Does the IRS Form 990N apply to my group?

This question was originally posted in April 2009, but the information is still pertinent today.
Hi Carol,
Thanks so much for all your help in getting our Christian Homeschool Network up and running.  Things are going well so far. My husband brought a card he saw at the post office and handed it to me thinking it might apply to our group. The same basic info is on this web site:
http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=169250,00.html
It is about a new filing requirement for small tax exempt organizations.Does this apply to us? I was unsure if this was just for 501 C 3 organizations.
Thanks, Carol
Sharon W

Sharon,
The new IRS ePostcard (Form 990N) notification is for all 501(c) organizations. The IRS is trying to clean up its database by using this short electronic postcard. They hope to find any “dead” nonprofits that are no longer in operation. They are also looking for small nonprofits that have “grown up” to the $25,000 (now $50,000) gross revenues per year and should be filing a 990EZ or 990 Form annually.  The ePostcard is a way for small nonprofits to acknowledge that they are still under the $25,000 (now $50,000) annual revenue threshold for filing the 990.

I recommend that you consider 501(c)(3) status ASAP.  The IRS expects educational nonprofits to file for their 501(c)(3) tax exempt status with in 27 months of formation (incorporation as a nonprofit).  Your nonprofit incorporation date was May 27, 2008, so you have until August 2010 to apply.  Otherwise, the IRS requests an explanation of why tax exempt status was not filed earlier and tax exemption is granted to the date of filing, not back to the date of formation.  This could mean that a nonprofit might owe back income tax for the period that they were not tax exempt.

If your gross revenues stay under $5,000 a year, you are granted an exception from filing the paperwork for 501(c)(3) status. If gross revenues get to be over $5,000 a year, your group should file for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status or pay corporate income tax on any surplus (i.e. profit).

In a nutshell, a small nonprofit has four choices:
1. Stay under $5,000 gross revenues per year
2. File for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status
3. Pay corporate income tax on any annual surplus.
4. Find a church or another 501c nonprofit to take you on as one of their ministries.

I hope that helps,

Carol Topp, CPA


Update as of August 2010:

The IRS is now asking all nonprofit organizations to begin filing the Form 990N , even if they have not yet applied for tax exempt status. Here is what the IRS states on their website http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=156389,00.html

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.

The annual return is either Form 990, 990EZ or the new electronic postcard Form 990N.

The difficulty in filing the Form 990N if you have not yet received 501(c)(3) tax exempt status is that your organization is not in the IRS system. You’ll have to call the IRS and get entered into their system before you can file your 990N online.

Carol Topp, CPA

Does a nonprofit need to file any tax returns before they apply for tax exempt status?

I was advising a small homeschool organization about applying for tax exempt status and explained that they had 27 months after their date of formation to file an application with the IRS.

Hi Carol,

I just read this and was concerned that I would need to file something during the 27 months time frame.  Please explain if possible.
http://www.irs.gov/charities/article/0,,id=156389,00.html

Teri

Teri,

The link to the IRS website concerns IRS requirements before you apply for tax exempt status. The link above states this (in part)

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.

This is a fairly new requirement from the IRS. I used to tell nonprofit organizations that if they had not yet applied for 501c3 status, they did not have to file the Form 990. It came to my attention only a week ago that the IRS wants Form 990 from all nonprofits.

Fortunately, the form your organization (and all small nonprofits with annual gross revenues of less than $50,000) would need to file is the 990N, an electronic postcard that asks about 5 questions: Name and address of organization, the principle officer’s name and check a box that your annual gross revenues are under $50,000. It is very short and would take less than 5 minutes once a year.

Here’s a blog post that answers your question. http://homeschoolcpa.com/does-new-irs-990n-apply/

I hope that helps.

Carol Topp, CPA

Paying teachers in a homeschool co-op is a sticky situation!

Amy asks a common question: paying teachers at a homeschool co-op

For the past several years, our group has spent more (thousands more) than we have charged our members. We’re not technically “in the red” because of more prosperous years in the past. The reason   we are spending so much money is that over 90% of our income goes to paying our parent-teachers ($15-$20/hour)! The rest of the money goes toward classroom supplies. I am sure that most parents are unaware of how the finances of this group are managed.

Have you heard of groups paying their teacher/parents? What do I need to understand about the various homeschool support and cooperative group structures that I don’t currently comprehend?  Help!
-Amy

Amy,

Your situation sounds very familiar to me. I too was treasurer of my 40 family co-op and found that 75% of our budget was going to pay four paid teachers. The other 20 teachers were volunteer parents, myself included. Not all the families were using a paid teacher, but all were chipping in to pay for them. We also were finding that people were offering to teach because they thought they could get paid. We were losing our cooperative spirit. I knew something needed to change.

About the same time I was helping another homeschool group with some independent contractor/employee issues with the IRS. I wrote about it on my blog. You can read about it here:

Is your homeschool group’s hired teacher really an employee?

Update on Independent Contractors.

We decided to follow IRS guidelines and have the parents pay the teachers directly, like you would pay a piano teacher. The co-op was no longer paying the teachers.

I did some number crunching and found that we could lower our co-op fee from $150/family/semester to $75/family/semester. In addition we offered a $50 discount for teaching a class.

What happened was amazing! Wonderful, talented homeschooling mothers volunteered to teach a class! We had more volunteers than we could accommodate. REALLY! If a mother volunteers to teach a class she only pays $25/semester for her family to attend 3 hours of classes at our co-op. If her child attends one of our paid classes (there are only 3, guitar, art and Spanish) then she pays the teacher directly. For example, I pay $65/semester for my daughter to take an art class. I think the teacher is worth it.

This got us out of the sticky employee/IC situation with the IRS. I’m writing fewer checks. It made my job as treasurer a lot easier and no 1099-MISC forms at the end of the year. No one complained. The spirit of cooperation has returned. YEAH!  I’ll also add that we let the volunteers decide what they wish to teach. If we cannot find a Spanish volunteer, no Spanish class is offered. If enough parents want Spanish we may see if a teacher can come to the co-op. We give her a room and she collects her fees from the parents directly.

My new book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization can help homeschool leaders understand the correct way to pay workers and volunteers in your homeschool group !

Carol Topp, CPA


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Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization-2nd edition

$9.95 paperback
130 pages
Copyright 2017
ISBN 978-0-9909579-3-5

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Is your homeschool co-op’s hired teacher really an employee?

A homeschool nonprofit I work with called me quite frantic.  They had received a letter form the IRS.  It seems that a former teacher of one of their classes  was asking for an examination of her status as an independent contractor (using IRS Form SS-8).  She thought that she should be classified as an employee of this homeschool nonprofit.  If the IRS agrees with this worker, the homeschool organization may have to pay back taxes (Social Security and Medicare) and perhaps penalties.

Fortunately this homeschool group did many things right:

1. They had all their paid teachers sign a Independent Contractor Agreement.
2. They did not control the content of the class, nor dictate to the teacher what curriculum she must use.
3. They offered no benefits to teachers.
4. They did not train their teachers.

But these are only a few of the factors to address in making a worker determination.

How about your homeschool group?  Would you pass an IRS examination?

Do your hired teachers sign an Independent Contractor agreement?

Do you avoid controlling their work as you might an employee?

Here’s an RS brochure regarding employee or independent contractor status (IRS Pub 1779).

 

My new book Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization explains in detail how to determine of your worker is an employee or an Independent Contractor.

You may want to have a private consultation to discuss your unique situation. I offer a Worker Classification Determination consultation to put your mind at ease.

Carol Topp, CPA


payingworkerscoveroutlined

Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization-2nd edition

$9.95 paperback
130 pages
Copyright 2017
ISBN 978-0-9909579-3-5

BuyPaperbackButton

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New article on homeschool support groups and the IRS

Mounting bills Project 365(2) Day 142
Creative Commons License photo credit: Keith Williamson

I just uploaded a new article onto my Leader Tools/Articles page

Are support groups automatically tax exempt?

It discusses the difference between homeschool co-ops and support groups in the eyes of the IRS and the benefits of being a support group!

Here’s what one homeschool leader said when I shared this article:

The path I believe we will go down is to become a  Non Profit Corporation and then (be a) 501(c)7.  You provide a great and much needed service to homeschooler support groups and co-ops.  I wish our previous board knew about you and your web site.  I certainly will be spreading the word.

Thanks again.  I hope I get to meet you in person some day.

Jeff

If you haven’t read the articles on my Leader Tools page in a while, why not print some out and share them with your board?

Helping you lead your homeschool group,

Carol Topp, CPA

What is Unrelated Business Income Tax?

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Sometimes a homeschool group brings in a lot of money from fund raising. These efforts are so successful you may wonder if your group owes anything to the government in taxes. For the most part, fund raising is not considered part of your group’s mission; it is just a means to the end. After all, your group’s mission is to encourage homeschooling, not to sell ads, pizza or other products.

The Internal Revenue Service calls the money you raise “Unrelated Business Income,” meaning it is money collected in a trade or business that is not related to your primary mission. The IRS assess a tax on unrelated business income called the Unrelated Business Income Tax or UBIT. The purpose of this tax is to prevent nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations from having an unfair advantage over the for-profit marketplace.

The best example of unrelated business income is a gift shop in a nonprofit hospital. The income from a gift shop is not related to the hospital’s primary purpose of giving medical treatment, so the profits from the gift shop are taxed.

Your homeschool organization could have unrelated business income if you sell T-shirts, candy bars, entertainment books, candles, pizza coupons and a host of other products or if you make money from ads or Amazon commissions on your website.

Fortunately, the IRS has several exceptions to paying the UBIT tax:

  • A $1,000 threshold allows that the first $1,000 in profit from an unrelated business will not be taxed.
  • If the fundraiser (or unrelated business) is run by volunteer efforts (i.e., no paid staff) then the proceeds are not taxed.
  • If the fundraiser is not regularly carried on, such as a once-a-year spaghetti supper, then the proceeds are not subject to UBIT.
  • If you are selling donated items, like in a garage sale, the income raised is not taxed.

One of these exceptions are bound to apply to most homeschool organizations.

The rules regarding UBIT are complex. You can read more about UBIT in IRS Publication 598 Tax on Unrelated Business Income of Exempt Organizations (http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p598.pdf).

Carol Topp, CPA

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We’re not 501c3 and don’t want to be!

IRS 1040 Forms Post Office April 14, 20113
Creative Commons License photo credit: stevendepolo

Our support group has been in existence over 20 years… and we are  STILL  not a 501(c)(3) …. and don’t want to be!

It would take so much more work, money, etc. to be a 501(c)(3)!!

Many times it is hard for our members to understand this — they think any group who’s not set up as a ‘business’ to ‘make money’ has to be a 501(c)(3).  Our group does NOT take donations — membership fees cover our cost of doing business. And they are reasonable — $10 a year, to get our newsletter via email, $20 if you want it printed and mailed to you.  We put out a group directory each year, pay for some things like church rental for our Back to School meeting, copies of membership forms & information about homeschooling that we distribute, etc.

Karleen
Conroe, TX

Karleen,

I need to warn you in your some of your assumptions. I’m a CPA and work with homeschool organizations to organize properly and decrease their tax liabilities by obtaining tax exempt status with the IRS.

I answered a leader who asked, “Can’t we operate without IRS tax exemption?” in this blog post.

You wrote: “they think any group who’s not set up as a ‘business’ to ‘make money’ has to be a501(c)(3).” They are partially correct. If your organization makes a profit, it owes tax unless it is legally tax exempt.

If your group is a nonprofit (i.e. no profit motive) you have one of 4 legal choices:

1. Stay small and remain under the IRS threshold of $5,000 in annual gross revenues for filing for 501c3 status.The IRS allow small nonprofits to “self declare” their tax exempt status without filing an application. But even small nonprofits must file an annual report with the IRS, Form 990N.

2. Consider another tax exempt status such as 501(c)(7) Social Club if you are a support group. See my blog posts on that issue here. And, like #1, 501(c)(7) social clubs are still required to file an annual report Form 990/990EZ or 990N with the IRS.

3. File for tax exemption under 501(c)(3) as an educational organization. This just got easier with the new IRS Form 1023-EZ.

4. Or you can pay your taxes.  When paying taxes is the alternative, tax exempt status doesn’t look so bad, huh?

Just because you do not accept donations does not exempt you from the IRS and tax regulations.

The USA offers a wonderful opportunity for nonprofit groups to keep all of their surplus and avoid paying taxes on it. But it does mean filing one time a document (Form 1023 or 1024) with the IRS to become a tax exempt organization.

I hope that clears things up a bit.

 

Carol Topp, CPA
HomeschoolCPA.com

Congratulations on 501(c)(3) tax exempt status!

Congratulations to two homeschool organizations that received letters from the IRS this week granting them 501(c)(3) tax exempt status!

JMJ Tampa Bay in Florida

and

Community Homeschool Outreach in OK.

I was so happy to help these organizations achieve this important status.

Would your homeschool group benefit from tax exempt staus? Do you qualify?

Learn more by reading my articles under Leader Tools.

Carol Topp, CPA

Do not use individual fund raising accounts

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From Parent Booster USA comes this warning about fund raising accounts:

Do not use individual fundraising accounts (IFAs) without a legal review. The IRS has strict rules on any activity that benefits the individual members of a group. The IRS generally finds IFAs to violate its rules. IFAs are activities in which parents/students engage in cooperative fundraising activities, providing “credit” to the individual “accounts” of those who participate in the fundraising activity(ies). Only in very limited circumstances are IFAs considered legal fundraising activities of booster clubs. Parent Booster USA can provide assistance in obtaining a legal review of an organization’s IFA policy. See also Individual Fundraising Accounts.

I agree with Parent Booster USA, the IRS does not allow nonprofits to establish individual fund raising accounts, where an individual or family get a part of the fund raising proceeds for their personal use.

To learn more about fund raisers for your homeschool group, read my article “Easy Fund Raisers for Homeschool Groups” here

and my blog posts on fund raising here.

Carol Topp, CPA

Can’t we operate without IRS tax exempt status?

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Carol,

Does my homeschool support group really need to apply to 501(c)(3) tax exempt status with the IRS? It seems like a lot of time and money. We have a small budget and we don’t accept tax deductible donations.

Can’t we just operate as we are?

You described your group as a support group, meaning you exists for the benefit of the members and you do not accept or plan to seek tax deductible donations.

Many larger homeschool organizations, especially co-ops that have an educational function and not just a support group purpose, seek 501(c)(3) tax exempt status for its many benefits:

  • tax exemption
  • ability to accept tax deductible donations
  • ability to participate in fund raisers only open to 501(c)(3) charities

See my article Do we need 501c3 status?

But homeschool support groups are different. They don’t hold classes; they focus on fellowship. Support groups don’t accept donations; they get all their income from membership dues and maybe a little bit of fund raising.

I attended an IRS webinar and asked your question. Here’s what the IRS said:

It is true the Tax Reform Act of 1969 requirement to “give notice,” (to apply for recognition of tax-exempt status) applies only to organizations wanting section 501(c)(3) status.
So, although other types of organizations are not required to file Form 1024, they may still wish to do so in order to receive a determination letter of IRS recognition of their status. Having the determination letter ensures public recognition of their status and may enable exemption from some state taxes.
Also, even though an organization may “self-proclaim” its tax-exempt status, it is still subject to the rules governing its particular sub-section. It is also subject to IRS examination to determine whether it meets the requirements for the exemption it is claiming.

Translation:

If your organization wished to obtain 501(c)(3) tax exempt status, then you must file an application for that. I can help . See my Services page

If  instead, your group fits the criteria of a social club (what the IRS calls a 501(c)(7)), then your organization can “self-proclaim” that you are tax exempt without filing the paperwork.

But you still have to obey the rules and fit the IRS definition of a social club. 

What it takes to be classified as a 501(c)(7) Social Club

And you don’t have a nice letter from the IRS to prove that you are tax exempt.

So there you have it…most homeschool support groups, if they operate as a social club, can be considered tax exempt without going through the time and expense of tax exempt application with the IRS.

P.S. But even if your group does not have to file the application paperwork (Form 1023 or 1024), your organization must still file an annual information return called a Form 990/ 990EZ or the simple on-line Form 990N with the IRS. Read more here: IRS Form 990N FAQ

Carol Topp, CPA