Five Common Form 990 Errors

Paying taxes is unavoidable; paying even more money to the IRS because their long, complex forms caused you to make an error and incur penalties is not. 

Form 990 is a long and eye-blurring form (and the IRS-provided instructions for filling out the form is 100 pages long). But if you’re directing an organization exempt from income tax under section 501(a), you probably hardly have time for such “light” reading. So here are five common, avoidable errors made on Form 990 that could subject you to steep penalties or even an IRS inquiry:

  • Using the wrong form. There are different types of Form 990 that apply to different tax exempt organizations. Using one form when you should use another can incur penalties.
    • Form 990-N (“ePostcard”) is filed when your gross receipts are less than $50,000
    • Form 990-EZ is filed when your gross receipts are less than $200,000 and your assets are less than $500,000
    • Form 990 (“long form”) is filed when your gross receipts are greater than $200,000 or your assets are greater than $500,000.
  • Using the calendar year instead of a fiscal year. The deadline to file Form 990 is the 15th day of the 5th month after the end of your organization’s fiscal year. Typically, this deadline is May 15 as many fiscal years do coincide with the calendar year. However, if your fiscal year ends on a day other than December 31, you could be at risk for filing late or even filing for the wrong year. Your filing year is dictated by the first month of the fiscal year. For example, an organization whose fiscal year runs from December 1, 2013-November 30, 2014 should file a 2013 Form 990 by April 15, 2015.
  • Failing to prepare and include Schedules. ALL section 501(c)(3) organizations MUST prepare and attach Schedule A to Form 990. If this form is missing or incorrect, the IRS can penalize you. Based on organization type, gross receipts, and other stipulations, you may also be required to fill out and submit other schedules, without which your filing is incomplete.
  • Submitting Form 990 with missing or inaccurate information. This could be anything from failing to mark an applicable box, to failing to list officers and key employees (including volunteers), to an imbalance between your ending net assets sections. Any discrepancies could flag your Form 990 as incomplete or incorrect, resulting in penalties or an IRS inquiry.
  • Failing to file an extension. An extension can allow you to postpone your deadline for 3-6 months, depending on your type of organization and whether you plan to file a Form 990 or Form 990-EZ. However, an extension cannot be filed after your organization’s original deadline. If you are late filing your Form 990 and have not filed an extension, you’re at risk of accruing late penalties.

Avoiding these common mistakes and staying informed can make taking on Form 990 seem like less daunting of a task. And to make it seem even LESS daunting, here’s a bonus avoidable error, just for you:

  • Not using Express990 to file! Sure, you could try to keep in mind these and all of the other errors you might make while filing, but why would you when we can do it for you? Express990 is easy to understand; it turns Form 990 into a conversation. Answer “yes” or “no” questions, fill in your financial specifics, and we’ll make sure everything matches up and everything required is included. We’ll then run an error check before submitting so that any obvious errors can be fixed and you avoid filing an incorrect or incomplete form. And if you see where you might need more time to file, you can e-file extension Form 8868 right from our website.
But if you still feel like pulling your hair out over Form 990, you can contact the Express990 team Monday-Friday from 9am-6pm EST by phone (704-839-2321) or by live chat (, or 24/7 by e-mail at [email protected].

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *