How the new Section 174 is going to affect U.S. tech hiring

January 19, 2024

How the new Section 174 is going to affect U.S. tech hiring
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Recent changes to Section 174 of the US tax law have sparked concerns among software companies, especially those that are bootstrapped. The amendment, effective from last year, mandates that all costs related to Research & Development (R&D), including software development labor, must be capitalized and amortized over five years domestically or fifteen years for offshore labor. This policy shift threatens the financial sustainability of bootstrapped and small software businesses in the US, compelling them to reevaluate their hiring strategies and potentially leading to fewer engineering roles.

Summary of Key Points

  1. Unexpected Tax Bills: Many US tech businesses were hit with unexpected high tax bills in 2023 due to the lack of awareness about the tax change. The amendment to Section 174 disallows the immediate expensing of software engineer labor costs, requiring a five-year amortization period instead.
  2. Impact on Hiring and Operations: The change could result in reduced hiring or layoffs of software engineers, especially for smaller companies with limited financial flexibility. Companies might need to explore loans or reduce their workforce to manage the tax burden.
  3. International Implications: The amendment is particularly punitive for software development conducted abroad, requiring a 15-year amortization period. This could lead to the termination of non-US engineering roles and discourage the hiring of international talent.
  4. Legislative Background and Industry Response: The tax code change, part of the 2017 Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, was not anticipated to be enforced. Efforts by tech giants and coalitions to advocate for its reversal highlight the widespread concern across the industry.
  5. Strategic Considerations for Compliance: Companies must navigate the complexities of compliance, considering factors like legal classification of tokens, designing token agreements, and establishing crypto payroll operations. Awareness and adherence to evolving regulations are crucial.

What is Section 174?

Section 174 of the US tax law pertains to the tax treatment of Research and Development (R&D) expenses. Traditionally, companies could immediately deduct R&D costs in the year they were incurred, a practice that encouraged investment in innovation by reducing the current tax burden associated with R&D activities.

However, a significant change to Section 174 was introduced as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law by President Donald Trump in 2017. To comply with budgetary constraints and as a measure to offset tax cuts provided in other areas of the law, the amendment to Section 174 requires that, starting from 2022, R&D expenses must be capitalized and amortized over a period of five years for domestic expenses and fifteen years for foreign expenses. This amendment meant that companies could no longer deduct the full amount of R&D expenses immediately, leading to a deferred tax benefit and an immediate increase in taxable income for many businesses.

The rationale behind introducing a delay in the tax benefits associated with R&D expenses was to help balance the federal budget over the long term. However, it was widely anticipated that Congress would revisit this provision and potentially delay its implementation or repeal it altogether, considering the potential negative impact on innovation and competitiveness of US businesses, particularly startups and small businesses that heavily rely on R&D for growth and development.

Despite lobbying efforts from various industry groups and businesses, Congress has not repealed or delayed the implementation of the changes to Section 174 as of the latest updates, leading to increased tax liabilities for companies engaged in software development and other R&D activities. This has sparked concerns within the tech industry about the potential for reduced investment in innovation and the broader implications for the US's position as a global leader in technology and research.

Unexpected Tax Bills

Many US companies, particularly those in the tech sector, were caught off guard by substantial tax bills in 2023 due to changes in Section 174 of the US tax law. Previously, companies could immediately deduct costs associated with software development, including labor. However, the amendment mandated that these costs must now be capitalized and amortized over five years for domestic R&D expenses and fifteen years for international efforts. This shift significantly impacted the financial planning of businesses, especially smaller and bootstrapped companies, which had not anticipated the change and were unprepared for the resulting tax liabilities.

Impact on Hiring and Operations

The amendment to Section 174 has profound implications for hiring and operational strategies within the US tech industry. The requirement to capitalize and amortize software development costs over an extended period has made the immediate financial impact of hiring software engineers more burdensome for companies. This change is particularly challenging for startups and small businesses, which operate with tighter budget constraints and rely heavily on R&D for growth. As a result, companies may be forced to reassess their hiring plans, potentially slowing down the pace of innovation and development. In some cases, businesses might opt to reduce their workforce or delay new hires to manage the increased tax burden.

International Implications

Ccompanies that engage in software development activities abroad are strongly affected by these change, as tThe requirement to amortize foreign software development labor costs over fifteen years complicates the financial advantage of hiring international talent. This could lead to US companies reconsidering their global talent strategies, potentially reducing the number of software engineers they employ overseas. Such a shift could alter the dynamics of the global tech talent market, impacting not only US companies but also the economies of countries that have been popular outsourcing destinations.

Legislative Background and Industry Response

The tech industry's response to this change has been vocal, with many companies and industry groups lobbying for its repeal or delay. Organizations argue that the amendment hinders innovation and places US companies at a competitive disadvantage. Despite these efforts, legislative action to reverse the change has yet to materialize, leaving companies to grasp at solutions to tackle the new tax landscape.

Strategic Considerations for Compliance

Navigating the amended Section 174 requires strategic planning and compliance efforts from companies, especially those in the tech sector. Businesses must now factor in the long-term tax implications of their R&D spending, necessitating closer collaboration between their financial, legal, and operational teams. Companies may need to explore alternative strategies for managing R&D costs, such as leveraging tax credits or reevaluating their investment in innovation projects. Moreover, staying informed about potential legislative changes and engaging in industry advocacy efforts can be crucial for companies looking to mitigate the impact of these tax law changes on their operations.


The amendments to Section 174 pose significant challenges for US tech companies, particularly affecting their ability to hire and compensate software engineers competitively. As the industry seeks clarity and lobbies for legislative adjustments, companies must proactively adapt to ensure compliance and financial sustainability. WorkCo stands ready to assist companies in navigating these complexities, offering expert guidance on international hiring and token compensation compliance.

For companies navigating these challenges, partnering with a professional organization like WorkCo can streamline the process of international hiring and compensation. WorkCo's expertise in legal and compliance aspects of token compensation offers a comprehensive solution for businesses aiming to maintain competitive and compliant compensation strategies in the face of changing US tax laws.

For detailed assistance and to explore how WorkCo can support your business in adapting to these changes, contact us.