$60 billion in tax credits go unclaimed—but not by Acuity’s clients
Every year, the federal government offers roughly $92 billion in R&D tax credits—an offset meant to encourage innovation. Companies that conduct qualified research can file for these credits and apply those dollars to income or payroll taxes. Yet $60 billion of what’s available goes unclaimed each year. The reason is that businesses often don’t know they qualify, and only four percent of accountants offer this as a service.
Being able to offer R&D tax credits sets us apart from other firms, and Gusto makes it possible and easy.
In the past, Acuity occasionally offered support for clients applying for R&D tax credits, but only through outsourcing. In fact, the firm was really only aware of R&D tax credits because Sergio Salinas, CPA and Acuity’s Director of Tax, and Lety Rodarte, CPA and Acuity’s Tax Manager, previously worked with software startups that relied on it. And prior to that, Lety worked for the California Franchise Tax Board where she audited these credits. (The R&D tax credit is both a federal and state program.)
Thus, even though they were aware of the credit, and clients often asked for help finding more savings, it didn’t come up often and they didn’t advertise it as an offering.
To file for the credit, clients must study their own expense and payroll data
“Clients are always asking us, as their tax advisor, to help save them money,” says Lety. “In those cases, I’ll bring up the R&D tax credit. Most startups are running at a loss and aren’t paying much tax, but they are paying people regardless of income, and so the credit can be a huge help.”
But, the R&D tax credit application process is non-trivial. Accountants have to assess whether clients can reasonably apply, and for how much. They have to explore several years of expense and payroll data and deeply understand the nature of their research and development. For this reason, Acuity would outsource this work and be paid only for the hours they were involved.
It was also a lot of work for clients. Legally, accountants cannot apply on their behalf. This means that the work often falls on one of the client’s operations executives, and they rarely have time. For that reason, clients tend to say yes but not follow through.
“I used to have clients who’d say, ‘This sounds great. I know we can save money. But we’re stretched too thin and I don’t have anyone who can answer these questions. Let’s evaluate next year,’” says Lety.
With Gusto, Acuity can now reliably outsource quick studies and offer this as a line of service
Most of Acuity’s clients use Gusto. When Gusto acquired Ardius—a company that helps businesses and their accountants access tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax credits—Sergio and Lety wanted to learn more.
“Gusto offering R&D tax credit studies seemed like a great fit because most of our clients are already on Gusto, and we’d done work like this by other means before,” says Sergio. “It seemed like a way to make those studies much easier on clients.”
We knew the relationship with Gusto’s R&D Tax Credit Service would be great, especially since most of our clients already use Gusto.
Gusto uses machine learning to quickly assess whether clients are likely to qualify for a credit, and roughly how much it’d be. The technology has the power to analyze six years of payroll data in a matter of hours. That suddenly meant running R&D tax credit studies to tell clients if they might be eligible, and for how much, became a lot easier.
After a one-hour meeting with the Gusto R&D tax credit team, Sergio and Lety felt comfortable enough to start referring clients. Once introduced, Gusto’s team handled everything from there. They provided a study and generated documentation to help Acuity’s clients apply, and significantly reduced the work for all involved. That documentation was also designed to help protect the client in the event of an audit.
Of 12 clients Lety referred, within two months, six had filed for the credit, and two had already applied $48,000 and $40,000 respectively. And because Gusto’s R&D tax credit service is deeply integrated with Gusto’s payroll platform, those clients could begin applying those offsets on their next pay cycle, rather than waiting to realize those credits during tax season.
Clients love it. We look like heroes. Especially for startups not yet generating revenue. That’s cash flow to their business.
This is also a cash flow opportunity for Acuity.
A $250k new line of business
In exchange for the service, clients pay for Gusto’s R&D tax credit offering via a percentage of the tax credits they realize. When accountants refer R&D tax credit clients to Gusto, they participate in that revenue share. Not only did Gusto save the tax team an estimated three hours per client in running each study, it also became a healthy additional revenue stream. They estimate it’s now a $250,000 line of business, and they’ve only just begun to roll it out to their clients. They expect this number to grow significantly.
With clients happy about the money they’ve received, Acuity will be offering R&D tax credit support to all their eligible clients.