Jameson & Company CPAs are highly specialized and focus exclusively on government award accounting, including grants from the National Institute of Science (NIH). We understand the complexity of applying for and receiving government funds and the positive and sometimes negative ramifications it can have one your business. We want to help you avoid the pitfalls, and for NIH grants, that means properly projecting your fringe and F&A rates. Here are the most common questions we hear from our clients when calculating and projecting Fringe and F&A rates for an NIH grant.
A. If you are applying for an NIH grant, you need to understand Fringe and F&A rates.
Fringe rates are employee-based; as the name implies, they represent the fringe benefits a business must pay to hire and retain employees, whether they are working directly or indirectly on the project. If you pay for things like holidays and vacation, health and dental insurance, payroll taxes, worker’s comp and the like, you need to develop an appropriate fringe benefit rate.
F&A rates (Facilities and Administrative rate), also known as indirect costs rates, represent the indirect costs associated with running your business and benefit ALL your research/projects. Not all of your costs will be directly related to one specific project and as such, the government expects you to have indirect costs. These costs (such as rent and electricity) will be recovered proportionally by all of your projects via your F&A rate.
Understanding how these rates work is critical to your cash flow and financial viability!
A. Too many people pull a number out of the sky and most use a ridiculously low F&A rate.
They think this conservative approach will be more attractive to the government. However, this approach could get you into serious financial trouble. You need a well-thought-out plan that’s developed from the bottom up and reflects the real cost of business.
Most funding programs will allow a fee and, often, people forget or intentionally omit it on the proposal. The SBIR program allows a 7% fee. If you take, this can help finance any unallowable costs and provide a little financial security.
For more information about projecting your F&A rate, click here.
For more information on how to negotiate an indirect cost rate for a NIH Phase II grant, click here.
A. Most people, even experienced CPAs, don’t understand the difference between a projected rate and your actual rate. This is where the trouble begins.
If your actual rate—the amount you actually spend on indirect costs, is higher than the rate you projected, you could put your business in jeopardy as you will need to fund the excess cost from another funding source, such as credit cards, second mortgages, perhaps your personal bank account.
On the flipside, if your actual rate is lower than what you projected, you could end up overbilling the government and committing what we call inadvertent fraud. This occurs when you file your quarterly Federal Financial Form or SF-425. In case you are not aware:
Line 13 of the SF-425:
“By signing this report, I certify that it is true, complete, and accurate to the best of my knowledge. I’m aware that any false, fictitious, or fraudulent information may subject me to criminal, civil or administrative penalties.”
When you overbill the government, you can end up in serious trouble. I suggest you develop your indirect cost rates using our free indirect rate templates, then speak to us if you need feedback or more insights.
I also suggest that you constantly monitor your actual indirect rates versus your projected (proposed) indirect rates. Our clients rely on us to provide them regular feedback as we have years of experience working with FAR Part 31, and all the supplemental agency regulations, and know the difference between a seasonal and a structural indirect rate variance. I think this gives them peace of mind.
For more information on how the wrong F&A rate can damage your business, click here.
A. Let’s start with fringe costs. Make sure you include all of your fringe costs into your fringe calculation. You need to benchmark FICA, SUTA and FUTA payroll taxes, paid holidays, sick and vacation pay, health and dental benefits, and 401(k) matching and administrative costs if that’s a perk that you need to pay. Know that fringe rates vary greatly depending on what part of the country you operate in and what type of benefits you need to offer to attract and retain talented employees. There is a huge difference in labor markets between Silicon Valley and Ames, Iowa.
If you have unallowable labor, don’t forget to include that into your fringe base, too. Unallowable labor is the time an employee spends on an activity that’s not an allowable expense, such as working on venture capital or private equity fundraising.
A. Make sure to include an ample budget for INDIRECT LABOR costs. Your government-funded project is part of your business, and it takes time and money for you to run your business. The biggest mistake most people make is overestimating how much time employees will actually spend working in a project vs. doing other “things”. Most employees are 60 to 90% billable to a project and spend the rest of their time performing administrative functions like managing vendors, subcontractors, consultants, lawyers, accountants and employees; writing grants and trying to grow the business. Don’t sell yourself short here. Be honest about what it takes to run a business. The government expects you to have these costs to operate your company!
A. If you are sub-contracting work out, be sure to include direct subcontracting costs in the denominator of your F&A rate! You are only required to exclude subcontractor costs in your F&A rate when you negotiate an F&A rate > 40%.
Here’s something many grantees don’t understand, and it’s pivotal:
When you hire a subcontractor, you are 100% responsible for their compliance with the FAR and the agency’s supplemental regulations. They are held to the same standards.
Be sure to keep close tabs on your subcontractors. For more information on the accounting requirements for subcontractors, click here!
A. This is a complex subject that requires a longer discussion, but let me just say, if it’s equipment you want to use on several projects or think would be of long-term value to the business, then you should treat it as a fixed asset and charge depreciation expense through your F&A rate.
A: NIH SBIR Phase I grants have provisions that allow you to take up to a 40% F&A rate and generally allow for up to 35% fringe without question. It is important to understand that if you win your proposal you can subsequently re-budget, if necessary, to reduce your indirect budget and increase your direct costs budget, however you can’t go in the other direction.
A. Do your homework, fill out the indirect rate projection templates from the bottom up and don’t be surprised when the fringe and F&A rates you project are much higher than you initially envisioned. Finally, we’re happy to review your projections with you to provide some benchmarks and guidance. It’s a great—and free—way for you to check us out! Contact Us to schedule a time to speak to one of our government funding experts, and we will follow up within 48 hours!
Download our Fringe and F&A rate projection templates.
If you’re putting together a Phase I proposal, read our blog, A Simple Approach to Budgeting an NIH SBIR Phase I Grant
Not all government contracts and grants are the same. Your funding agency, type of award, and funding stage require unique accounting requirements. Provide your information below to schedule a time to speak with one of our government funding experts!
Writing A Government Funding Proposal
Received A Pre-Award Notification
Received A Funding Award
National Institute of Health / HHS
Department of Defense (DOD)
National Science Foundation
Department of Energy (DoE)
SBIR/STTR Phase I
SBIR/STTR Phase II
R01, U01, Carb-X, HEAL or Pioneer Grant
EERE or ARPA-E Award
One of our government funding experts will contact you within 48 hours to schedule a phone call.