IRS form 990 questions answered. Woman in glasses pulling at her hair, question marks surround her.

by Cassie Strain on March 11, 2019 Reprinted from Blue Avocado

Do you ever have a question about your IRS Form 990 and can’t seem to find the answer? Today we’ll give you some valuable information concerning your filings, written in plain English with links to forms, websites, and information that will hopefully keep your fiscal year-end stresses at bay.

Serious Business

Nobody likes taxes or the IRS, but don’t let that stop you from acknowledging the seriousness of filing your 990 annually. The IRS is the real deal. Like Santa except far more aggressive, they have a list that tells them whether or not your nonprofit has filed its 990 consistently and on time. It’s called the IRS Automatic Revocation of Exemption List.

The IRS website states that “the Internal Revenue Code automatically revokes the exemption of any organization that fails to satisfy its filing requirement(s) for three consecutive years.” This means you have to file your 990 completely and on time each to year to avoid joining the 28,000 nonprofits that are revoked annually on average, of which only 20 percent are reinstated. Keep in mind that even if you’re reinstated after revocation, you remain on this list.

While you may be happier and a great deal less stressed out ignoring your IRS requirements, doing so will not have a happy ending.

Below are the answers to common 990-related questions:

What is a 990?

In “IRS Speak” the 990 Form is the annual reporting tax return document required to be filed by all federally tax-exempt organizations. This form is the way the government (via the IRS) ensures your compliance and evaluates how your institution is doing financially.

In plain English, the 990 is the report card for your nonprofit. Like your personal tax returns, it allows the government and your donors to ascertain whether you are a reliable, honest institution.

Do we have to file?  

If you are a tax-exempt organization, you are probably a 501(c)(3) public charity or private foundation and are required to file a 990.

If your project is a fiscally sponsored initiative within an established nonprofit, it’s on them to file. Finally, if you’re a church or state institution, filing requirements are different—see the hyperlinks I just shared for details.

Which form do we need?

Determining which form to complete is based on the amount of your Gross Receipts. Gross receipts are the total amount your nonprofit received from all sources during your accounting period (fiscal year), without subtracting costs or expenses.

Once you know your Gross Receipts, it’s easy to figure out which form to complete:

  • Smaller nonprofits (Gross Receipts ≤ $50,000) file a 990-N (e-postcard)
  • Mid-size organizations (Gross Receipts < $200,000, and total assets < $500,000) file a 990 or 990-EZ
  • Larger organizations (Gross Receipts ≥ $200,000, or total assets ≥ $500,000) file a 990
  • Private Foundations file a 990-PF

When is our 990 due?

Forms 990 are due on the 15th day of the fifth month following the end of your organization’s taxable year. For nonprofits on a calendar fiscal year, your due date will be May 15th of the following year.

When is our organization’s fiscal year?

You can find your organization’s fiscal year printed on the upper right section of your IRS Determination Letter. It will be listed as “Accounting Period Ending.”

What if we can’t meet the deadline?

To obtain an automatic six-month extension for your 990, simply file a Form 8868, also known as the Application for Extension of Time to File an Exempt Organization Return.

What happens if we don’t file?

Many consequences can come from not filing your 990 return, including (but not limited to):

  • Ineligibility to receive tax-deductible contributions
  • Losing your 501(c)(3) status 
  • Your organization’s name and information being added to the IRS Automatic Revocation List 
  • Liability to pay federal income taxes
  • Fees averaging $20 a day, up to $10,000 
  • Loss of donor confidence, and often donors themselves!

Do I have to file with my state? 

Maybe. Each state has individual requirements for tax-exempt filings, some of which require greater detail or additional forms to accompany your 990 filing. For example, the state of New York requires Form CHAR500 to be filed each year. See the IRS’ list of states and their requirements to ease your journey.

Who can see my organization’s 990?

You are required to make your 990 available for public inspection (without charge, except the cost of any copies printed) at regional and district offices during regular business hours, but this burden can be minimized by posting your 990 to your website. There are numerous websites that provide information on exempt organizations, and many of them provide previously-filed 990’s. Anyone can view the 990 you file—in fact, many donors will specifically search for them and other details prior to making donations. A copy can also be viewed on or by request through the IRS.

Death and Taxes

The only things certain in life are death and taxes; this is as true now as it was in the 1700’s when Ben Franklin wrote it. For that reason, you should keep your relationship with the IRS a healthy one. If you haven’t had any extenuating issues with them as of yet, 2019 isn’t the year to start! If you have, set a resolution that it won’t happen again.

Although taxes are daunting for many, there are so many resources out there to ease the burden. Can’t find an answer to a 990 question on the IRS website? No problem! Free resources like Blue Avocado and GuideStar offer a helping hand for all of your nonprofit tax questions. Now that you know all the essentials to your 990 filing, you should be ready for a stress-free tax season!

Pop Quiz!

Test your 990 knowledge by answering the following questions and checking the answers at the bottom of the page.

1) What 2 types of organizations do not require filing a 990?

2) What type of 990 should your organization file if:

a) Your gross receipts are less than $50,000 a year?

b) Your gross receipts are less than $200,000 a year but more than $50,000 a year?

c) Your gross receipts are greater than $200,000 a year?

3) When is your 990 due?

4) What form must you file if you cannot meet your 990 deadline?

5) Does your state require any additional documentation to file your 990?

Your IRS Form 990 Questions Answered

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