Form 990

Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax

Understanding tax documents can be a challenge, and for non-profit organizations, the 990 form is one of the most crucial. This comprehensive guide aims to demystify the 990 form, providing valuable insights into its purpose, components, and the steps required to complete it accurately. By the end, you'll not only understand the 990 form but also how to leverage it for your organization's benefit.

What is a 990 Form?

The 990 form, often referred to as the "Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax," is a yearly reporting return that certain federally tax-exempt organizations must file with the IRS. This form provides the IRS and the public with financial information about a nonprofit organization, ensuring it's operating within the statutes of its tax-exempt status.

  • Purpose and significance: Beyond compliance, the 990 form offers a transparent view of a nonprofit's operations, including how it uses its resources. This transparency can bolster donor confidence and support organizational accountability.
  • Components of the form: The 990 encompasses details about the organization's mission, programs, and finances. It includes revenue, expenses, executive compensations, and significant activities.

Who Needs a 990 Form?

Not all entities must file a 990 form, but for those that do, understanding the criteria is crucial.

  • Criteria: Primarily tax-exempt organizations, non-exempt charitable trusts, and Section 527 political organizations are required to file.
  • Obligations: The specific version of the 990 form an organization needs to file (e.g., 990, 990-EZ, 990-N) depends on its annual gross receipts and total assets.
  • Deadlines: Generally, the 990 form is due on the 15th day of the 5th month after the organization's fiscal year ends. Extensions are available.

How to Read and Understand 990 Form

Grasping the details of the 990 form is essential for accurate completion and review.

  • Breakdown of the 990 form: Key sections include information about the organization, financial statements, compliance information, and schedules detailing specific activities.
  • Explanation of common terms and figures: Terms like "unrelated business income," "program service revenue," and "operating margins" are crucial for correct interpretation.

How to Get Your 990 Form

Obtaining the form is straightforward and accessible to all organizations that need it.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Errors on the 990 form can lead to scrutiny from the IRS and concerns from donors.

  • Common errors: These can range from simple clerical mistakes to failing to file the correct version of the form.
  • Tips: Carefully review the form before submission, use the IRS instructions, and consider professional advice for complex situations.

990 Form and Tax Filing

Understanding the role of the 990 form in tax filing is crucial for maintaining your nonprofit's tax-exempt status.

  • Impact on tax filing: While the 990 form is not a tax return in the traditional sense, it's essential for complying with federal regulations and demonstrating public accountability.
  • Role in tax returns and possible refunds: Although tax-exempt, some nonprofits may receive a refund for taxes paid on certain activities.

FAQ Section

Here are answers to some common questions about the 990 form.

  1. Who is exempt from filing the 990 form? Small organizations with gross receipts of $50,000 or less can file Form 990-N, also known as the e-Postcard.

  2. Can the public access an organization's 990 form? Yes. The 990 forms are public records, available for inspection online and through certain third-party organizations.

  3. What happens if you fail to file the 990 form? Organizations that fail to file for three consecutive years will automatically lose their tax-exempt status.

  4. Is there a penalty for late filing of the 990 form? Yes, there can be penalties for late filings, which depend on the organization's gross receipts.

  5. Do all non-profits need to file a 990 form? Most tax-exempt organizations must file a 990 form except for churches and certain religious organizations.


The 990 form is a critical tool for tax-exempt organizations, serving as a testament to their integrity, efficiency, and dedication to their mission. Understanding and correctly completing this form is pivotal to maintaining your nonprofit's good standing and tax-exempt status. While this guide offers a comprehensive overview, the complexities of individual circumstances may require professional advice. Consult a tax professional for personalized assistance.

For further information and accessing forms, refer to the official IRS resources:

Navigating the realm of tax-exempt filing can be complex, but with the right resources and knowledge, organizations can confidently fulfill their obligations and focus on their mission and impact.

Always refer to the IRS website or a tax professional for the most accurate and up-to-date information. provides general information and software tools for tax preparation; however, it does not offer personalized tax, legal, or professional advice. It's recommended to consult with a qualified professional for specific advice related to your financial situation.