Since we’ve spent the last two weeks talking about non-profits and Form 1023, I thought we should take one more week to talk about another very important form for non-profits: Form 990.

If your non-profit organization has successfully navigated Form 1023 (or Form 1023-EZ) and won your federal tax-exempt status, congratulations! But don’t forget, your relationship with the IRS has only just begun. Although tax-exempt organizations don’t have to file regular tax returns like the rest of us, they still have to make an annual filing. Form 990 (and its permutations, listed below) is your annual report to the IRS, on which you report (in great detail) your activities and finances for the prior year. However, depending on what kind of organization you are, completing Form 990 can either be as taxing (pun intended) as a regular tax return, or a breeze. Here’s the breakdown of who has to file what:

  • Form 990 – the long-form version of Form 990 is for large non-profits: those with annual gross receipts of $200,000 or more, or total assets worth $500,000 or more.
  • Form 990-EZ – the shorter-form version is for non-profits with gross receipts of less than $200,000 and total assets worth less than $500,000.
  • Form 990-N – this “e-Postcard” is for small organizations with gross receipts of $50,000 or less. However, some small organizations are ineligible for the e-Postcard; they include political organizations, supporting organizations, and religious organizations, among others.
  • Form 990-PF – this is a special version of Form 990 just for private foundations.

Whichever version you file, your annual report is due by the 15th day of the 5th month after the end of your fiscal year (so if your fiscal year ends December 31, the report is due May 15). You can also apply for two 3-month extensions for Form 990, 990-EZ, and 990-PF. If you’re late, you’ll start to rack up daily fines. (Form 990-N doesn’t incur fines for being late.)

Use care in completing your Form 990. For one thing, it’s never a good idea to submit incorrect information to the IRS. For another, Form 990s are made available for public inspection. As a tax-exempt non-profit, you are considered accountable only to the public, and therefore the public is given access to your annual reports – to keep an eye on you, presumably.

Most importantly, don’t forget to make the annual filing. If your organization fails to file the report for three consecutive years, your hard-won tax-exempt status will be automatically revoked. And then you get to start back over with Form 1023.