Navigating Form 990 Compliance – A Guide for Nonprofits

form 990

Nonprofit organizations play a crucial role in serving their communities by filling gaps in public services, addressing social issues, and supporting the underserved. The IRS grants tax-exempt status to nonprofits that meet specific requirements to support and encourage their efforts. While these nonprofits aren’t required to pay federal income taxes, they must file annual reports using Form 990.

Despite their tax-exempt status, the filing requirements for nonprofits are detailed and extensive, which can be daunting for nonprofit leaders and their teams. In this article, we’ll simplify the process of completing this form and maintaining IRS compliance.

Form 990 – Purpose and Significance

It is an IRS tax form that is the cornerstone of tax reporting for all nonprofits and tax-exempt organizations.

It serves as a primary tool for the IRS to collect essential information, such as their income, expenses, liabilities, and assets, and ensure that they adhere to the established guidelines.

It is essential for nonprofits, serving not only for tax compliance but also as a key tool in enhancing the organization’s reputation. Because these forms are available for public inspection, they offer valuable insights into the nonprofit’s financial health, governance, programs, and activities. This transparency fosters accountability and trust among the public, donors, and government agencies.

Different Types of Form 990

The IRS created a series of different 990 returns that oorganizations should file based on their financial size and structure. The first step in the reporting process is determining which 990 return your organization is required to file.

Here is a breakdown of the different 990 forms.

  • Form 990-N

The 990-N Tax Form is a simplified form, also known as the e-postcard, tailored for small nonprofits with annual gross receipts of $50,000 or less.

  • Form 990-EZ

Ideal for nonprofits with gross receipts below $200,000 and assets under $500,000.

  • Form 990

Necessary for organizations with gross receipts equal to or exceeding $200,000 (or) assets equal to or exceeding $500,000.

  • Form 990-PF

Mandatory for nonprofits classified as private foundations.

  • Form 990-T

This is a supporting form that nonprofits may include with their Form 990-EZ, or Form 990-PF return if they generate $1,000 or more in Unrelated Business Income (UBI).

It’s important to note that the nonprofits that are eligible to file Form 990-N may optionally choose to file Form 990-EZ or 990. Similarly, those required to file Form 990-EZ have the option to file it, but not the other way around.

Information Required to File Form 990

When preparing to submit this form, organizations will need to gather the following key information.

  • Organization details, including legal name, Employer Identification Number (EIN), address, and contact information
  • Financial details such as revenue, expenses, assets, and liabilities
  • Description of activities and statement of program service accomplishments
  • Statements regarding IRS tax filing requirements
  • Compensation details of the key members

Please note that the required information may vary depending on the organization’s form type.

990 Filing Dates and Extensions

Nonprofits must submit their 990 returns to the IRS by the 15th day of the 5th month after their tax year ends. For those on a calendar tax year, the deadline is usually May 15. If more time is needed, organizations can request a 6-month extension using Form 8868.

Consequences of Late Filing

Nonprofits that miss the filing deadline face daily penalties of $20 to $120, depending on their size. Additionally, failing to file the 990 return for over three consecutive years can lead to automatic revocation of tax-exempt status.

Best Practices for 990 Filing

Preparing this form demands careful attention and thorough documentation. These best practices help ensure that nonprofits have a smooth filing process and are able to maintain compliance.

  • Maintain Accurate Records: Keep detailed records of financial transactions, governance practices, and programs conducted throughout the year.
  • Establish Internal Controls: Implement internal controls to ensure the accuracy and integrity of financial reporting.
  • Seek Professional Assistance: Consider consulting a CPA for their professional opinion or services.
  • Review IRS Policies: Regularly review IRS policies to stay up to date with regulatory requirements.
  • Plan Ahead: Begin preparing this form well before the filing deadline to allow sufficient time for review and corrections.
  • Choose the right e-file provider: Since 2020, the IRS requires all nonprofits to file their 990 forms electronically. Selecting a reliable e-file provider can streamline the process and significantly reduce the workload.


As mentioned earlier, Form 990 is crucial for promoting transparency, accountability, and public trust in nonprofits. Understanding its importance and filing requirements helps organizations navigate it efficiently. Compliance not only meets regulatory standards but also shows a commitment to responsible and effective management of public funds, enhancing the nonprofit’s mission and impact in the community.

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Written by Carol Jones

My aim is to offer unique, useful, high-quality articles that our readers will love.


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