Nonprofit Accounting Basics

Which 990 Form to File


There are threshold rules to consider when choosing the informational form an exempt organization should file. It should be noted that there are exceptions to each of these thresholds. The following are the general guidelines to consider:

Form 990 is filed by organizations that have gross receipts greater than or equal to $200,000 or that have assets greater than or equal to $500,000 at the end of the tax year. This threshold applies to organizations exempt under IRS code section 501(c)(3) (except for private foundations -- see below) and other 501(c) organizations (except black lung benefit trusts). When making this determination, it is important to note that gross receipts include the gross amounts of security, fixed asset, inventory, and special event sales, not the net as is often presented on financial sales.

The Form 990EZ is generally filed for organizations that have gross receipts of less than $200,000 and total assets of less than $500,000 during the tax year. An example of an exception to this rule is controlling organization under IRS code section 512(b)(13) when there are transfers between the controlling and controlled organization. In this case a Form 990 must be filed.

If an exempt organization normally has gross receipts of $50,000 or less, Form 990N should be used. The Form 990N is an electronic postcard that requires very limited information and can be accessed through the IRS website. This form cannot be used by several types of exempt organizations, such as supporting organizations under IRS code section 509(a)(3), so it will be important to verify that your organization qualifies for filing the form 990N.

There are exceptions to the filing requirements for the Forms 990, 990EZ or 990N. For example, churches and other religious organizations are generally not required to file annual information returns. Unless the organization is eligible for one of the exceptions to filing, there will be a filing requirement for the year.

It is important to note that all organizations with a Form 990 series filing requirement that do not file a return for three consecutive years are subject to automatic revocation of exempt status.

There are other forms to consider:

Form 990PF is used if your organization is exempt under IRS code section 501(c)(3) and is considered a private foundation. There are no filing thresholds for this form; all private foundations must file it annually.

Form 990T must be filed if the organization received $1,000 or more in unrelated business gross income. A state filing may be due if the organization has a 990-T filing requirement.

If the organization has an interest in, or signature or other authority over, a financial account in a foreign country at any time during the calendar year, an electronic filing may be needed.  The deadline for filing is April 15, but an automatic extension is available until October 15.   

Over 40 states have charitable registration requirements if the organization is soliciting funds in the state. The laws and regulations are different in each state, so it is important to research these requirements prior to filing. The Uniform Registration Statement is available for use when initially filing in most of these states, but the requirements for subsequent filings vary widely.

There are other returns that must be filed depending upon the nature of your activities. Many of these forms are needed to disclose activities and transactions in foreign countries. Others are needed when accepting certain types of gifts. Additional types of transactions will trigger filing requirements, so it important to check with your tax advisor if you are uncertain of your responsibility to report to a government authority.