Across the software development field, founders are experiencing an income tax season that has become an existential threat to their company’s survival. Software startups say they were blindsided by shocking tax bills as a result of a change in law related to research and development costs, and if Congress does not provide a retroactive fix, business failures will spread throughout the industry. From a report: The root of the issue is the inability of lawmakers to extend a key tax provision that had bipartisan support at the end of last year that allows for the full expensing of research and development costs under Section 174 of the tax code. That did not come out of nowhere, and was a big disappointment to the major corporations that had lobbied for the measure. But for many small business owners who often wear multiple hats, don’t have lobbying arms or relationships with big four CPA firms, the change to require R&D amortization over a period of five years first became known this spring when accountants showed them the massive tax bills they owed the government. As word has spread throughout the software community, some owners remain too afraid to look at the full tax cost as they file for tax extensions and accountants revise their returns.
The pain is being felt from the smallest software developers of a dozen or less employees to large venture-backed companies sitting on pre-2022 frothy valuations, with tax bills rising to a level where cash flow is being drained, forcing painful financial decisions. Startups need to take out loans or extend lines of credit at a time of tighter bank lending and higher rates, ask VCs for more money during the worst fundraising environment in over a decade, freeze hiring and contemplate layoffs — if they have not started making they are already within a sector leading the economy in job losses and running at a rate higher than the worst layoffs of the dotcom bubble. Many software firms will make it through this year, but if full R&D expensing treatment is not brought back, they say survival will become an issue. The software development field is the starkest example of the fallout from the R&D tax change because its biggest expense is software development talent. Developers don’t come cheap, and until tax year 2022, these companies could fully expense those costs as R&D rather than having to amortize them over multiple years. Industry success depends on the contribution of software talent, but when that cost overwhelms cash flow and profits, it has the potential to make the business model untenable.