PPP Loan Forgiveness and its Impact on R&D Tax Credits

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have applied for Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) loans with the intention of applying for loan forgiveness. However, companies that received PPP loans may experience a reduction in their ability to claim both federal and state Research and Development (“R&D”) tax credits. To provide some background, companies applying for a PPP loan may receive a maximum loan equal to 2.5 times their average monthly payroll. If a company maintains adequate staffing and payroll, it may receive forgiveness on the loan amount equal to its payroll, rent, utilities and mortgage interest paid over a twenty-four-week period. Borrowers that received PPP loans before June 5, 2020 may elect to use the original eight-week covered period, but regardless of whichever period is used, they must spend at least 60 percent of loan proceeds on payroll costs to be forgivable.

The CARES Act explicitly provides that PPP loan forgiveness does not trigger taxable income, stating that income deemed to arise from the debt forgiveness “shall be excluded from gross income.” However, on April 30, 2020, the IRS issued Notice 2020-32, asserting that forgiven PPP loan proceeds used for otherwise allowable business expenses are not deductible.

How is PPP Loan Forgiveness Related to the R&D Tax Credit?

Under Notice 2020-32, a taxpayer is unable to claim tax deductions for expenditures paid for by utilizing PPP funds. This would also mean that the taxpayer cannot claim these expenses for purposes of calculating their R&D tax credit. This could translate into a significant decrease in R&D expenditures and thereby a decrease in their R&D tax credits for the 2020 tax year.

Notably, lawmakers expressed their concern and disagreement with the IRS’s interpretation in Notice 2020-3 via a letter sent to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. There is a chance that the IRS’s position may not stand given that it is contradictory to congressional intent, and bills have been introduced in both houses of Congress to reverse the IRS ruling by statute. However, Notice 2020-32 is the current rule and important to consider when determining when to apply for loan forgiveness and the appropriate accounting treatment to maximize the R&D tax credit. Until we receive further guidance, we advise companies to closely track and monitor how they are spending their PPP funds.

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Given the potential complexities of the PPP loan forgiveness process and claiming the R&D tax credit, it is important to speak to a tax advisor about the optimal method to maximize your R&D tax credits. Bennett Thrasher has a dedicated team of advisors to assist you with both PPP loan forgiveness applications and claiming the R&D tax credit. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Betsi Barrett, Nina Desai or Tim Oberst by calling 770.396.2200.