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

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

Compare 501(c)(3) Charity to 501(c)(7) Social Club

The IRS offers more than a dozen different classifications of tax exempt status.  The most popular by far with 80% of the total is the 501(c)(3) “Qualified charity status.”

Many homeschool organizations may qualify to be 501(c)(3) qualified charities with an educational purpose or 501(c)(7) Social Clubs with a social or recreational purpose.

Here’s a comparison of 501(c)(3) “qualified charity” status and 501(c)(7) Social Club.

In general, homeschool co-ops fall under 501(c)(3) “qualified charity” because they have an educational purpose, while homeschool support groups fall under 501(c)(7) Social Club.

501(c)(3) Qualified Charity 501(c)(7) Social Club
Purpose Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Pleasure, recreation, social activities
Examples churches, charities, private schools, homeschool programs with an educational or religious purpose Fraternities, sororities, country clubs, hobby clubs, homeschool support groups
Requirements No private inurement allowed. Upon dissolution all assets must be distributed to another 501(c)(3) organization. Personal contact, fellowship and co-mingling of members. No private inurement allowed.
Activities Can hold programs, sell services and products as part of their exempt purpose. Can provide meals or services only to members in connection with club activities
Tax deductible donations allowed Yes No
Tax exempt (no taxes on profits) Exempt from federal income tax unless the organization has unrelated business income Exempt from federal income tax on income derived from members; other income taxed
Source of Income Membership fees, fees for services, donations, fund raisers, program fees Primarily (65% or more) of the income must come from the membership
Membership Serving the public or the “public good” (i.e. the education of children is a public good) Limited membership and consistent with the purpose of the club
IRS Application Required? Yes, if gross revenues over $5,000/year. File Form 1023 or 1023-EZ No. The IRS does not require 501(c)(7) organizations to file an application. They can “self-proclaim” tax exempt status.
Annual IRS Reporting Form 990-N, Form 990-EZ or Form 990 Form 990-N, Form 990-EZ or Form 990
Legislative Lobbying permitted? Insubstantial lobbying allowed (less than 20% of total expenses). No endorsement of a candidate. No limit on legislative activity as long as it furthers the exempt purpose

IRS and Your Homeschool Org cover

Need more help understanding your tax exempt status?

My book, The IRS and your Homeschool Organization is a good place to start.

If you have specific question about your homeschool program, we can arrange a phone consultation.

I hope that helps!

Carol Topp, CPA

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Can’t we operate without IRS tax exempt status?

irs_sign

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

More nonprofits can file the easy Form 990N

2009 Form 990

Many homeschool organizations that have tax exempt status are small enough they do not have to file any tax forms with the IRS. And now new IRS guidelines mean even more groups are free from IRS filing requirements!

Small exempt organizations can file the simple Form 990-N, the electronic postcard, instead of the longer Form 990-EZ or  Form 990.

For tax years beginning on or after January 1, 2010, exempt organizations may file the e-Postcard if their annual gross receipts were not more than $50,000.  The previous filing threshold was annual gross receipts of no more than $25,000. Gross receipts include every dollar your organization brings in, even if it goes out immediately too.

The e-Postcard is an electronic notice filed at http://epostcard.form990.org.

Need help determining your gross receipts? Send me an email and we can arrange a private consultation over the phone. Email me here.

If your tax exempt homeschool organization needs help filing their Form 990EZ or Form 990, I can help. Read more here.

Would your homeschool group benefit from being tax exempt? Find out by reading my articles on the pros and cons of tax exempt status.

Carol Topp, CPA

Can a homeschool co-op be denied 501(c)(3) status?

I frequently learn a lot about nonprofit law from Harvey Mechanic’s All Experts Site. Mr Mechanic is an attorney that does a fantastic job of answering all sorts of questions about nonprofit law. I always learn a lot.

Recently, a parent from a small private school mentioned the need to do fundraisers and have everyone “do their fair share.” That is a pretty common expectation in activities involving children like youth sports leagues, scouting, etc. But to my surprise, Mr Mechanic has a problem with the “fair share” idea.

Here is Harvey Mechanic’s reply:

The statement that you made about “fair share” indicates that you do not want to operate properly. The fair share is applicable for a co-operative organization but not a charitable organization. In denying exemption to a purported 501(c)(3) organization booster organization, in 1992 the IRS at
http://viewer.zoho.com/docs/s2ca6g on page 6 stated “The reason you were created and your method of operation indicate that you are made up of a group of parents who have joined together to work cooperatively to provide funds to pay for the participation of their children in athletic events.
The expenses incurred by these children would otherwise have been paid by the parents.  All parents of competitive team members are automatically members of your organization.  Accordingly, members expect to receive a benefit in return for their membership.  You pay no benefits to non-members.

Another, similar denial of exemption was issued by the IRS in 1990 and may be viewed at
http://viewer.zoho.com/docs/a4vd3

Such an operation would be what the IRS calls a cooperative. A cooperative is not qualified as a 501(c)(3) organization. (emphasis added)


IRS and Your Homeschool Org cover

Wow!  So does that mean homeschool co-ops cannot obtain 501(c)(3) status? Oh, no!  I spend a lot of time helping homeschool co-ops obtain 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. I have been successful many times.

I even wrote a book, The IRS and Your  Homeschool Organization, telling homeschool organizations how and why to become a 501(c)(3) organization.

Am I wrong?  Or is Mr. Mechanic incorrect?

Neither.  Or rather, it depends on how your organization is structured and your purpose.  If your homeschool organization is a support group that is “made up of a group of parents who have joined together to work cooperatively to provide funds to pay for the participation of their children in athletic (or educational) events.” you do not qualify for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. But you can qualify for a different IRS tax exempt status called 501(c)(7) Social Club status.

I am assisting a homeschool support group that has a few co-op classes, but their main purpose is to join together to support each other in homeschooling. They are applying for 501(c)(7) as a Social Club. They will receive many of the benefits of tax exempt status, but not quite the same a 501(c)(3) status.

What about your homeschool organization?  Would you qualify as a 501(c)(3) charity or 501(c)(7) Social Club?

Do you know the difference?

How can you decide? It depends on your activities, purpose and structure.

I can help you sort out the differences.

Please contact me about a phone consultation to help you determine which status is best for your organization.

Do not make the mistake of choosing the wrong tax exempt status.  You could be denied by the IRS like Mr Mechanic mentioned and waste a lot of time and money. It can happen to your group.  Read a real life story here:

http://homeschoolcpa.com/irs-intimidates-homeschool-group

If you need help discerning the tax exempt status of your homeschool organization, send me an email at Carol@HomeschoolCPA.com. We can arrange a private consultation to discuss your particular situation.

Carol Topp, CPA

Can a small group be an IRS qualified charity?

In the past week, I have received two emails from homeschool leaders in MD and CA with  a surprisingly similar situations.

In both groups, a small number of homeschooling families were  joining together to hire a single teacher to teach their children once or twice a week. Both groups were very small, only seven families total, but they were paying each instructor quite a bit of money-$11,000 annually in one case and $17,000 in the other. This meant that they exceeded the IRS threshold of $5,000 annual gross revenue and needed to consider filing for 501c3 tax exempt status.

They had several concerns such as a contract with the teacher, how should the teacher be paid and could the group qualify for 501c3 tax exempt status as an educational organization?

Here were some of their questions:

I found your website and found it to be most interesting and helpful to homeschool co-ops.  I would like to schedule a personal consultation with you.  I am part of a homeschool group that informally hired a teacher to teach certain classes in past years, but this coming year the teacher wants a contract.
Rosemary in MD


I saw your website and had some general questions for you.  Appreciate your ministry to homeschoolers. We are trying to decide whether our group should be a sole proprietorship owned by person or try to establish a nonprofit. What would be the pros and cons of each? What if we can’t afford to file for tax exemption at this time?  What are our choices if our gross receipts are around $11K/year?
Teri in CA

There are several options for homeschool organizations who are trying to decide how to structure themselves. I advised the leader from CA to read this article:

When to become a 501c3?

I offered a private phone consultation and discussed the concerns and options with the leader from MD. I explained that I doubted the IRS would grant 501c3 “qualified charity” status to a group with only seven families. An IRS qualified charity is supposed to serve a public good, not the needs of only seven families.

Instead of pursuing 501c3 tax exempt status, we discussed that the hired teacher is really running a for-profit business (a sole proprietorship) with seven families as her customers. I shared with her several sample contractor agreements the teacher could use in her business.

There is a sample contractor agreement available in my ebooks Money Management in a Homeschool Organization and Paying Workers in a Homeschool Organization.

Thank you again for the consultation.  It answered a lot of questions for me, and I appreciate your support. Thank you also for the contractor agreements – I have been reading through them.
Rosemary in MD

If you have a unique homeschooling situation and would like to schedule a private consultation with me, please send me an email at Carol@HomeschoolCPA.com. Tell me a little about your group and we can arrange a mutually convenient time to talk.

Carol Topp, CPA

Hosting a booth at county fair makes history

The San Diego Christian Homeschools hosted an information booth at the San Diego county fair. It was the first time in the fair’s history that a homeschool organization had been featured there.

Leader Lisa Vaca, wrote to tell me about it:

I just wanted to share with you about how blessed we were to be able to host a homeschool information booth at our County fair yesterday. This all happened thanks, in part, to the encouragement and tips of you, Kristen and Denise (of HomeschoolGroupLeader.com) , and thanks to the huge help of Carol with our non-profit filing last year. (You’re very welcome!)

Our booth was a big hit and the organizers of the non-profit booths at our County fair are begging us to return again next summer. We were able to get HSLDA and other homeschool organizations to send us brochures and publications to hand out, plus we got some of our SDCH kids involved in the photography and displays.

Through this Homeschool Info Booth we were able to introduce homeschooling to our community in a fun, new and positive way, and answer the public’s many questions about home education.



Isn’t that a great idea? The San Diego Christians are reaching out to others in their community to share the benefits of homeschooling.

Carol Topp, CPA

P.S. The San Diego Christian Homeschoolers obtained 501c3 tax exempt status (with my help) which gives them extra credibility in the eyes of their community. Learn the benefits of 501c3 tax exempt status for your homeschool group  in this article Do we need 501c3 status?