Small charity grows and gets audited by the IRS for it!

A fellow CPA told me the story of what happened to a small charity.

The small charity thought they were eligible to file the new, easy, short IRS Form 1023-EZ to apply for 501c3 status.

Organizations can use the shorter, cheaper, online Form 1023-EZ if their annual gross revenues are less than $50,000/year and expect to be less than $50,000 for the next 3 years.

So off went the Form 1023-EZ application and the charity was granted 501c3 tax exempt status!

Then they held a fundraiser (or several fundraisers) that were successful beyond their dreams and their total revenue was OVER $50,000 in their second and third year. They filed (correctly) their annual information returns, Form 990-EZ, to report all their income and expenses.

That’s when they got a letter from the IRS.

The IRS was auditing them because the IRS claimed the charity should have filed the longer, more expensive, full Form 1023 when they applied because their annual revenues were more than $50,000/year. And the IRS was right, in hindsight.

The IRS auditor asked for:

  • The full application to be completed (its 26 pages!) along with copies of
  • Bylaws
  • Articles of Incorporation
  • Financial statements for 5 years
  • A narrative explaining the activities of the organization
  • Minutes of meetings

That last requirement surprised me because the Form 1023 application doesn’t ask for minutes of meetings, but the IRS auditor did.

Fortunately this group had those minutes and with the help of their CPA, passed the audit!

Lessons learned:

  • Keep minutes of your meetings.
  • Have all your documents ready in case the IRS asks to see them.
  • If you are close to the $50,000 annual gross revenues threshold and think you could exceed it in your first 3 years, use the full length Form 1023 application form when applying for 501c3 tax exempt status.

 

 

Have more questions about the IRS, 501c3 tax exempt status, and your nonprofit?

Carol Topp’s book, The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization can help!

  • The benefits of 501(c)(3) status
  • The disadvantages too!
  • What it takes to make the IRS happy
  • What your state requires
  • Why your organization should consider becoming a nonprofit corporation
  • What is the difference between nonprofit incorporation and tax exemption
  • IRS requirements after you are tax exempt

Order here.

 

Carol Topp, CPA

 

Summer reading to be a better homeschool leader: The IRS and Your Homeschool organization

Summer is a great time for homeschool leaders to catch up on some reading. I’m highlighting a book each week of summer and this week I’m spotlighting,

 

I know it’s not a catchy title, but it explains what the book is about. I have no expectations of this book ever being a best seller (!), but I wrote it to be helpful to the hundreds of homeschool organizations that need to understand tax exempt status.
This book began in 2008 under the title of  Tax Exempt 501c3 Status for Homeschool Organizations with a cover as boring as the title. It was an ebook with only 51 pages.
TEx501c3Cover
In 2011, I expanded the book to 124 pages and changed the title to The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization with the subtitle Tax Exempt 501c3 Status for Homeschool Organizations. And I improved the cover.

IRS and Your Homeschool Org cover

After the IRS simplified the process to apply for 501(c)(3) status in 2014, I updated the book. The second edition includes a chapter on getting tax exempt status reinstated if it is revoked. I also added an index to make finding specific topics easier.

 

Who should read this book?
  • Anyone running a homeschool organization that’s been around a long time but has never filed anything with the IRS.
  • Anyone who mistakenly thinks they don’t have to do any annual reports to the IRS.
  • Anyone who fears their previous leaders did not do things properly.
  • Anyone starting a new homeschool organization and wants to be sure they are set up properly.
 Carol Topp, CPA

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My homeschool is a private school. Can I use 529 funds?

I explained in “Can homeschoolers use 529 plans? Maybe!” that you can use 529 savings account funds for tuition paid to a public, private, or religious school.

Some homeschool students take classes from private schools (locally or online). The tuition payments to these schools can use 529 funds without  penalty or taxes.

So that begs the question,

“In my state, my homeschool is considered a private school. So can I use 529 funds for my private school/homeschool expenses?”

No. Sorry!

Here’s why:

The expenses must be to pay tuition. You don’t pay yourself tuition! That would be silly and not tax-smart.

Your other homeschool expenses such as books, curriculum, school supplies, field trips and are not paymnets for tuition and so you cannot use 529 funds without paying a hefty penalty!

Tuition payments to organizations that are not schools like your local co-op, Classical Conversations, etc.  cannot use 529 funds either (without incurring taxes and a 10% penalty!)

Carol Topp, CPA

How to file the IRS Form 990-N video

 

 

Steve from Nonprofit Ally created a short (6 minute) video) of how to file your Form 990-N Annual Information Return for tax exempt organizations. What the IRS calls the ePostcard.

 

It’s nice of Steve to create this video so you know what information you need and what the IRS will ask.

My pet peeve: Steve calls it “filing your nonprofit taxes.” The Form 990-N is not a tax form. The Form 990 is called an information return because tax exempt nonprofits don’t file tax returns.* They are exempt from taxes.

Actually the IRS calls the 990-N a Notice because all you’re really doing is notifying the IRS that your small tax exempt organization still exists.

But that’s just me being a picky, precise CPA.

Carol Topp, CPA

*Some tax exempt organizations with unrelated business income may pay taxes on their unrelated income.

Where to find the Taxes for CC Directors ebook

 

I know its the day AFTER tax filing season ended, but I just learned from two helpful people (thank you!!) where to find the ebook Taxes for Licensed CC Directors.

 

Here is what I was told:
The link is in an updated (updated March 29th) version of the Director’s Licensing Guide (DLG) on page 54.
At the end of a paragraph on that page, there is a sentence saying for more information see Appendix M and “this document,” which is the link to the ebook. 
Appendix M is a letter from Robert Bortins talking about the book. The title of the book is not mentioned, except if you click the little blue “this document” link you will see the book itself.

 

Please help out your fellow CC Directors and point them to the Directors Licensing Guide (which I believe is available online for licensed CC Directors) page 54, Appendix M and click on “this document.” 

 

Why can’t I get the ebook from Carol Topp, CPA, the author?
Unfortunately, I cannot distribute the ebook myself. My contract with Classical Conversations states that only CC may distribute the book. I am so sorry that it was not available sooner in this tax season and that it seems to be difficult for many of you to find.

 

What if I messed up my taxes?
If you read the ebook and believe you have made an error in filing your 2017 tax return, please consult a tax professional. If you prepared your tax return yourself, please contact a local tax professional to help you amend your tax return. It’s a confusing and complicated process to amend a tax return so I don’t recommend you doing it yourself. How to find a local tax professional

 

I hope that helps.
Again I apologize that the book was not available earlier in the tax season. It went through several reviews and edits and that delayed its release.

 

Carol Topp, CPA
Helping Homeschool Leaders and Organizations

Tax deductible donations without IRS determination letter

We have an EIN and file 990-N annually but fall under the classification of a group self declares our tax exempt status because we make less than $5,000 a year. We have not gone through the formal 501(c)(3) application process with the IRS. I was talking with IRS today and I believe I understood them to say we cannot give a form to a donor stating their contribution is tax deductible.

If that is the case how can we assure potential donors we are tax deductible and doesn’t a donor need documentation for when they file their taxes?

Mark

 

Mark,

One of the major drawbacks for small 501(c)(3) organizations who chose to “self-declare” their tax exempt status is that they lack the official IRS determination letter proving that donations are tax deductible (See the photo above for an example of the IRS determination letter).

This important letter can give donors assurance that their donations are indeed tax deductible.

Technically, your organization can still receive tax deductible donations, but your organization lacks “proof” to show a donor.

A donor must keep a record if the donation is more than $250. This record is usually a letter from the charity, but a bank record (a cancelled check) may suffice. This record is only given to the IRS if the donor is being audited by the IRS.

Your homeschool group may be listed in the IRS database of Exempt Organizations since you have been filing your  Form 990-Ns every year. Visit IRS Select Check and see if your can find your organization listed as “Has filed Form 990-N” or “Are eligible to receive tax-deductible charitable contributions.” If you are in the IRS database you can be assured that you can accept tax deductible contributions.

The best way to assure potential donors would be to file the Form 1023-EZ (fee $275 to the IRS and takes about 3-4 weeks). Then you get the official IRS determination letter.

I can assist you in filing the Form 1023-EZ. While it is a much simpler form than the full Form 1023, it can be confusing and you will want to be sure it is filed correctly.

Email me if you’d like my help.
Carol Topp, CPA

Can homeschoolers use 529 plans? Maybe!

Congress decided to expand 529 savings plans to be used for K-12 expenses in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act or 2017. 529 plans were originally set up to save for college. The earnings on the savings is tax free. But they specifically excluded homeschool expenses from using 529 funds.

That seemed unfair to a lot of homeschoolers.

But there may be a way for homeschoolers to use their 529 savings accounts for some K-12 expenses.

The Tax Cut and Jobs Act or 2017 says this:

the term ‘qualified higher education expense’ shall include a reference to expenses for tuition in connection with enrollment or attendance at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school.”. (emphasis added)

There are 2 conditions for you to use 529 funds for K-12 expenses:

1) the costs must be for tuition and

2) the institution the family pays must be “a public, private, or religious school”

Some homeschool students take classes from private schools (locally or online). The tuition payments to these schools can use 529 funds.

But the cost of books, supplies, equipment, and payments to organizations that are not schools cannot use 529 funds.

Be careful that the tuition payments are going to a public, private, or religious school. In my experience most homeschool programs (co-ops, tutorials, etc) are NOT schools.

Homeschool parents should check with the program that they are paying tuition to to determine if it is a school according to their state’s definition.

If you have any concern about their status as a school, then do not use 529 funds to pay for the tuition. Withdrawals from a 529 fund that are not “qualified” (i.e. tuition paid to a public, private, or religious school) then you pay income tax and a penalty of 10% on the withdrawn funds. Ouch!

Carol Topp, CPA

What homeschool expenses can I deduct on my taxes?

Here’s a list of homeschool expenses you can deduct on your federal income tax return (Form 1040):

1.

Yes, that’s the list! It’s empty. There are NO homeschool expenses that you can deduct on your individual federal income tax return.

(Sorry for the click bait in the title!)

Homeschooling expenses are personal expenses, like groceries or clothes, and are not tax deductible on the US federal income tax return.

You cannot deduct your groceries or your clothes on your tax return and you cannot deduct your homeschooling expenses on your federal income tax return, either.

A few states may allow a tax deduction, a tax credit, or an educational saving account. But not your Uncle Sam (the US federal government).

 

Clever ideas to dodge taxes (that won’t work)

Sometimes homeschool families try to get clever and think that they will form a homeschool business and deduct the expenses. The idea is for the dad to hire his wife to teach their children. Then they can deduct school supplies, the mom’s wages as a homeschool teacher, etc.

Sounds pretty clever, huh? Except it doesn’t work anymore than paying mom to cook and feed the family by running an “in-house restaurant” won’t work. That’s because in both these plans (homeschooling as a business and in-house restaurant) there are no customers that are paying for the mom’s services.

Also, the mom has to declare her income to the IRS and she will have to pay taxes on it! That’s why families don’t hire mom to run an in-house restaurant and they shouldn’t hire mom to homeschool the kids either.

So forget the idea of forming your family homeschool as a business.

Homeschools as private school. Any tax breaks?

Some states treat homeschools as private schools, so some families think they can avoid taxes by declaring their private homeschool as a nonprofit organizations and get tax exempt status as a private school. That’s pretty clever too, huh? Only it won’t work.

Briefly, a nonprofit organization exists to serve a group, not an individual. The IRS will not grant “recognized charity” 501(c)(3) tax exempt status to a group that is formed solely to benefit the founder’s family. A tax exempt organization must serve a public good.

The IRS forbids private “inurement” in 501(c)(3) tax exempt organizations. Inurement means to be beneficial or advantageous. Inurement occurs when an organization is formed or operates with an incorrect charitable purpose that allows individuals in control to directly and personally benefit from the organization. 501(c)(3) organizations can lose their tax exempt status for practicing inurement.

So forget the idea of your family homeschool becoming a nonprofit organization.

 

In the end, do what the rest of use do, pay your taxes.

Don’t look to Uncle Sam to give you a tax break because you choose to educate your children at home. Instead appreciate the freedom we have an Americans to homeschool.

 

Carol Topp, CPA

Ebook Taxes for CC Licensed Directors almost ready!

I just sent the final (I hope) version of my  ebook Taxes for Classical Conversions Licensed Directors off to Classical Conversations, Inc!

The ebook will be distributed by Classical Conversations, Inc to their licensed directors. It is my understanding that the ebook will be available at no charge to the licensed directors.

Update: The ebook was released on the Directors License Guide in late March 2018. Find it here.

If you’ve already prepared your tax return for 2017, you should STILL read this ebook to be sure you did everything correctly!

If you are not a licensed director with CC, I cannot share or sell a copy with you (sorry!), but I recommend you read the following blog posts:

CC Directors: Do not give yourself a 1099-MISC

Tax return for a Classical Conversations homeschool business

I’m a Classical Conversations Director. Do I have to file any forms with the IRS?

Understanding Taxes for a small homeschool business

 

Carol Topp, CPA


Free Resource

In the ebook, I mention a bookkeeping spreadsheet for CC Directors. You can get the spreadsheet now (all it costs is your email!)

 


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Any Tax Deductions for Homeschoolers This Year?

 

Are there any tax deductions for homeschoolers this year?

Carol Topp, CPA answered this question originally back in 2014, but the answer is still the same-even with the new tax laws passed in 2017. Additionally, Carol gives some details on college expenses that are tax deductible and tax advantaged college savings plans.

This is a repeat of a podcast episode aired in 2014. I (Carol) caught a nasty cold and sinus infection and couldn’t talk without coughing for several weeks. I hope you find the re-broadcast of this episode helpful!

 

In the podcast Carol mentioned these resources:

Home School Legal Defense Association has an explanation of some states’ tax breaks or credits:http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000010/200504150.asp

Ann Zeise of A to Z Home’s Cool has a great, detailed and lengthy post of tax write-offs for homeschoolers:
https://a2zhomeschooling.com/laws/homeschool_laws_legalities/tax_deductions_educational_writeoffs/

 

Carol Topp, CPA