When it comes to getting the most out of your SR&ED tax credits, hiring a consultant is usually the best strategy.

In Canada, there are hundreds of companies offering to help you apply to the SR&ED program. They range from one man/woman outfit to huge consulting firm, employing hundreds of specialists. If you count the big accountancy firms, that number increases by another order of magnitude. Overall, thousands of financial consultants can help you make sense of the research and development tax credit available to you. The question is: how can you choose who is best prepared to help you?

In this short guide, we’re highlighting the most important things to consider when deciding to work with an SR&ED consultant.

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Types of SRED Consultant

In the world of SRED consulting, there are broadly three types of companies that cover most of the market for SRED Vancouver, SR&ED Toronto, SR&ED Montreal, or Canada-wide, and they offer services that range from forget-about-it to just-a-once-over.

Specialists

For the specialist, SR&ED consulting is their bread and butter. They usually have a complete, hands-on service and try to take the whole process off your hands. For this type of consulting firm, the service typically includes an interview with your tech lead, writing the technical part of the claim, and creating the financial calculations. Comprehensive audit support is usually part of the package as well, so if the CRA wants to question any part of the claim, the specialist is there to handle it.

Accountants

Accountants are all-rounders, and you are probably very familiar with their services. Most accountants can and usually do offer filing your SR&ED tax credit as part of their offering, sometimes bundled with other services, sometimes for an additional fixed or % charge. The main difference between an accountant and a specialist is that the service an accountant can provide is usually limited (though not in all cases). Accountants will typically create the financial calculations and review the technical side of the claim that your team has put together. In most cases, they will offer only limited audit support, and most of the email and phone communication with the inspectors still being left to be handled by your employees.

Simplified Service Specialists

Given that many a business has acquired some form of experience with SR&ED claims, a new generation of service providers has sprung up to help the companies that just need a second opinion and some technical support. Most of these providers provide platforms that the client needs to input information into, and then most computations are generated automatically.

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What to look out for when choosing the best SR&ED consultant

SR&ED spending

How much you’ve spent is an important question, as the more substantial the claim, the more carefully a CRA inspector may look at it. If your credit is still on the small side, you can probably get away with filing a simplified claim or letting a non-specialist accountant create the claim. As your spending increases and the technology gets complex, a SR&ED consultant becomes critical. If your SR&ED spending is up to $30,000 – $40,000, which could translate into a credit of up to $10,000 – $12,000, it’s very probable that the CRA will not bat an eye, and you’ll be fine with a simplified filing. Your accountant can do the filing, or you can decide to self-file. A platform solution could be an easy way to solve this problem, as well.

Your time

To file SR&ED claims, there are a few more laborious steps that take a bit of time from you and your team. The filing preparation also often happens in moments when your tech team’s energies are better spent coding or designing, rather than writing pages of legalese about the eligibility of the technology they’ve created.

The tradeoff is not hard to guess – if you want to create at least part of your tax credits, and have no problem being more hands-on in the process, then a lower service option, like letting your accountant check it, may be a great idea. Nobody knows your product like you, so elaborating on the technology yourself is often a good idea.

The difference a specialist consultant makes in writing the claim is not necessarily a better understanding of the technology, but a better understanding of how to present it to an inspector, while ticking all the boxes for eligibility.

Financing your claim

If you are looking to finance your upcoming claim through SR&ED financing, hiring full-service SR&ED consultants is paramount. Most lenders will work with the consultant to understand the claim and get an accurate estimate of its future value. Often, without a consultant, it can be hard for a lender to extend a term sheet as there is a lot of additional uncertainty. Having audit support at your side in case the taxman needs more clarification is also crucial if you are expecting the claim to repay a loan. This helps speed things up, maximizes your chances of claiming the full amount, and puts the financing company at ease.

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Dealing with an audit

An audit is a process where an inspector will ask questions as to the eligibility of certain technology projects or certain expenditures included in your business’ claim. The probability of an audit is low if your spending is low, but as you start investing more in eligible technology for the SR&ED program, this probability increases. As you get in the high hundreds of thousands or millions in claim value, it becomes very likely that an inspector may want to take a second look at your claim. This makes sense, this is taxpayer money after all. Overall, the higher your spending amount, the higher the risk, and the more sense it makes to bring in a specialist SR&ED consultant.

The cost

Last but certainly not least, an essential factor in assessing the best SR&ED consultant is how much of your claim value you are willing to part with.

Full-service SR&ED consultants can charge from 10-20% of the final claim value, depending on the size, complexity, and timeline of the claim submission. There is a bit of flexibility in the fees, depending on contract length, and in some cases, fixed fee deals are sometimes on the table as well.

An accountant may file the submission as part of a package, charge by the hour or charge a fixed price of a few thousand dollars to review and submit the technical narrative created by your team. Additional audit support may be on a per-hour basis.

Simplified service consultant platforms can cost between 5%-10% or, alternatively, charge a fixed cost of a few thousand dollars.

Other services: Grants & CFO work

Some SR&ED consultants can help you prepare documentation if you want to access regional or innovation grants, additional to R&D tax services. Often, a good grant writer will also work as a consultant for SRED and they can be found in the same companies.

At the same time, if you need help with preparing financials for a capital raise, or more complex CFO-level work, it may be useful to use a bigger, full-service accountancy to help on all fronts.

The wrap up

Who is the best provider for you? It depends a lot on your situation: early-stage or more mature, spending a trickle or a ton, having time on your hands or pouring every second into your primary business.

If you’d like a bit more information on choosing the perfect research and development consultant, we’re here to guide you. We have a panel of partners that range from full-service consultants to platforms and we can at least point you in the right direction.

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Alexandra Kaschuta

Alex is a tech-focused funding expert, helping innovative companies grow through innovative funding through her work at Fundsquire. She also has a background in journalism, having written for outlets like Vice and many others in the past on topics ranging from philosophy to economics.