Regaining Your Tax-exempt Status if You Failed to File Form 990s

There are many ways for a nonprofit organization to lose its tax-exempt status — including participating in lobbying and campaign activities, receiving excessive unrelated business income and allowing board members to financially benefit from their positions. But the most common reason nonprofits lose their status is failure to file an annual Form 990 or 990-N for three consecutive years. If your organization has landed on the IRS’s revocation list for this reason, don’t panic. The process for reinstatement is relatively simple.

Getting Good with the IRS

Assuming you lost your exempt status for failing to file, you can regain it with another filing. Contact us about submitting either Form 1023, “Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(c)(3)” or Form 1024, “Application for Recognition of Exemption Under Section 501(a),” based on your type of nonprofit.

Unless you apply for retroactive reinstatement, all of your organization’s activities between the revocation and the reinstatement date will be considered taxable. And all contributions made during that period won’t be deductible by donors. You may apply for retroactive reinstatement, effective the date of the automatic revocation, by filing the applicable form within 15 months or the later of the date of 1) the IRS revocation letter, or 2) the date the IRS posted your organization’s name on its website.

Providing Reasonable Cause

When you file the correct form, attach a detailed statement that provides reasonable cause for failing to file required returns in each of the three consecutive years. You should state the facts that led to each failure and the continual failure, discovery of the failures and steps taken to avoid or mitigate them.

You will also need to attach:

  • A statement that describes safeguards put in place and steps taken to avoid future failures.
  • Evidence to support all material aspects of those two statements.
  • Properly completed and executed paper tax returns for all taxable years during and after the three-year period your organization failed to file.
  • An original declaration dated and signed by an authorized person in your organization such as an officer or director. (See IRS Notice 2011-44 for the required wording.)

To expedite your application, write “AUTOMATICALLY REVOKED” at the top of the form and envelope and include the specified fee.

Serious Repercussions

Losing your tax-exempt status can have serious repercussions. You’d likely owe corporate tax on any revenue as well as back taxes and penalties, and donors can no longer make tax-exempt gifts. So if your nonprofit’s status has been revoked, address the matter immediately. Contact us for help.

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