks throw around the term “startup” and can sometimes bunch any new company into that term, such as a craft shop on Etsy that was recently launched. But for these purposes, we are referring to a professional venture that is seeking high growth opportunities, most often rooted in technology, biotechnology, software, etc and have likely secured patents. Because venture capitalists can only invest in Delaware startups, we clarify the term “startup” to include this provision.
Second, a typical startup is one that has less than 100 Full Time Employees (FTEs). Despite all the media coverage out there about Google, Facebook, and Apple, these golden startups are the exception, not the rule. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA) there are 29+ million SMBs in the US, representing 99.7+% of all US businesses. And that’s defining an SMB with less than 500 employees. If your startup has more than 100 Full Time Employees (FTEs), congratulations!, you are atypical and for these purposes we do not consider you a startup any more from a tax credit applicability standpoint. Rather, you should be hiring experienced CPAs who are tax experts to help you comb over every tax credit out there and plot out an intricate and well developed tax strategy.
Third, startups that are venture backed and have less than 100 FTEs tend to have some similar spending habits. For example, most startups in this bracket tend to spend 80% of their monthly burn on 3 things: Payroll, Contractors, and Rent. They tend to pay their CEOs an average salary of $130,000 per year. They tend to hire Engineers and pay them salaries of $120,000 per year. They tend to have offices that are in San Francisco, New York City, or Los Angeles, or other major metropolitan areas, and these offices tend to be located in highly trafficked areas that are close to public transportation. In addition, COVID and the 2020 diaspora has showed us that many startups have given up their formal offices and allowed employees to work remotely. Many startup employees have chosen to move to other states. These two pandemic trends make it even more difficult for startups to capture tax credits, which are very often based on office and employee location. All of these startup similarities will come into play when we evaluate tax credits for startups.
Finally, for these purposes, we define a typical startup as US based. Granted there are thousands of startups that are based all around the world doing amazing things, but for this research article we needed to narrow our scope to those that are based in the US, and thus eligible for US opportunities.
A tax deduction lowers your taxable income. A tax credit forgives your taxes owed. A tax incentive is designed to spur certain social or economic outcomes within a given territory.
For example, if you had $100K in revenue, and $60K in tax deductions, you would have $40k in taxable income. Assuming a 21% tax rate, your startup would owe $40K * 21% = $8,400 in taxes. The business meal deduction is one type of tax deduction that many people are familiar with.
A tax credit forgives your taxes owed. For example, if you had $100K in revenue, and $60K in tax deductions, you would have $40k in taxable income. Assuming a 21% tax rate, your startup would owe $40K * 21% = $8,400 in taxes. If you had a $5,000 tax credit, you would only owe $3,400 in taxes. Clearly, tax credits are more advantageous than tax deductions.
A tax incentive is designed to spur certain social or economic outcomes within a given territory. For example, the Work Opportunity Tax Credit is designed to encourage employers to hire people from less represented groups, such as veterans or ex-convicts.
|Tax Deduction||Tax Credit||Tax Incentive|
|Company need to have positive income||Yes||Sometimes||Sometimes|
|Reduces taxable income||Yes||Unlikely||Sometimes|
|Directly reduces a tax owed||Indirect||Direct||Sometimes|
Despite the myriad of tax credits out there that are available on the Federal, State and Local levels, there are some common themes amongst those credits offered. Here are the most prevalent credits offered:
We’ve narrowed down the list to the ones that are most frequently asked about. Unfortunately, its extremely rare that a startup qualifies for any of these:
Startups founded after February 15, 2021, may be able to claim a special tax credit - the Employee Retention Tax Credit (ERC or ERTC). This credit was authorized under the American Rescue Plan act of 2021, and provides payroll tax credits for startups founded during COVID. Read here for more detail on recovery startups and the Employee Retention Tax Credit.
Recovery startups may be able to reduce their payroll taxes by up to $100,000 - $50,000 per quarter for two quarters. Many of our clients, who have a high level of engineering payroll spend, will be able to claim this credit.
There are several paid and free databases that track and update tax credit opportunities. Kruze subscribes to these databases. Because Kruze has access to your financial information, payroll records, tax information, and several other data points, we are able to monitor any new opportunities that your startup may be eligible for and alert you to those possibilities that would be both material in amount and worthwhile in time and effort. Kruze has hundreds of clients, and has probably reviewed most tax programs for one or more clients. Tax benefits that Kruze has evaluated include:
The federal, state and local governments have created various incentives for new businesses, jobs and investments. These are generally offered in the form of tax credits. Even unprofitable startups can often receive tax credits that reduce their burn rate!
Most tax credits for early-stage businesses are filed on or in conjunction with the business’ annual tax filings. For the federal Delaware C-Corps, this filing is called the Federal Form 1120 - the U.S. Corporation Income Tax Return. This is the filing that the IRS has companies use to report their income, losses, credits, etc. and to figure the income tax liability of the corporation. Many of the credits will be filed alongside of Form 1120, or worksheets will be used to create the numbers that help complete the 1120.
Kruze is a CPA firm that works with VC-backed startups. Our clients expect to go public or be acquired by major, public technology corporations for hundreds of millions or billions of dollars. Raising funding from professional investors; getting acquired by public companies; going public - all of these activities will force a startup to endure serious financial due diligence. Kruze is laser-focused on creating bullet proof tax returns and financial statements to help our founders be ready.
Secondly, and even more important for more traditional small businesses, is that the IRS prefers credentialed tax experts prepare your tax return. Keep in mind that if you are claiming tax credits, you are taking money from the Treasury, so you meaningfully increase the risk of an audit. A CPA who is experienced in your particular industry can help shepherd you through the audit process, and the longer that CPA works with you the better they’ll be able to service you.
We strongly advise companies to know who will be preparing their tax return, and to watch out for services that do not have a named CPA involved in the process. In fact, the IRS warns tax filers about “ghost preparers!” And if you are going through intense due diligence, you are going to want to know WHO that CPA is so that they can assist you!
The biggest tax credit available to the VC backed startups that we work with is the R&D Tax Credit. This credit is an offset against payroll taxes, and helps early-stage companies involved in research and development decrease their payroll taxes. And since any company in the US that has US based payroll pays payroll taxes, this credit can help unprofitable, money burning companies reduce their cash burn! The IRS has issued new filing requirements for the R&D tax credit, and startups will need to report very specific and detailed information to substantiate their R&D claims.
Kruze Consulting is 100% focused on helping seed and venture funded businesses, and one of our key services high quality tax return and advice that reduces our clients’s burn rates - and helps them be ready to ace due diligence if they are acuired or raise large amouts of VC funding.
Companies that have raised capital from professional investors require a specialized level of advice and hel that you can’t get from an automated service or run of the mill CPA. Our integrated CFO, bookkeeping and accounting teams can help your company be ready for the strategic situations that make running a startup special.
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What types of startups does Kruze Consulting usually work with?
Kruze Consulting works with a variety of funded Delaware C-Corps, but the majority of our companies have secured Seed, Series A, Series B and Series C. We look to partner with our clients, going beyond the typical outsourced accounting relationship and seeking to provide a higher level advisory role. We feel honored to be a part of making the world a better place, even if it’s one debit and credit at a time.
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We're huge fans of Vanessa and the folks at Kruze Consulting. They set up our books, finances, and other operations, and are constantly organized and on top of things. As a startup, you have to focus on your product and customers, and Kruze takes care of everything else (which is a massive sigh of relief). I highly highly highly recommend working with Vanessa and her team.
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Avochato has been growing rapidly in the past year – in fact, too quickly for us to keep up with books, taxes, and budgeting for growth. Partnering with Kruze Consulting has been fantastic to manage, track, and analyze our finances while we continue focusing on building our customer base. Kruze’s team knows what startups need.
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