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IRS Tips for Form 990 Filers

Page one of form year 2018 IRS Form 990Exactly one month from today, millions of nonprofits will face the filing deadline for their annual information returns, i.e., IRS Form 990-N, 990-EZ, 990, or 990-PF. With that deadline in mind, we thought it would be a good time to share the IRS’s tips for 990 filers.

In addition to the tips below, the IRS also offers tips for 990-EZ filers, tips for 990-PF filers, and general filing tips. Not sure which version of the form your organization needs to file? Check the filing thresholds page on the IRS website.

Tips for Form 990 Filers

Tip Why?

Be sure you file the proper version of Form 990 for your tax period

You must use the appropriate Form 990 for the tax period for which you are filing. Penalties may be assessed for failing to file the proper version of Form 990 for the tax period of the return.

Double check your identifying information

Check the accuracy of your EIN, Tax Period and Group Exemption Number (GEN) if applicable. Make sure you indicate the correct Internal Revenue Code Subsection for your organization as indicated in your determination letter.

Complete Parts I through XII

All organizations that file Form 990 must fully complete Parts I through XI of the form.

Be sure to sign the return

Form 990 is not complete without a proper signature in Part II, Signature Block. An officer of the organization must sign the return. For a corporation or association, this officer may be the president, vice president, treasurer, assistant treasurer, chief accounting officer or tax officer. For a trust, the authorized trustee(s) must sign.

Do not include unnecessary personal identifying information

Form 990 must be made publicly available by the IRS and the filer; putting personal identifying information not required by the IRS on the return facilitates identify theft.

Determine which schedules are required

By completing Part IV, Checklist of Required Schedules, you can determine which schedules are required. Be sure to fully complete and attach all of the required schedules. When completing required schedules, always:

  • Carefully read the instructions for each required schedule;

  • Complete all applicable parts and lines;

  • Answer yes or no to each question (unless otherwise instructed for a particular question);

  • Make an entry on all total lines including zero (0) when appropriate

Complete Schedule A (Form 990 or 990-EZ), Public Charity Status and Public Support

All section 501(c)(3) or 4947(a)(1) organizations must fully complete and file Schedule A. You must use the appropriate Schedule A for the tax period for which you are filing. Penalties may be assessed for failing to file the proper version of Schedule A for the tax period of the return.

Complete Schedule B (Form 990, 990-EZ or 990-PF), Schedule of Contributors

All organizations must complete and attach Schedule B or certify the organization is not required to attach Schedule B by answering No on Part IV, line 2, of Form 990.

Complete Schedule C (Form 990 or 990-EZ), Political Campaign and Lobbying Activities

Section 501(c) and section 527 organizations use Schedule C to furnish additional information on political campaign and lobbying activities.

Complete Schedule D (Form 990), Supplemental Financial Information

Schedule D provides required reporting for donor advised funds, conservation easements, endowments, escrow and custodial accounts, reconciliation with financial statements, and certain other supplemental financial information.

Complete Schedule E (Form 990 or 990-EZ), Schools

Schedule E must be completed by an organization that is a school as described in Code section 170(b)(1)(A)(ii).

Complete Schedule J (Form 990), Compensation

Schedule J must be filed to report certain compensation information.

Complete Schedule L (Form 990 or 990-EZ)

Schedule L, Transactions with Interested Persons, must be completed by organizations required to report excess benefit transactions, loans to or from directors, trustees, officers, key employees, or disqualified persons, grants or other assistance to interested persons, and business transactions with interested persons.

Complete Schedule R (Form 990), Related Organizations and Unrelated Partnerships

Organizations that answered Yes to Form 990, Part IV, lines 33, 34, 35, 36, or 37, must complete and attach Schedule R, Related Organizations, to report relationships and certain transactions with such organizations.

Complete Schedule O (Form 990), Supplemental Information for Form 990

Schedule O is an "open" schedule that must be filed by all organizations that file Form 990. It is used to provide IRS with narrative information required for responses to specific questions, and to supplement or explain the organization’s responses to other questions. At a minimum, all organizations must provide explanations to their answers to Form 990, Part VI, lines 11b and 19.

Closing Thoughts

IRS Forms 990-EZ, 990, and 990-PF can be valuable communications documents as well as financial reporting instruments. Ask your marketing, development, and communications colleagues to review the descriptions of your organization’s exempt purpose and program service accomplishments. They can help write clear statements that strike a chord with readers and add context to the pages of financial data. (FYI, the 990-N doesnt contain narrative information.)

Suzanne CoffmanSuzanne Coffman is an editorial director at Candid.

Topics: IRS Form 990 IRS Form 990-N Form 990 IRS 990 IRS Form 990-EZ