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  • Writer's pictureCurtis Driedger

Exploring Pros and Cons of SR&ED Expenditure Filing Methods: Prescribed Proxy Method vs. Traditional Method




In Canada, the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program stands as a pivotal incentive for fostering innovation and technological advancement. When it comes to claiming SR&ED investment tax credits (ITCs), businesses have the option to utilize two financial filing methods; either 1) the Prescribed Proxy Method, or 2) the Traditional Method. Both methods have their advantages and drawbacks, and understanding them is crucial for businesses aiming to maximize their benefits from the SR&ED program.

 

The Prescribed Proxy Method:


The SR&ED Prescribed Proxy Method offers businesses a simplified approach to claiming eligible overhead amounts. Rather than tracking and documenting specific overhead expenditures directly related and incremental to SR&ED, businesses can utilize a predetermined prescribed proxy amount (PPA) equal to 55% of SR&ED eligible direct labour dollars (less adjustments for bonuses, remuneration on profit and taxable benefits), providing a rather straightforward method for estimating SR&ED overhead expenditures.


Pros:


  • Simplified Calculation: One of the primary advantages of the Prescribed Proxy Method is its simplicity. Instead of meticulously tracking and documenting specific expenses related to SR&ED activities, businesses can use the PPA based on their eligible direct labour expenditures.

  • Reduced Administrative Burden: By utilizing a fixed proxy rate, businesses can significantly reduce the administrative burden associated with record-keeping and documentation requirements associated with specifically tracking overhead amounts, thereby streamlining the claim process.

  • Certainty and Predictability: The fixed proxy rate provides businesses with certainty and predictability regarding the amount of SR&ED ITCs they can claim, making financial planning and budgeting more straightforward.

  • Industry Specific Advantages: In certain cases, the Prescribed Proxy Method can result in a calculation of eligible SR&ED overhead expenditures that would outweigh the amount otherwise calculated under the Traditional Method scenario. This is often the case in software, IT, and computer science type projects where directly related and incremental overhead amounts may be minimal.

 

Cons:


  • Loss of SR&ED pool deduction: When using the Prescribed Proxy Method, the calculated PPA amount is not included within the SR&ED expenditure pool, thereby limiting the discretionary expenditure deduction benefit associated with the pool.

  • Potential for Inaccuracy: Since the Prescribed Proxy Method relies on predetermined proxy rates rather than actual expenditures, there is a risk of inaccuracy. Claimants may underestimate their eligible overhead expenditures, thereby leading to understatement of ITCs.

  • Limited Flexibility: The fixed proxy rate may not accurately reflect the actual R&D activities and expenditures of every business. This lack of flexibility could result in businesses not fully capturing the value of their SR&ED efforts.

  • Cap on Prescribed Proxy Amount: As per CRA policy, there is an overall cap on the calculation of the Prescribed Proxy Amount. The objective of the overall cap is to ensure that the total qualified SR&ED expenditures and PPA and other deductions specifically allowed under the Income Tax Act are not greater than the total business expenditures made in the tax year. In certain cases, this cap can be reached.

  • Risk of Audit Scrutiny: While the Prescribed Proxy Method offers administrative convenience, it may also attract closer scrutiny during CRA audits. Businesses must ensure that they accurately apply the proxy rate and have appropriate documentation to support their claims.


The Traditional Method:


The SR&ED Traditional Method offers claimants a detailed and customizable approach to claiming tax credits for their eligible research and development (R&D) activities in Canada. Unlike the Prescribed Proxy Method which relies on a predetermined proxy rate, the Traditional Method requires businesses to track and document their eligible overhead expenditures related to SR&ED projects which meet the directly related and incremental tests.


Pros:


  • Accuracy and Specificity: The Traditional Method allows businesses to directly track and document their eligible SR&ED expenditures, providing a more accurate reflection of the actual R&D activities undertaken.

  • Customized Calculation: Unlike the fixed proxy rate of the Prescribed Proxy Method, the Traditional Method enables businesses to tailor their SR&ED claim based on their unique circumstances and expenditures, potentially maximizing the tax credits they can claim.

  • Greater Control: Businesses using the Traditional Method have greater control over their SR&ED claim, allowing them to strategically allocate expenses and optimize their tax credit benefits.

  • Industry Specific Advantages: In certain cases, the Traditional Method can result in a calculation of eligible SR&ED overhead expenditures that would outweigh the amount otherwise calculated under the Prescribed Proxy Method. This can often be the case in agriculture, manufacturing or mining type projects where directly related and incremental overhead amounts can be substantial.

 

Cons:

 

  • Increased Administrative Burden: The Traditional Method requires businesses to maintain detailed records and documentation of their SR&ED expenditures which meet the ‘directly related’ and ‘incremental’ tests. This can be time-consuming and resource-intensive.

  • Complexity: Calculating SR&ED tax credits under the Traditional Method can be complex, particularly for businesses with diverse R&D projects and expenditures across multiple departments or divisions, or in instances (e.g. shop floor) where both SR&ED and SR&ED ineligible activities are occurring.

  • Potential for Disputes: The subjective nature of determining eligible SR&ED expenditures under the Traditional Method can lead to disputes and disagreements with the CRA during review/audit, requiring businesses to invest additional time and resources in defending their claim methodology.

 

Conclusion:


Both the Prescribed Proxy Method and the Traditional Method offer distinct advantages and challenges for businesses seeking to claim SR&ED. Although claimants can choose which filing method to utilize on an individual tax year basis, consideration should be given to ensure ITC maximization. While the Prescribed Proxy Method provides simplicity and administrative convenience, the Traditional Method offers greater accuracy and customization. Ultimately, claimants must carefully evaluate their R&D activities, resources, and risk tolerance to determine which method aligns best with their culture, needs and objectives in leveraging the SR&ED program. Consulting with a SR&ED consultant can provide valuable guidance in navigating the complexities of the two SR&ED filing methods.

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