IRS Form 990 is an informational tax form that most tax-exempt organizations must file annually. In a nutshell, the form gives the IRS an overview of the organization's activities, governance and detailed financial information. Form 990 also includes a section for the organization to outline its accomplishments in the previous year to justify maintaining its tax-exempt status. In collecting this information, the IRS wants to ensure that organizations continue to qualify for tax exemption after the status is granted.
Organizations that must file Form 990
Most tax-exempt organizations that have gross receipts of at least $200,000 or assets worth at least $500,000 must file Form 990 on an annual basis. Some organizations, such as political organizations, churches and other religious organizations, are exempt from filing an annual Form 990.
Information reported on Form 990
Form 990 initially requires the organization to describe its mission or other significant activities. The organization must then disclose financial details on its revenues, expenses, assets and liabilities.
The IRS also wants to ensure that the organization is worthy of maintaining its tax-exempt status and requires more details on the types of activities it engages in during the year. A significant portion of the form requires information on how the organization is governed, and specifically requests the names of its officers, directors, highly compensated employees and other employees who are involved with managing the organization. An organization that over-compensates its management may jeopardize its tax-exempt status with the IRS.
Attachments to Form 990
Part IV of Form 990 provides a detailed checklist of supporting documents that may be required depending on the answers given to a list of questions. For example, many tax-exempt organizations must file a Schedule B, Schedule of Contributors, listing all contributions it receives during the year.
A Schedule C may also be necessary to report the political activities of a tax-exempt organization. Other documents include a Schedule D to provide more detailed financial statements, a Schedule F to report the organization’s level of activity outside the United States and a Schedule G to describe the organization’s fundraising activities.
Alternatives to Form 990
Tax-exempt organizations with less than $200,000 of gross receipts and less than $500,000 in assets can file Form 990-EZ, which is the "short form" version of Form 990. However, private foundations must file Form 990-PF and black lung benefit trusts must file Form 990-BL.
The shortest version of Form 990, the Form 990-N, can only be filed by organizations with gross receipts of $50,000 or less. Form 990-N is referred to as an “e-postcard” since it can only be filed online and requires minimal information. Any organization that fails to file the appropriate Form 990 for three consecutive years risks having its tax-exempt status revoked by the IRS.