Does a Nonprofit Need to File Any Tax Returns Before They Apply for Tax Exempt Status?

 

Does a nonprofit need to file a tax return before they receive tax exempt status?  Yes, the IRS requires organizations to file information returns before they apply for tax exempt status.

Here’s what the IRS website states:

Tax Law Compliance Before Exempt Status Is Recognized

An organization that claims tax-exempt status under section 501(a), but has not yet received an IRS letter recognizing exempt status, is generally required to file an annual exempt organization return.

So the answer is YES, you need to file either tax returns (and pay tax!) or information returns before you are granted tax exempt status.

In this short podcast episode (14 minutes)  Carol Topp, the HomeschoolCPA, will explain this very confusing requirement.

 

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Have more questions about your homeschool organization’s tax exempt status? My book, The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization would be a big help.

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

Carol Topp, CPA

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Is My Homeschool Group Required to Have 501c3 Tax Exempt Status?

 

Some homeschool groups are very small and are not interested in the benefits of 501 c3 tax exempt status such as accepting donations or doing fundraising.

Do these small homeschool groups really need 501c3 tax exempt status?

No. They don’t.

They can run their activities without the benefits of 501c3 tax exempt status.

  • But then how does the IRS or their state view this group?
  • Will they owe taxes on any profits or surplus?

Yes, they will owe tax because they do not have tax exempt status.

If they have a surplus, how do they go about filing a tax return and paying taxes?

In this short podcast episode (13 minutes)  Carol Topp, the HomeschoolCPA, will explains some options for Homeschool Groups.

In the podcast Carol mentioned …

The IRS and Your Homeschool Organization

Should your homeschool group be paying 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

Carol Topp, CPA

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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

 

When Applying for an EIN, They Want my Social Security Number!

 

Homeschool leader, Paula, was applying for an EIN (Employer Identification Number) online, but the IRS website asked for her SSN (Social Security Number). She is reluctant to give it out. Should she be concerned?

Someone (the “responsible party”) must give their Social Security Number (SSN) so that the IRS can always trace leadership of a nonprofit (or a business) to a human being.

The IRS wants the name and Social Security Number of a specific individual it can contact if needed.

Requesting a name and SSN is also meant to prevent people from setting up dummy or scam organizations.

Listen to this episode (12 minutes) to find out more.

Featured Product:

Money Management in a Homeschool Organization

  • Does your homeschool group manage their money well?
  • Do you have a budget and know where the money is spent?
  • Do you know how to prevent fraud?

This 115 page book will help you to open a checking account, establish a budget, prevent mistakes and fraud, use software to keep the books, prepare a financial statement, and hire workers. Sample forms and examples of financial statements in clear English are provided.

Carol Topp, CPA

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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.

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

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

Can a homeschool group deduct tuition from a teacher’s pay?

A homeschool program charges $2,300  per student per year for tuition. Many of the teachers in the program also have their children enrolled in the program.

The leader, Lauren, was deducting the amount of tuition owed from the teacher’s pay and reporting only the difference that she actually paid the teacher.

For example:

Teacher’s earnings: $4,000

Tuition that the teacher owed: $2,300

Teacher’s paychecks: $1,700 ($4,000 less $2,300)

Additionally, Lauren was filing the teacher’s W-2 (or 1099-MISC) and reporting wages of only $1,700, but the true earnings were $4,000.

I advise that homeschool organization DO NOT net the teacher’s pay and her tuition owed like this!

Here’s why:

Picky CPA reason: This netting (subtracting the amount paid to the teacher by the tuition she owed) masks the true amount of teacher pay and the true amount of tuition received in your bookkeeping. The homeschool leadership needs to know the total income from tuition and the total expenses paid for teachers. Netting them masks the true income and true expenses. Additionally, the total amounts of income and expenses must be reported to the IRS (usually on Form 990 or 990-EZ).

More important reason: Taxes! 

The teacher’s payments for her services is taxable earned income. But her child’s tuition is a personal  expense and not tax deductible.

I recommend that the teacher should be paid the full amount earned (in my example, $4,000) and in a separate transaction, she should pay her tuition to Lauren’s homeschool program.

Lauren was advised that she will need to amend the W-2s she gave to her teacher to correct this mistake. This will be an unwelcome surprise to the teacher, but it’s the correct, legal amount to report.

I know it seems like extra work and more complicated, but netting or offsetting the two transactions could distort the total amount of compensation the teacher needs to report to the IRS. It’s mixing taxable income with a non-tax-deductible personal expense.

That’s called tax evasion and the IRS doesn’t take kindly to tax evasion.

Cover Money Mgmt HS OrgFor more information on paying workers and correctly recording transactions in an accounting system, you may find my book, Money Management in a Homeschool Organization, helpful.

 

Carol Topp, CPA