Can a homeschool co-op have independent contractors and follow the IRS guidelines?

Hi Carol!

Are you aware of any homeschool co-ops/tutorials that have hired teachers as independent contractors and do it in a way that follows the IRS guidelines?
Thanks!
Lauren

Lauren,

I am aware of a lot of homeschool co-op and tutorials that pay teachers as Independent Contractors. Are they following the IRS rules?

Maybe. It depends. Read on…

After a lot of research into IRS rulings and US Tax Court cases concerning the classification of teachers (usually college professors), I learned that one of the factors that weighed heavily in the decision (employee or Independent Contractor) was:

Does the worker provide the primary activity of the organization.

This was really important in the IRS and tax court decisions.

Case 1: employees: I spoke to one homeschool leader who ran a homeschool tutorial program with 12 teachers, all paid instructors. There were no volunteer teachers. Those teachers are providing the key activity of the business. Without them, there would be no homeschool tutorial program. Those teachers are employees.

Case 2: Independent Contractor: On the other hand, I spoke to a homeschool co-op leader who had 15 parents volunteering as teachers and one paid outside person to teach one class. This person was very independent (she had an established tutoring business, picked her own curriculum, received no training or benefits from the co-op, brought in her own supplies, and many other factors).  She was treated as an Independent Contractor. Her services were not the key activity of the co-op; what the volunteer parents provided was the key activity of the co-op. The co-op could continue to exist if that Independent Contractor teacher was unavailable.
This co-op did everything they could to avoid controlling their Independent Contractor teacher. They also has a written agreement and she invoiced the co-op for her services.

But just to be sure, they requested I write a letter clearly stating the facts of their situation and my determination that the outside teacher was correctly classified as an Independent Contractor. It’s called a comfort letter.

My letter, as the opinion of a tax professional licensed to practice before the IRS, can serve as a reasonable basis if the IRS ever questions the homeschool co-op. This reasonable basis will help the homeschool co-op avoid any penalties and back taxes from the IRS.

See how the facts and circumstances of each case can be different? There is not bright line test in worker classification. The determination if your homeschool program teacher is an employee or Independent Contractor depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.

If you would like help determining your teacher’s status or have me write a “comfort” letter, contact me. We’ll set up a phone call where I ask you a bunch of questions. The phone call will be followed up with an email containing a fact-based determination and information to help you take the next steps.

My book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization is a great place to start to understand how to properly classify your workers.

I released a podcast on creative ways that homeschool co-ops hire teachers without paying them as employees. It runs about 9 minutes long.

Creative Ways to Run Your Co-op Without Employees

I hope that helps,

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com
Helping homeschool leaders

What is the IRS planning to do in 2018 for tax exempt organizations?

The IRS Exempt Organization (EO) released their 2018 work plan. It reviews what they did in 2017 and what they will focus on in 2018.

(Note: this is not the individual or business part of the the IRS. This is only the tax exempt part of the IRS.)
Here’s an excerpt that affects homeschool tax exempt organizations:

IRS EO expects to receive an increased number of determination applications in FY 2018. In early 2018, the EO will implement revisions to the Form 1023-EZ, including a required activity description and additional questions on gross receipts, asset thresholds, and foundation classification. As a result of these changes, EO expects the average processing time for a Form 1023-EZ to increase. EO will continue pre-determination reviews of a statistical sample of Form 1023-EZ applications and will continue to analyze the data from these applications to mitigate risks and identify opportunities to improve this form and its instructions.

Okay, now in plain English, the IRS EO (Exempt Organization) will:

  • Ask for a short description of your activities when applying for 501(c)(3) status using the short Form 1023-EZ.
  • They will ask more questions about:
    • Your gross receipts (your sources of income)
    • Your assets (what you own) and
    • what kind of foundation you are. Most homeschool groups are public charities and not private foundations, so most likely this won’t affect you.

The IRS expects it will take longer to get 501(c)(3) approval using Form 1023-EZ. Right now it takes about 2-3 weeks.

They will still randomly sample some 1023-EZ applications and decide if they need to make changes to the form in the future.

 

If your homeschool group has questions about tax exempt status or would like to apply for tax exempt status, please contact me.

Carol Topp, CPA

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Homeschool support group has problems with bank and IRS

Carol – I just got off with the IRS and I am EXTREMELY irritated and frustrated!!!!! Our homeschool group is a 501c7 social club; we have adopted by-laws. To open up a bank account, the bank wants documentation from the IRS giving proof that we are recognized as a nonprofit organization.

I spoke with two different people at the IRS and the last one was in the tax exempt dept. He and I did not communicate well. He said we had no paperwork in and that I needed documentation for our group. I explained that I had by-laws but he wanted to know if they were signed. I asked if that meant with a signature and he just kept saying the same thing without answering my question.  We kept going round and round with him asking me the same question. Just frustrating!!!

So what do we need to do to be able to get our checking account opened?

Joy

 

Joy,
I’m sorry you had such difficulty with that IRS employee.

The IRS Exempt Organization has lost many of its experienced employees to retirement and to other parts of the IRS managing the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). And what we’re left with is robots like you talked to. They simply read from a script. I’ve heard several complaints.

Forget the IRS. Go back to the bank. Explain to them that you do not have IRS proof because you are a self-declared tax exempt 501c7 Social club. Bring your bylaws, a list of board members, and your EIN letter form the IRS. Common law states that a nonprofit is formed when you have a board and bylaws.

Proof from the IRS is not needed to establish a nonprofit checking account because the IRS grants tax-exempt status, not nonprofit status. There IS a difference.

Read this article: How to become a recognized Nonprofit

You may need to educate the bank teller. They are frequently misinformed.

Hand them this blog post: http://homeschoolcpa.com/banker-wants-irs-letter-t…

Tell him that 501c7 social clubs can self-declare tax exempt status and do not need a letter from the IRS to prove tax exempt (or nonprofit) status.

Read more about self declaring tax exempt status: Homeschool Groups as Social Clubs

Act informed and confident. You are eligible to open a nonprofit checking account and do not need “proof” from the IRS of self-declared tax exempt status.

Good luck!!

Carol Topp, CPA
Helping homeschool leaders

 

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How Do I Get a Tax Exempt Number?

How does a nonprofit get tax exempt number from the IRS? They don’t!

In this short podcast Carol Topp CPA explains tax ID numbers and the various state agencies that may assign tax numbers.

Listen to the podcast (9 1/2 minutes)

FEATURED PRODUCT from HomeschoolCPA:

State Filings for Non-Profits

You’re not finished with paperwork when you receive tax exemption from the IRS. Your state may have several required forms for you to file as well. Carol Topp, CPA can help your homeschool nonprofit understand what forms to file with your state.

Click Here to request more information!

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Don’t tell the IRS your homeschool group is a private foundation (if it’s not).

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Oh this is a sad, sad story.

I’ve seen this twice recently: a homeschool group prepares their own 501(c)(3) application (Form 1023 or 1023-EZ) with the IRS and incorrectly tells the IRS they are a private foundation.

Homeschool co-ops or other nonprofit educational programs are not private foundations. Private foundations are charitable organizations that are funded by an individual, family, or corporation, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Homeschool organizations are public charities, serving the public good (the education of children). Both of these homeschool organizations didn’t think of themselves as charities. They misunderstood that the IRS uses the word charity to include educational organizations. They also didn’t think of themselves as “public,” because they didn’t not understand the IRS use of that word.

The IRS means serving a public good and being supported financially by the “public” (meaning lots of people) but that does not mean you have to open your doors to the general public! You may still have an application process and limit your membership or participation to your programs.

I spend a lot of time with my nonprofit clients explaining the IRS terms and proper classification, but neither of these organizations hired me to prepare their Form 1023/1023-EZ. Neither of them even asked for a phone consultation or for me to look over the application before sending it to the IRS.

Now they have a real mess on their hands.

They have to file an IRS form to change their status. This requires providing financial statements, explanations, and supporting documents and IRS fees.  Meanwhile, they have to be filing a Form 990-PF, which is quite complex. You need an experienced CPA to prepare a 990-PF.

This is going to be expensive and time consuming. It will probably cost hundreds of dollars in IRS and CPA fees to get it straightened out.

Sad, sad, sad…

Carol Topp, CPA

Helping homeschool leaders with tax and legal compliance

 

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Self-declared tax exempt status for 501c3 homeschool groups

We are just starting up our group and we do not want to do anything illegal, but we would not qualify as a nonprofit right now, so as per your IRS book, we would be labeled an Unincorporated Association. My question is… Do we need to do anything legally to continue as a group. We do plan to open a checking account and have an EIN number.
I just felt that for a group that is just starting and is not a nonprofit or at the 501 (c) (3) status yet, we don’t know the first steps to get a group of and running and if we need to do anything legally to start. Thank you so much for your time!
-EC

 

Dear EC,

Please watch this video 3 times (yes, 3 times!):

 

You will hear that to legally and correctly set up a nonprofit you need 3 things:

  1. A mission that is not motivated by profit
  2. A board
  3. Organizing documents. Usually bylaws but Articles of Association are also recommended. Get samples here

If you have those three things, your organization is a nonprofit. Congratulations! It may not be a nonprofit corporation; instead it is an unincorporated association, as you mentioned, but it is still a nonprofit.

But, there is a difference between nonprofit status and tax exempt status

Nonprofit status is granted by your state while tax exempt status is granted by the IRS to qualifying nonprofit organizations. Typically nonprofits need to formally apply for tax exempt status with the IRS.

But small nonprofits can self declare  501(c)(3) tax exempt status if your annual gross revenues* are $5,000 or less.

*Annual gross revenues are all the money you take in in a year, even if it just goes right back out. It’s not what is left over at the end of the year. It is not the amount in your checkbook. It is annual (yearly) gross (all) revenues (intake).

This video may be helpful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCFjnnY7mEw

 

How to self declare 501c3 tax exempt status

Since you have not officially applied on paper for 501(c)(3) status  (you self-declared 501(c)(3) status and don’t have to file the paperwork), your nonprofit organization is not in the IRS database (yet), so you need to call the IRS Customer Account Services at 1-877-829-5500 and be added to their database so you can begin filing the Form 990-Ns.

It typically takes 6 weeks after you call to be added to the IRS database.

Say something like this,

“We’re a brand new 501(c)(3) educational organization and I needed to get added to the IRS exempt organization database so we can start filing our 990-Ns.”


**Note that only 501(c)(3) organizations with less than $5,000 annual gross revenues can “self-declare” their tax exempt status. Organizations with more than $5,000/year in revenues must apply for 501(c)(3) status using Form 1023 or the new, shorter Form 1023-EZ.


The IRS employee will ask for your EIN and organization’s name, address, and probably a contact name.

They may also ask what date your fiscal year ends. Many homeschool groups operate on a calendar year, but some operate on a school year with a year end of June 30 or July 31. Look at the form you filed when you applied for your EIN to see what you chose as your fiscal year end.

They may ask if you have “organizing documents.” They mean bylaws or Articles of Association. So create bylaws or Articles of Association/Articles of Incorporation before you call the IRS. Get the board to approve and sign them. Sample bylaws and Articles of Association can be found here.

Call the IRS early in the morning. They open at 8 am ET and you can usually get through pretty quickly of you call then. Record the date you call, the IRS employee name and their identification number.

 

How to keep your 501(c)(3) tax exempt status

Be sure you go online (IRS.gov/990n) to file the Form 990-N anytime after your fiscal year ends and before its due date which is 4 1/2 months after the end of your fiscal year. If you operate on a calendar year, the 990-N is due May 15.

 

Carol Topp, CPA

Helping homeschool leaders with legal and tax compliance

 

How to Self Declare Tax Exempt Status

Your homeschool group can have tax exempt status without applying with the IRS.

Want to know how?

In this short podcast, Carol Topp, CPA, the HomeschoolCPA, tells you how to self declare tax exempt status, keep all of your surplus for your group and not pay the IRS.

Listen to the podcast (15 minutes)

 

FEATURED PRODUCT from HomeschoolCPA:

The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization

Does your homeschool group need to pay taxes?  Could they avoid paying taxes by being a 501c3 tax exempt organization? Do you know the pros and cons of 501c3 status? Do you know what 501c3 status could mean for your homeschool group?  I have the answers for you in my book The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization. The information I share in my book has been helpful to homeschool support groups, co-ops, music and sports groups and will help you understand:

  • The benefits of 501c3 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

Click Here to request more information!

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IRS amnestry program for employers (how to avoid penalties for paying workers as Independent Contractors)

You may have heard about the IRS crackdown on misclassifying workers and the penalties that your business or homeschool program could face if  your business is audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). For a true but sad story about the Landry Academy read this.

What can you do to avoid the IRS penalties?

The IRs has a program called the Voluntary Classification Settlement program (VCSP) .

Eva Rosenberg, the Tax Mama, explains the IRS Voluntary Classification Settlement Program in plain, clear English. Just the way your mama would talk to you.

The VCSP (aka the IRS amnesty program) allows employers to avoid the penalties for paying your workers as Independent Contractors when they should have been paid as employees.

IRS Amnesty Program? Yes There IS an Employer Amnesty Program

Eva explains,

For those employers who do apply for the VCSP, the savings can be substantial. For example, take a calculation based on unreported payroll of $625,000 in the prior year. Under the amnesty, the full payment to the IRS would be under $6,600. Without the amnesty, with the IRS looking back for only three years, it would cost the employer over $292,000 (for six years, over $620,000).

I can help you determine if the IRS amnesty program is a good option for your homeschool business or nonprofit organization. Contact me and we can talk about your options.

One homeschool group leader decided to apply for the IRS amnesty program and convert her tutors to employees. She said, “For $145 (her fee to the IRS), I can sleep better at night knowing the IRS won’t audit me or make me pay a penalty.”

Carol Topp, CPA

Helping homeschool leaders

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IRS tries to decrease errors in automatic revocations for tax exempt organizations

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Every year the exempt organization (EO) branch of the IRS send out a Work Plan for the upcoming year and reviews what it accomplished in the past year.

IRS Exempt Organization 2017 Work Plan (24 pages)

Here’s something interesting I found:

In FY 2016, EO Determinations focused on its objectives to improve processing of applications and enhance customer satisfaction. We implemented several programs to accomplish these goals.
Erroneous Revocation Prevention: On May 3, 2016, EO Rulings and Agreements formalized procedures to identify and prevent erroneous automatic revocation before the organizations are notified and before the revocations are posted to EO Select Check. Preventing these erroneous revocations eliminates adverse impact to organizations and removes the burden from organizations to identify and notify the IRS of the error. Since March 2015, we have reviewed 13,933 potential auto-revocations and prevented 3,202 erroneous revocations (through June 2016).

In plain English, thousands of nonprofits found their tax exempt status was revoked automatically before the organizations were told (!) and before the revocations were posted to EO Select Check (that’s the IRS online database of tax exempt organizations).

Over 3,000 revocations that were an error! What a mess!

The IRS didn’t get specific about why these organizations had their tax exemption revoked or how they fixed the problem, but I have some ideas:

1. It takes 6-8 weeks (yes, that’s WEEKS, not DAYS) for the IRS to update their exempt organization database so that small organizations can file their annual Form 990-N Information Return. If the organization is granted tax exempt status close to their due date for filing the 990-N, they may be unable to timely file a 990-N because the  IRS takes 6-8 weeks  to update their exempt organization database!

This happened to one of my small nonprofit clients. They had failed to file their 990-N for two years (they didn’t know about the requirement) and the deadline for the third year was quickly approaching. Failure to file your 990/990-EZ/990-N for three consecutive years means automatic revocation of tax exempt status. We were sweating bullets that they could file the 990-N on time. The board president was checking the IRS database daily as the deadline drew nearer. She managed to file the 990-N just days before the deadline! Whew!

If the IRS database of Exempt Organizations were updated in a more timely manner, then there could be fewer erroneous automatic revocations.

 

2. Another small nonprofit told me that they received an automatic revocation letter, but had never received a “You’re late in filing the Form 990-N” type of letter or a warning! This nonprofit had not changed their address, either.

So another thing the IRS could do to reduce erroneous automatic revocation is to mail organizations a reminder and a warning letter for failure to file a 990/990-EZ or 990-N.

I hope my suggestions are what the IRS has put in place.

Carol Topp, CPA

 

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Are 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(7) the only options for a homeschool group?

We are meeting with support group leaders this weekend and a question has come up about legal status of homeschool groups.

Are 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(7) the only options for a homeschool group?

Dorothy

 

Dorothy,

The IRS has over  20 types of tax exempt status, all 501 (c)-somethings. Everything from Teachers’ Retirement Fund Associations (c)(11), Veterans organizations(c)(19), and Cemetery Companies (c)(13).

501(c)(3) Qualified Charity which includes educational organizations and 501(c)(7) Social Clubs (i.e. support groups) are most common for homeschool groups.

501(c)(4) Social Benefit status fits state-wide homeschool organizations, some homeschool conventions, and politically active homeschool organizations.

In the last 10 years, I’ve seen more and more homeschool organizations operate as for-profit business without nonprofit tax exempt status.

So while there are several options for homeschool groups, the vast majority of homeschool organizations are 501(c)(3)  educational organizations.

Carol Topp, CPA

 

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