You can find the most recent Form 990 instructions here.

There. That was easy. But wait–there’s more! Much more, in fact. Once you open the instructions, you may notice that there is A LOT to digest. 

All in all, the IRS 990 instructions for the full version of the form run over 100 pages.

Let’s say you’re the financial officer for your nonprofit 501(c)(3) and your tax deadline is fast approaching. Your organization has already filed for official tax exemption, per IRS guidelines, using the Form 1023.

All you must do is file your 990 form and you’ll retain your tax-exempt status, allowing you to move on to other important day-to-day financial management tasks.

However, while these instructions are extremely thorough and useful to any nonprofit’s CFO, they’re also the Moby-Dick of tax instructions, and you may or may need a bit of help getting through all of it. Or you may find some of it doesn’t really apply to your organization.

It’s important to get your tax filing correct. 

An incomplete or error-filled 990 can lead to necessary corrections and possible penalties from the IRS. 

However, your 990 is also a public document that donors and other stakeholders rely on to make important decisions about your relationship with them. It’s a mirror into your nonprofit’s finances, and it’s a crucial part of your transparency with your community.

You must have the right nonprofit tax tools at your disposal to keep you on your mission.

Fret not. File 990 will help you break down the most important aspects of your Form 990 and the relevant instructions.

We’re here to ensure you never again have to ask, Where Can I Find Form 990 Instructions?

Which 990 Form to File

Which 990 form to file is based primarily on your total gross receipts and assets, as well as on what type of organization you have, according to the IRS classification of nonprofits.

Here’s a quick rundown:

The four most common 990 forms include:

  1. The full 990 form

The full-length 990 form is required for nonprofits who gross $200,000 or more in total receipts, or total assets of $500,000 or more.

  1. 990-EZ

The 990-EZ is for nonprofits who grossed less during the year, but still made over $50,000 in total gross receipts.

  1. 990-N (e-Postcard)

The 990-N is a simplified electronic form for nonprofits who grossed under $50,000. 

  1. 990-PF

The 990-PF is for private foundations.

Each form can be submitted electronically the IRS, and you must do so by the 15th day of the 5th month after your accounting period ends. If you need an extension, file a Form 8868 prior to the filing deadline.

Further Considerations:

Check to ensure the following guidelines match your nonprofit:

  • You’ve registered your organization with the IRS and have filed Form 1023 (mentioned above) to apply for tax exemption.
  • Your organization hasn’t lost tax-exempt status due to missed filing or any other reason.
  • You are not an exemption to the filing rule, such as some church-based, government, or state organizations, or part of a group return filed by a parent corporation, among other groups exempt from filing

Note: a list of exempt organizations is also listed on the 990 instructions, under the heading B. Organizations Not Required To File Form 990 or 990-EZ.

Once you’re sure you need to submit a 990, it’s time to determine which form is right for your nonprofit.

Now That You’ve Cracked Open Your Tome of 990 Instructions—What’s New?

This document may be novel length, but unlike the classics by Melville, your 990 instructions can change every. single. tax year.

The basics about your 990 forms are pretty easy to figure out, and can be found directly on the IRS.gov website. For more in-depth questions, the instructions themselves come with a table of contents that’s easy to follow.

Yet, what you need to consider first and foremost is how tax laws and filing instructions change from year to year.

Changes are listed on the very first page of the most recent tax instructions document.

Why is this important?

If you assume nothing’s changed regarding the steps you’ll take to file, you could miss an important new part of the process, and this can lead to missing information.

You’ll have to spend time and energy refiling and pay fines, which no one wants.

For instance, the most recent 990 filing instructions state that: “A tax-exempt organization, other than a section 501(c)(3) organization (including a section 4947(a)(1) nonexempt charitable trust) or a section 527 political organization, is no longer required to report the names and addresses of its contributors on the Schedule B (Schedule of Contributors) attached to its Form 990 or Form 990-EZ for tax years ending on or after December 31, 2018.”

Too-long-didn’t-read version: If you fall into one of the categories listed, you would not have to file a Schedule B form. 

Knowing what’s new can save you crucial time and effort.

What’s the Best and Easiest Way to File?

For filing a full Form 990, you must compile a complete list of your financial revenue, assets, expenses, etc., as well as info regarding your volunteers, executives, and your organization’s mission and activities.

While the instructions are lengthy, don’t gloss over the general instructions, listed before the specific instructions, near the front of the document.

These general instructions can really help you troubleshoot specific issues when getting started with filing, such as:

  • in what sequence to complete the 990 form and attached schedules
  • how, when, and where to file your tax forms
  • how to file for an extension, and the possible penalties of late filing
  • accounting periods and methods to use when filing
  • who has to file and who doesn’t

Once you have these issues resolved, you’ll feel much more confident moving into the more specific instructions for each section of the 990.

Is There a Better Way to File My 990-EZ or 990-N?

We’re glad you asked. The answer is yes!

File 990 is a certified e-filer who can make filing your 990-EZ or 990-N e-postcard easier than ever.

Our services include annual e-filing and reminders when it’s time to file, plus we offer an enterprise suite option for organizations with multiple chapters or components, so each component files correctly and maintains its tax-exempt status.

If you have questions, get in touch with File 990 here.

Or get started e-filing your nonprofit tax forms with us today.