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General Instructions

Overview of Form 990


Terms in bold are defined in the Glossary of the Instructions for Form 990.

Certain Form 990 filers must file electronically. See General Instructions, Section E. When, Where, and How to File, later, for who must file electronically.

Form 990 is an annual information return required to be filed with the IRS by most organizations exempt from income tax under section 501(a), and certain political organizations and nonexempt charitable trusts. Parts I through XII of the form must be completed by all filing organizations and require reporting on the organization's exempt and other activities, finances, governance, compliance with certain federal tax filings and requirements, and compensation paid to certain persons. Additional schedules are required to be completed depending upon the activities and type of the organization. By completing Part IV, the organization determines which schedules are required. The entire completed Form 990 filed with the IRS, except for certain contributor information on Schedule B (Form 990, 990-EZ, or 990-PF), is required to be made available to the public by the IRS and the filing organization (see Appendix D. Public Inspection of Returns), and can be required to be filed with state governments to satisfy state reporting requirements. See Appendix I. Use of Form 990 and 990-EZ to Satisfy State Reporting Requirements.

Reminder: Don't Include Social Security Numbers on Publicly Disclosed Forms. Because the filing organization and the IRS are required to publicly disclose the organization's annual information returns, social security numbers should not be included on this form. By law, with limited exceptions, neither the organization nor the IRS may remove that information before making the form publicly available. Documents subject to disclosure include statements and attachments filed with the form. For more information, see Appendix D. Public Inspection of Returns.

Helpful Hints.   The following hints can help you more efficiently review these instructions and complete the form.
  • See General Instructions, Section C. Sequencing List to Complete the Form and Schedules, later, which provides guidance on the recommended order for completing the form and applicable statements.

  • Throughout these instructions, “the organization” and the “filing organization” both refer to the organization filing Form 990.

  • Unless otherwise specified, information should be provided for the organization's tax year. For instance, an organization should answer “Yes” to a question asking whether it conducted a certain type of activity only if it conducted that activity during the tax year.

  • The examples appearing throughout the instructions on Form 990 are illustrative only. They are for the purpose of completing this form and aren't all-inclusive.

  • Instructions to the Form 990 schedules are published separately from these instructions.

Organizations that have total gross income from unrelated trades or businesses of at least $1,000 also are required to file Form 990-T, Exempt Organization Business Income Tax Return, in addition to any required Form 990, 990-EZ, or 990-N.

A. Who Must File

Most organizations exempt from income tax under section 501(a) must file an annual information return (Form 990 or 990-EZ) or submit an annual electronic notice (Form 990-N), depending upon the organization's gross receipts and total assets.

An organization may not file a “consolidated” Form 990 to aggregate information from another organization that has a different EIN, unless it is filing a group return and reporting information from a subordinate organization or organizations, reporting information from a joint venture or disregarded entity (see Appendices E and F, later), or as otherwise provided for in the Code, regulations, or official IRS guidance. A parent exempt organization of a section 501(c)(2) title-holding company may file a consolidated Form 990-T with the section 501(c)(2) organization, but not a consolidated Form 990.

Form 990 must be filed by an organization exempt from income tax under section 501(a) (including an organization that has not applied for recognition of exemption) if it has either (1) gross receipts greater than or equal to $200,000 or (2) total assets greater than or equal to $500,000 at the end of the tax year (with exceptions described below for organizations eligible to submit Form 990-N and for certain organizations described in Section B. Organizations Not Required to File Form 990 or 990-EZ, later). This includes:

  • Organizations described in section 501(c)(3) (other than private foundations), and

  • Organizations described in other 501(c) subsections (other than black lung benefit trusts).

Gross receipts are the total amounts the organization received from all sources during its tax year, without subtracting any costs or expenses. See Appendix B for a discussion of gross receipts.

For purposes of Form 990 reporting, the term section 501(c)(3) includes organizations exempt under sections 501(e) and (f) (cooperative service organizations), 501(j) (amateur sports organizations), 501(k) (child care organizations), and 501(n) (charitable risk pools). In addition, any organization described in one of these sections is also subject to section 4958 if it obtains a determination letter from the IRS stating that it is described in section 501(c)(3).

Form 990-N.   If an organization normally has gross receipts of $50,000 or less, it must submit Form 990-N, Electronic Notice (e-Postcard) for Tax-Exempt Organizations Not Required To File Form 990 or 990-EZ, if it chooses not to file Form 990 or Form 990-EZ (with exceptions described below for certain section 509(a)(3) supporting organizations and for certain organizations described in Section B. Organizations Not Required To File Form 990 or 990-EZ, later.) See Appendix B for a discussion of gross receipts.

Form 990-EZ.   If an organization has gross receipts less than $200,000 and total assets at the end of the tax year less than $500,000, it can choose to file Form 990-EZ, Short Form Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax, instead of Form 990. See the Instructions for Form 990-EZ for more information. See the special rules below regarding controlling organizations under section 512(b)(13) and sponsoring organizations of donor advised funds.

  If an organization eligible to submit the Form 990-N or file the Form 990-EZ chooses to file the Form 990, it must file a complete return.

Foreign and U.S. possession organizations.    Foreign organizations and U.S. possession organizations as well as domestic organizations must file Form 990 or 990-EZ unless specifically excepted under Section B. Organizations Not Required To File Form 990 or 990-EZ, later. Report amounts in U.S. dollars and state what conversion rate the organization uses. Combine amounts from inside and outside the United States and report the total for each item. All information must be written in English.

Sponsoring organizations of donor advised funds.   If required to file an annual information return for the year, sponsoring organizations of donor advised funds must file Form 990 and not Form 990-EZ.

Controlling organizations described in section 512(b)(13).   A controlling organization of one or more controlled entities, as described in section 512(b)(13), must file Form 990 and not Form 990-EZ if it is required to file an annual information return for the year and if there was any transfer of funds between the controlling organization and any controlled entity during the year.

Section 509(a)(3) supporting organizations.   A section 509(a)(3) supporting organization must file Form 990 or 990-EZ, even if its gross receipts are normally $50,000 or less, and even if it is described in Rev. Proc. 96-10, 1996-1 C.B. 577, or is an affiliate of a governmental unit described in Rev. Proc. 95-48, unless it qualifies as one of the following:
  1. An integrated auxiliary of a church described in Regulations section 1.6033-2(h),

  2. The exclusively religious activities of a religious order, or

  3. An organization, the gross receipts of which are normally not more than $5,000, that supports a section 501(c)(3) religious organization.

If the organization is described in (3) but not in (1) or (2), then it must submit Form 990-N unless it voluntarily files Form 990 or 990-EZ.

Section 501(c)(7) and 501(c)(15) organizations.   Section 501(c)(7) and 501(c)(15) organizations apply the same gross receipts test as other organizations to determine whether they must file Form 990, but use a different definition of gross receipts to determine whether they qualify as tax-exempt for the tax year. See Appendix C for more information.

Section 527 political organizations.   A tax-exempt political organization must file Form 990 or 990-EZ if it had $25,000 or more in gross receipts during its tax year, even if its gross receipts are normally $50,000 or less, unless it meets one of the exceptions for certain political organizations under Section B. Organizations Not Required To File Form 990 or 990-EZ, later. A qualified state or local political organization must file Form 990 or 990-EZ only if it has gross receipts of $100,000 or more. Political organizations aren't required to submit Form 990-N.

Section 4947(a)(1) nonexempt charitable trusts.   A nonexempt charitable trust described under section 4947(a)(1) (if it isn't treated as a private foundation) is required to file Form 990 or 990-EZ, unless excepted under Section B. Organizations Not Required To File Form 990 or 990-EZ, later. Such a trust is treated like an exempt section 501(c)(3) organization for purposes of completing the form. Section 4947(a)(1) trusts must complete all sections of the Form 990 and schedules that section 501(c)(3) organizations must complete. All references to a section 501(c)(3) organization in the Form 990, schedules, and instructions include a section 4947(a)(1) trust (for instance, such a trust must complete Schedule A (Form 990 or 990-EZ)), unless otherwise specified. If such a trust does not have any taxable income under Subtitle A of the Code, it can file Form 990 or 990-EZ to meet its section 6012 filing requirement and does not have to file Form 1041, U.S. Income Tax Return for Estates and Trusts.

Returns when exempt status not yet established.   An organization is required to file Form 990 under these instructions if the organization claims exempt status under section 501(a) but has not established such exempt status by filing Form 1023, Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, Form 1023-EZ, Streamlined Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, or Form 1024, Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(a), and receiving an IRS determination letter recognizing tax-exempt status. In such a case, the organization must check the “Application pending” checkbox in Form 990, Item B, Heading, page 1 (whether or not a Form 1023, 1023-EZ, or 1024 has been filed) to indicate that Form 990 is being filed in the belief that the organization is exempt under section 501(a), but that the IRS has not yet recognized such exemption.

  To qualify for tax exemption retroactive to the date of its organization or formation, an organization claiming tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3), 501(c)(9), or 501(c)(17) generally must file Form 1023, 1023-EZ, or 1024 within 27 months of the end of the month in which it was legally organized or formed.

An organization that has filed a letter application for recognition of exemption as a qualified nonprofit health insurance issuer under section 501(c)(29), or plans to do so, but has not yet received an IRS determination letter recognizing exempt status, must check the “Application pending” checkbox in the Form 990 Heading, Item B.

B. Organizations Not Required To File Form 990 or 990-EZ

An organization does not have to file Form 990 or 990-EZ even if it has at least $200,000 of gross receipts for the tax year or $500,000 of total assets at the end of the tax year if it is described below (except for section 509(a)(3) supporting organizations, which are described earlier). See Section A. Who Must File to determine if the organization can file Form 990-EZ instead of Form 990. An organization described in paragraph 10, 11, or 13 of this Section B is required to submit Form 990-N unless it voluntarily files Form 990, 990-EZ, or 990-BL, as applicable.

Certain religious organizations. 

  1. A church, an interchurch organization of local units of a church, a convention or association of churches, or an integrated auxiliary of a church as described in Regulations section 1.6033-2(h) (such as a men's or women's organization, religious school, mission society, or youth group).

  2. A church-affiliated organization that is exclusively engaged in managing funds or maintaining retirement programs and is described in Rev. Proc. 96-10, 1996-1 C.B. 577. But see the filing requirements for section 509(a)(3) supporting organizations in A. Who Must File.

  3. A school below college level affiliated with a church or operated by a religious order described in Regulations section 1.6033-2(g)(1)(vii).

  4. A mission society sponsored by, or affiliated with, one or more churches or church denominations, if more than half of the society's activities are conducted in, or directed at, persons in foreign countries.

  5. An exclusively religious activity of any religious order described in Rev. Proc. 91-20, 1991-1 C.B. 524.

    Certain governmental organizations.

  6. A state institution whose income is excluded from gross income under section 115.

  7. A governmental unit or affiliate of a governmental unit described in Rev. Proc. 95-48, 1995-2 C.B. 418. But see the filing requirements for section 509(a)(3) supporting organizations in A. Who Must File.

  8. An organization described in section 501(c)(1). A section 501(c)(1) organization is a corporation organized under an Act of Congress that is an instrumentality of the United States, and exempt from federal income taxes.

    Certain political organizations.

  9. A political organization that is:

    • A state or local committee of a political party;

    • A political committee of a state or local candidate;

    • A caucus or association of state or local officials; or

    • Required to report under the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 as a political committee (as defined in section 301(4) of such Act).

    Certain organizations with limited gross receipts.

  10. An organization whose gross receipts are normally $50,000 or less. Such organizations generally are required to submit Form 990-N if they choose not to file Form 990 or Form 990-EZ. To determine what an organization's gross receipts “normally” are, see Appendix B. How to Determine Whether an Organization's Gross Receipts Are Normally $50,000 (or $5,000) or Less.

  11. Foreign organizations and organizations located in U.S. possessions, whose gross receipts from sources within the United States are normally $50,000 or less and which did not engage in significant activity in the United States (other than investment activity). Such organizations, if they claim U.S. tax exemption or are recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt, generally are required to submit Form 990-N if they choose not to file Form 990 or 990-EZ.  
    If a foreign organization or U.S. possession organization is required to file Form 990 or Form 990-EZ, then its worldwide gross receipts, as well as assets, are taken into account in determining whether it qualifies to file Form 990-EZ.

    Certain organizations that file different kinds of annual information returns.

  12. A private foundation (including a private operating foundation) exempt under section 501(c)(3) and described in section 509(a). Use Form 990-PF, Return of Private Foundation. Also use Form 990-PF for a taxable private foundation, a section 4947(a)(1) nonexempt charitable trust treated as a private foundation, and a private foundation terminating its status by becoming a public charity under section 507(b)(1)(B) (for tax years within its 60-month termination period). If the organization successfully terminates, then it files Form 990 or 990-EZ in its final year of termination.

  13. A black lung benefit trust described in section 501(c)(21). Use Form 990-BL, Information and Initial Excise Tax Return for Black Lung Benefit Trusts and Certain Related Persons.

  14. A religious or apostolic organization described in section 501(d). Use Form 1065, U.S. Return of Partnership Income.

  15. A stock bonus, pension, or profit-sharing trust that qualifies under section 401. Use Form 5500, Annual Return/Report of Employee Benefit Plan.

Subordinate organizations in a group exemption which are included in a group return filed by the central organization for the tax year should not file a separate Form 990 or Form 990-EZ for the tax year.

C. Sequencing List To Complete the Form and Schedules

You may find the following list helpful. It limits jumping from one part of the form to another to make a calculation or determination needed to complete an earlier part. Certain later parts of the form must first be completed in order to complete earlier parts. In general, first complete the core form, and then complete alphabetically Schedules A–N and Schedule R, except as provided below. Schedule O (Form 990 or 990-EZ), Supplemental Information to Form 990, should be completed as the core form and schedules are completed. Note that all organizations filing Form 990 must file Schedule O.

A public charity described in section 170(b)(1)(A)(iv), 170(b)(1)(A)(vi), or 509(a)(2) that isn't within its initial five years of existence should first complete Part II or III of Schedule A (Form 990 or 990-EZ) to ensure that it continues to qualify as a public charity for the tax year. If it fails to qualify as a public charity, then it must file Form 990-PF rather than Form 990 or 990-EZ, and check the box for “Initial return of a former public charity” on page 1 of Form 990-PF.

  1. Complete Items A through F and H(a) through M in the Heading of Form 990, on page 1.

  2. See the instructions for definitions of related organization and control and determine the organization's related organizations required to be listed in Schedule R (Form 990).

  3. Determine the organization's officers, directors, trustees, key employees, and five highest compensated employees required to be listed on Form 990, Part VII, Section A.

  4. Complete Parts VIII, IX, and X of Form 990.

  5. Complete Item G in the Heading section of Form 990, on page 1.

  6. Complete Parts III, V, VII, XI, and XII of Form 990.

  7. See the Instructions for Schedule L (Form 990 or 990-EZ), Transactions With Interested Persons, and complete Schedule L (Form 990 or 990-EZ) (if required).

  8. Complete Part VI of Form 990. Transactions reported on Schedule L (Form 990 or 990-EZ) are relevant to determining independence of members of the governing body under Form 990, Part VI, line 1b.

  9. Complete Part I of Form 990 based on information derived from other parts of the form.

  10. Complete Part IV of Form 990 to determine which schedules must be completed by the organization.

  11. Complete Schedule O (Form 990 or 990-EZ) and any other applicable schedules (for “Yes” boxes that were checked in Part IV). Use Schedule O (Form 990 or 990-EZ) to provide required supplemental information and other narrative explanations for questions on the core Form 990. For questions on Form 990 schedules, use the narrative part of each schedule to provide supplemental narrative.

  12. Complete Part II, Signature Block, of Form 990.

D. Accounting Periods and Methods

These are the accounting periods covered under the law.

Accounting Periods

Calendar year.   Use the 2016 Form 990 to report on the 2016 calendar year accounting period. A calendar year accounting period begins on January 1 and ends on December 31.

Fiscal year.   If the organization has established a fiscal year accounting period, use the 2016 Form 990 to report on the organization's fiscal year that began in 2016 and ended 12 months later. A fiscal year accounting period should normally coincide with the natural operating cycle of the organization. Be certain to indicate in Item A of the Heading of Form 990 the date the organization's fiscal year began in 2016 and the date the fiscal year ended in 2017.

Short period.    A short accounting period is a period of less than 12 months, which exists when an organization first commences operations, changes its accounting period, or terminates. If the organization's short year began in 2016, and ended before December 31, 2016 (not on or after December 31, 2016), it may use either 2015 Form 990 or 2016 Form 990 to file for the short year. The 2016 form may also be used for a short period beginning in 2017 and ending before December 31, 2017 (not on or after December 31, 2017). When doing so, provide the information for designated years listed on the return, other than the tax year being reported, as if they were updated on the 2017 form. For example, provide the information in Schedule A, Part II, for the tax years 2013-2017, rather than for tax years 2012-2016. A short period return cannot be filed electronically unless it is an initial return for which the “Initial return” box is checked in Item B of the Heading or a final return for which the “Final return/terminated” box is checked in Item B of the Heading.

Accounting period change.   If the organization changes its accounting period, it must file a Form 990 for the short period resulting from the change. Write “Change of Accounting Period” at the top of this short-period return.

  If the organization has previously changed its annual accounting period at any time within the 10-calendar-year period that includes the beginning of the short period resulting from the current change in accounting period, and it had a Form 990-series filing requirement or income tax return filing requirement at any time during that 10-year period, it must also file a Form 1128, Application To Adopt, Change, or Retain a Tax Year, with the short-period return. See Rev. Proc. 85-58, 1985-2 C.B. 740.

  If an organization that submits Form 990-N changes its accounting period, it must report this change on Form 990, Form 990-EZ, or Form 1128, or by sending a letter to Internal Revenue Service, 1973 Rulon White Blvd., Ogden, Utah 84201.

Accounting Methods

Unless instructed otherwise, the organization should generally use the same accounting method on the return (including the Form 990 and all schedules) to report revenue and expenses that it regularly uses to keep its books and records. To be acceptable for Form 990 reporting purposes, however, the method of accounting must clearly reflect income.

Accounting method change.   Generally, the organization must file Form 3115, Application for Change in Accounting Method, to change its accounting method. An exception applies where a section 501(c) organization changes its accounting method to comply with the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) Statement of Financial Accounting Standards 116, Accounting for Contributions Received and Contributions Made (SFAS 116), now codified in FASB Accounting Standards Codification 958, Not-for-Profit Entities (ASC 958). See Notice 96-30, 1996-1 C.B. 378. An organization that makes a change in accounting method, regardless of whether it files Form 3115, must report any adjustment required by section 481(a) in Parts VIII through XI and in Schedule D, (Form 990), Supplemental FInancial Statements, Parts XI and XII, as applicable.

State reporting.    Many states that accept Form 990 in place of their own forms require that all amounts be reported based on the accrual method of accounting. If the organization prepares Form 990 for state reporting purposes, it can file an identical return with the IRS even though the return does not agree with the books of account, unless the way one or more items are reported on the state return conflicts with the instructions for preparing Form 990 for filing with the IRS.

Example 1.

The organization maintains its books on the cash receipts and disbursements method of accounting but prepares a Form 990 return for the state based on the accrual method. It could use that return for reporting to the IRS.

Example 2.

A state reporting requirement requires the organization to report certain revenue, expense, or balance sheet items differently from the way it normally accounts for them on its books. A Form 990 prepared for that state is acceptable for the IRS reporting purposes if the state reporting requirement does not conflict with the Instructions for Form 990.

An organization should keep a reconciliation of any differences between its books of account and the Form 990 that is filed. Organizations with audited financial statements are required to provide such reconciliations on Schedule D (Form 990), Parts XI through XII.

See Pub. 538, Accounting Periods and Methods, and the instructions to Forms 1128 and 3115, about reporting changes to accounting periods and methods.

E. When, Where, and How To File

File Form 990 by the 15th day of the 5th month after the organization's accounting period ends (May 15th for a calendar-year filer). If the due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, file on the next business day. A business day is any day that isn't a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday.

If the organization is liquidated, dissolved, or terminated, file the return by the 15th day of the 5th month after liquidation, dissolution, or termination.

If the return isn't filed by the due date (including any extension granted), explain in a separate attachment, giving the reasons for not filing on time.

Send the return to:

Department of the Treasury 
Internal Revenue Service Center 
Ogden, UT 84201-0027

Foreign and U.S. possession organizations.   If the organization's principal business, office, or agency is located in a foreign country or U.S. possession, send the return to:

Department of the Treasury 
Internal Revenue Service Center 
P.O. Box 409101 
Ogden, UT 84409

Private delivery services.    The organization can use only the IRS-designated private delivery services below to meet the “timely mailing as timely filing/paying” rule for tax returns and payments. These private delivery services include only the following:
  • DHL Express 9:00; DHL Express 10:30; DHL Express 12:00; DHL Express Worldwide; DHL Express Envelope; DHL Import Express 10:30; DHL Import Express 12:00; DHL Import Express Worldwide.

  • Federal Express (FedEx): FedEx First Overnight, FedEx Priority Overnight, FedEx Standard Overnight, FedEx 2Day, FedEx International Next Flight Out, FedEx International Priority, FedEx International First, FedEx International Economy.

  • United Parcel Service (UPS): UPS Next Day Air Early AM, UPS Next Day Air, UPS Next Day Air Saver, UPS 2nd Day Air, UPS 2nd Day Air AM, UPS Worldwide Express Plus, and UPS Worldwide Express.

    For private delivery services, deliver the return to:

    Internal Revenue Service 
    1973 Rulon White Blvd. 
    Ogden, UT 84201

    The private delivery service can tell you how to get written proof of the mailing date.

Private delivery services cannot deliver items to P.O. boxes. You must use the U.S. Postal Service to mail any item to an IRS P.O. box.

Electronic filing.   The organization can file Form 990 and related forms, schedules, and attachments electronically. However, if an organization files at least 250 returns of any type during the calendar year ending with or within the organization's tax year and has total assets of $10 million or more at the end of the tax year, it must file Form 990 electronically. “Returns” for this purpose include information returns (for example, Forms W-2 and Forms 1099), income tax returns, employment tax returns (including quarterly Forms 941, Employer's Quarterly Federal Tax Return), and excise tax returns.

  If an organization is required to file a return electronically but does not, the organization is considered not to have filed its return, even if a paper return is submitted, unless it is reporting a name change, in which case it must file by paper and attach the documents described in Specific Instructions, Item B. Checkboxes, later. See Regulations section 301.6033-4 for more information on mandatory electronic filing of Form 990.

  For additional information on the electronic filing requirement, visit

  The IRS may waive the requirements to file electronically in cases of undue hardship. For information on filing a waiver, see Notice 2010-13, 2010-4 I.R.B. 327, available at

F. Extension of Time To File

Use Form 8868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File an Exempt Organization Return, to request an automatic extension of time to file.

G. Amended Return/Final Return

To amend the organization's return for any year, file a new return including any required schedules. Use the version of Form 990 applicable to the year being amended. The amended return must provide all the information called for by the form and instructions, not just the new or corrected information. Check the “Amended return” box in Item B of the Heading of the return on page 1 of the form. Also, enter in Schedule O (Form 990 or 990-EZ) which parts and schedules of the Form 990 were amended and describe the amendments.

The organization can file an amended return at any time to change or add to the information reported on a previously filed return for the same period. It must make the amended return available for inspection for 3 years from the date of filing or 3 years from the date the original return was due, whichever is later.

If the organization needs a complete copy of its previously filed return, it can file Form 4506, Request for Copy of Tax Return. See for information on getting blank tax forms.

If the return is a final return, the organization must check the “Final return/terminated” box in Item B of the Heading on page 1 of the form, and complete Schedule N (Form 990 or 990-EZ), Liquidation, Termination, Dissolution, or Significant Disposition of Assets.

Amended returns and state filing considerations.   State law may require that the organization send a copy of an amended Form 990 return (or information provided to the IRS supplementing the return) to the state with which it filed a copy of Form 990 to meet that state's reporting requirement. A state may require an organization to file an amended Form 990 to satisfy state reporting requirements, even if the original return was accepted by the IRS.

H. Failure-to-File Penalties

Against the organization.    Under section 6652(c)(1)(A), a penalty of $20 a day, not to exceed the lesser of $10,000 or 5% of the gross receipts of the organization for the year, can be charged when a return is filed late, unless the organization shows that the late filing was due to reasonable cause. Organizations with annual gross receipts exceeding $1,020,000 are subject to a penalty of $100 for each day failure continues (with a maximum penalty for any one return of $51,000). The penalty applies on each day after the due date that the return isn't filed.

  Tax-exempt organizations that are required to file electronically but don't are deemed to have failed to file the return. This is true even if a paper return is submitted, unless the organization files by paper to report a name change.

  The penalty can also be charged if the organization files an incomplete return, such as by failing to complete a required line item or a required part of a schedule. To avoid penalties and having to supply missing information later:
  • Complete all applicable line items,

  • Unless instructed to skip a line, answer each question on the return,

  • Make an entry (including a zero when appropriate) on all lines requiring an amount or other information to be reported, and

  • Provide required explanations as instructed.

  Also, this penalty can be imposed if the organization's return contains incorrect information. For example, an organization that reports contributions net of related fundraising expenses can be subject to this penalty.

  Use of a paid preparer does not relieve the organization of its responsibility to file a complete and accurate return.

Against responsible person(s).   If the organization does not file a complete return or does not furnish correct information, the IRS will send the organization a letter that includes a fixed time to fulfill these requirements. After that period expires, the person failing to comply will be charged a penalty of $10 a day. The maximum penalty on all persons for failures for any one return shall not exceed $5,000.

  There are also penalties (fines and imprisonment) for willfully not filing returns and for filing fraudulent returns and statements with the IRS (see sections 7203, 7206, and 7207). States can impose additional penalties for failure to meet their separate filing requirements.

Automatic revocation for nonfiling for three consecutive years.   The law requires most tax-exempt organizations, other than churches, to file an annual Form 990, 990-EZ, or 990-PF with the IRS, or to submit a Form 990-N e-Postcard to the IRS. If an organization fails to file an annual return or submit a notice as required for 3 consecutive years, its tax-exempt status is automatically revoked on and after the due date for filing its third annual return or notice. Organizations that lose their tax-exempt status may need to file income tax returns and pay income tax, but may apply for reinstatement of exemption. For details, go to

I. Group Return

A central, parent, or similar organization can file a group return on Form 990 for two or more subordinate or local organizations that are:

  • Affiliated with the central organization at the time its tax year ends,

  • Subject to the central organization's general supervision or control,

  • Exempt from tax under a group exemption letter that is still in effect, and

  • Using the same tax year as the central organization.

The central organization can't use a Form 990-EZ for the group return.

A subordinate organization may choose to file a separate annual information return instead of being included in the group return.

If the central organization is required to file a return for itself, it must file a separate return and can't be included in the group return. See Regulations section 1.6033-2(d)(1). See Section B. Organizations Not Required To File Form 990 or 990-EZ, earlier, for a list of organizations not required to file.

Every year, each subordinate organization must authorize the central organization in writing to include it in the group return and must declare, under penalties of perjury, that the authorization and the information it submits to be included in the group return are true and complete.

The central organization should send the annual information update required to maintain a group exemption ruling (a separate requirement from the annual return) to:

Department of the Treasury 
Internal Revenue Service Center 
Ogden, UT 84201-0027

For special instructions regarding answering certain Form 990 questions about parts or schedules in the context of a group return, see Appendix E. Group Returns–Reporting Information on Behalf of the Group.

J. Requirements for a Properly Completed Form 990

All organizations filing Form 990 must complete Parts I through XII, Schedule O (Form 990 or 990-EZ), and any schedules for which a “Yes” response is indicated in Part IV. If an organization isn't required to file Form 990 but chooses to do so, it must file a complete return and provide all of the information requested, including the required schedules.

Public inspection.   In general, all information the organization reports on or with its Form 990, including schedules and attachments, will be available for public inspection. Note, however, the special rules for Schedule B (Form 990, 990-EZ, or 990-PF), Schedule of Contributors, a required schedule for certain organizations that file Form 990. Make sure the forms and schedules are clear enough to photocopy legibly. For more information on public inspection requirements, see Appendix D. Public Inspection of Returns, and Pub. 557, Tax-Exempt Status for Your Organization.

Signature.   A Form 990 isn't complete without a proper signature. For details, see the instructions to Part II, Signature Block.

Recordkeeping.   The organization's records should be kept for as long as they may be needed for the administration of any provision of the Internal Revenue Code. Usually, records that support an item of income, deduction, or credit must be kept for a minimum of 3 years from the date the return is due or filed, whichever is later. Keep records that verify the organization's basis in property for as long as they are needed to figure the basis of the original or replacement property. Applicable law and an organization's policies can require that the organization retain records longer than 3 years. Form 990, Part VI, line 14, asks whether the organization has a document retention and destruction policy.

  The organization should also keep copies of any returns it has filed. They help in preparing future returns and in making computations when filing an amended return.

Rounding off to whole dollars.   The organization must round off cents to whole dollars on the returns and schedules, unless otherwise noted for particular questions. To round, drop amounts under 50 cents and increase amounts from 50 to 99 cents to the next dollar. For example, $1.49 becomes $1 and $2.50 becomes $3. If the organization has to add two or more amounts to figure the amount to enter on a line, include cents when adding the amounts and round off only the total.

Completing all lines.   Make an entry (including -0- when appropriate) on all lines requiring an amount or other information to be reported. Don't leave any applicable lines blank, unless expressly instructed to skip that line. If answering a line is predicated on a “Yes” answer to the preceding line, and if the organization's answer to the preceding line was “No,” then leave the “If Yes” line blank.

  All filers must file Schedule O (Form 990 or 990-EZ). Certain questions require all filers to provide an explanation in Schedule O (Form 990 or 990-EZ). In general, answers can be explained or supplemented in Schedule O (Form 990 or 990-EZ) if the allotted space in the form or other schedule is insufficient, or if a “Yes” or “No” answer is required but the organization wishes to explain its answer.

  Missing or incomplete parts of the form and/or required schedules may result in the IRS contacting you to obtain the missing information. Failure to supply the information may result in a penalty being assessed to your account. For tips on filing complete returns, go to

Reporting proper amounts.   Some lines request information reported on other forms filed by the organization (such as Forms W-2, 1099, and 990-T). If the organization is aware that the amount actually reported on the other form is incorrect, it must report on Form 990 the information that should have been reported on the other form (in addition to filing an amended form with the proper amount).

  In general, don't report negative numbers, but use -0- instead of a negative number, unless the instructions otherwise provide. Report revenue and expenses separately and don't net related items, unless otherwise provided.

Inclusion of activities and items of disregarded entities and joint ventures.   An organization must report on its Form 990 all of the revenues, expenses, assets, liabilities, and net assets or funds of a disregarded entity of which it is the sole member, and must report on its Form 990 its share of all such items of a joint venture or other investment or arrangement treated as a partnership for federal income tax purposes. This includes passive investments. In addition, the organization generally must report activities of a disregarded entity or a joint venture on the appropriate parts or schedules of Form 990. For special instructions about the treatment of disregarded entities and joint ventures for various parts of the form, see Appendix F. Disregarded Entities and Joint Ventures—Inclusion of Activities and Items.

Reporting information from third parties.   Some lines request information that the organization may need to obtain from third parties, such as compensation paid by related organizations; family and business relationships between officers, directors, trustees, key employees, and certain businesses they own or control; the organization's share of the income and assets of a partnership or joint venture in which it has an ownership interest; and certain transactions between the organization and interested persons. The organization should make reasonable efforts to obtain this information. If it is unable to obtain certain information by the due date for filing the return, it should file Form(s) 8868 to request a filing extension. See Section F. Extension of Time To File, earlier. If the organization is unable to obtain this information by the extended due date after making reasonable efforts, and isn't certain of the answer to a particular question, it may make a reasonable estimate, where applicable, and explain in Schedule O.

Assembling Form 990, schedules, and attachments

Before filing Form 990, assemble the package of forms, schedules, and attachments in the following order.

  1. Core form with Parts I through XII completed, filed in numerical order.

  2. Schedules, completed as applicable, filed in alphabetical order (see Form 990, Part IV for required schedules). All pages of a required schedule must be submitted by Form 990 paper filers, even if the filer is only required to complete certain parts but not all of the schedule.

  3. Attachments, completed as applicable. These include (a) name change amendment to organizing document required by Item B under Heading; (b) list of subordinate organizations included in a group return required by Item H under Heading; (c) articles of merger or dissolution, resolutions, and plans of liquidation or merger required by Schedule N (Form 990 or 990-EZ); (d) reasonable cause explanation for a late-filed return; and (e) for hospital organizations only, a copy of the most recent audited financial statements.

Don't attach materials not authorized in the instructions or not otherwise authorized by the IRS.

To facilitate the processing of your return, don't password protect or encrypt PDF attachments. Password protecting or encrypting a PDF file that is attached to an e-filed return prevents the IRS from opening the attachment.

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