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What Is the IRS Form 990?

what is a 990

Assets include items owned by the organization, such as cash assets, accounts receivable, and property and equipment investments, among other categories. Of course, this is primarily due to IRS mandates, but the form is also important for a few other reasons. Yarilet Perez is an experienced multimedia journalist and fact-checker with a Master of Science in Journalism. She has worked in multiple cities covering breaking news, politics, education, and more.

Special Considerations When Filing Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax

This information may be valuable for volunteers looking for new opportunities and organizations to dedicate their time to. However, the IRS isn’t the only party that may be interested in these returns. The general public — especially potential donors and volunteers — can use these forms to learn about an organization’s activity. In addition to the form, the organization may be required to attach various schedules–A through O and R–to the form in order to provide supplemental information. The organization can determine the schedules they are required to use based on answers to questions throughout the form.

  1. Private foundations must use Form 990-PF to report on their assets, trustees, officers, grants, philanthropy, and other financial activities.
  2. Failing to choose the correct tax year could result in a rejection from the IRS, which will extend your filing process even further.
  3. For that reason, you should keep your relationship with the IRS a healthy one.
  4. A Schedule C may also be necessary to report the political activities of a tax-exempt organization.

More In File

Essentially, these forms allow for greater transparency in terms of nonprofit finances. Organizations that file Form 990 or Form 990-EZ use Schedule E to report information on private schools. Anyone can view the 990 you file — in fact, many donors will specifically search for them and other details prior to making donations. 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. After the specified period, failure to comply will result in a penalty of $10 per day past the deadline, with a maximum of $5,500. Because incorrect information can ultimately result in a penalty, it’s important to review and validate your entire return before you send it to the IRS.


One of the most commonly used schedules that organizations use to provide supplemental information to Form 990 is Schedule O. This schedule is also used to determine whether a member of the organization’s governing body is an independent member. This includes facilities operated either directly or indirectly through disregarded entities or joint ventures. It saves you time and energy to make sure you’re filing the shortest and simplest form possible for your organization before tax season begins. The Form 990 has several variants that you might qualify to file if your organization fulfills a few simple requirements. Other than the 990-PF (which is specifically designed for private foundations), the usually discussed variations of the Form 990 are shorter and slightly simpler than the original form.

Some organizations, such as political organizations, churches and other religious organizations, are exempt from filing an annual Form 990. Tax-exempt organizations with less than $200,000 of gross receipts and less than $500,000 in assets can file Form 990-EZ, which is the « short form » version of Form 990. However, private foundations must file Form 990-PF and black lung benefit trusts must file Form 990-BL. A Schedule C may also be necessary to report the political activities of a tax-exempt organization.

One reason you may volunteer to select this option is to create a more detailed public record of your charitable nonprofit’s operations for increased donor accountability. Most tax-exempt nonprofits must file a 990 form with the Internal Revenue Service every year, typically in mid-May. It is important to note that repeated failure to correct the information with an amended return will result in fines but not the loss of tax-exempt status. As such, it is better — although absolutely not recommended — to file an incorrect Form 990 than to not file at all.

The one you need to file depends primarily on your total gross receipts and assets. Nonprofits with incomes below $200,000 and assets of less than $500,000 may file a shorter version of the form called the 990-EZ. The 990-EZ, which is four pages long, still requires the reporting of income and expenses. Because it asks fewer questions, completing the 990-EZ requires less disclosure. Of course, you should always remember to file your 990 returns on time in order to stay compliant with the IRS.

Unlike income tax returns that are private, this form is open to public inspection. A tax-exempt organization must file an annual information return or notice with the IRS, unless an exception 100 printable invoice templates applies. Form 990 is the IRS’ primary tool for gathering information about tax-exempt organizations, educating organizations about tax law requirements and promoting compliance.

what is a 990

There are also instructions for adding additional forms and responding to appended sections. So long as you understand why your tax forms exis and get the right guidance, you should be able to get through tax season painlessly. But with every system of rules and regulations intended for good, there will always be the occasional person (or in this case, organization) who will take advantage of the system.

Remember that it’s important to meet your 990 form deadline to avoid penalties and to demonstrate your reliability to your supporters. Again, nonprofits that qualify for the Form 990-EZ can choose to submit the more detailed Form 990 if they want. Nonprofits that are eligible to submit the Form 990-N may choose to submit a Form 990-EZ balance sheet items items of balance sheet with explanation or Form 990 instead but must ensure the documents are complete and submitted on time. For additional details, always make sure to review the most current information on the IRS’s website. And prospective donors and others may easily access 990 forms, with help from “finder” features that groups like ProPublica and Candid maintain.

If it’s getting close to the deadline and you don’t think you’ll have the capacity to complete your 990 form on time, you can file for a six-month extension using Form 8868. Private foundations must use Form 990-PF to report on their assets, trustees, officers, grants, philanthropy, and other financial activities. They do not need to submit any of the other 990 forms for nonprofits in addition to this one. However, if your exempt organization type is a private foundation, that will impact which form you use, as well. Additionally, there are a few nonprofit types that are exempt from filing a 990 form, such as churches.

Having an accountant or someone familiar with IRS regulations on your board can help ensure a complete and accurate submission of all necessary tax forms. If you’re overwhelmed and need more time to file your return, you have the option to file an extension using Form 8868. Filing this form will result in an automatic 6-month extension on your deadline. Like your personal tax returns, it allows the government and your donors to ascertain whether you are a reliable, honest institution. In short, a Form 990 is an informational document highlighting your nonprofit’s mission, programs, finances, and accomplishments from the past year.

Section 501(c) organizations, and Section 527 organizations use Schedule C (Form 990 or 990-EZ) to furnish additional information on political campaign activities or lobbying activities. With TurboTax Live Full Service, a local expert matched to your unique situation will do your taxes for you start to finish. Or, get unlimited help and advice from tax experts while you do your taxes with TurboTax Live Assisted.

While charitable nonprofits file most 990s, other entities, such as nonexempt charitable trusts, private foundations and some political organizations, also must file them. The shortest version of Form 990, the Form 990-N, can only be filed by organizations with gross receipts of $50,000 or less. Form 990-N is referred to as an “e-postcard” since it can only be filed online and requires minimal information. Any organization that fails to file the appropriate Form 990 for three consecutive years risks having its tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS.


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