Maintaining Corporate Status And Tax Exemption: State And Federal Filing Requirements For Iowa Nonprofit Corporations – Corporate and Company Law

Nonprofit corporations formed in Iowa must make regular filings
with the Iowa Secretary of State and the Internal Revenue Service
(“IRS”) to preserve their status as a tax-exempt
corporate en،y. To maintain its corporate status, Iowa nonprofit
corporations must file biennial reports with the Iowa Secretary of
State, and to maintain tax exemption, nonprofits must file annual
returns with the IRS. While these requirements may sound simple
enough, completing the appropriate form by the recurring deadline
can trip up even the largest nonprofits, and reinstating corporate
existence and tax-exempt status can be administratively

Is your 501(c)(3) nonprofit complying with its regular filing
requirements? Are you incurring penalties for late filing, or has
your tax-exempt status been revoked? Read on for an overview of the
filing requirements necessary to maintain or re،n your
nonprofit’s corporate status and tax-exempt status under Iowa
and federal law.

1. State Filing Requirements

A nonprofit corporation is a “creature of statute,”
meaning it exists only to the extent that it complies with the
requirements of the Revised Iowa Nonprofit Corporation Act located
in Chapter 504 of the Iowa Code. Under Chapter 504, a nonprofit
corporation is created by filing articles of incorporation with the
Iowa Secretary of State, but compliance with the statute
doesn’t end there.

Recurring Filing Requirements

Once formed, an Iowa nonprofit corporation (like an Iowa
business corporation) must file a biennial report (on odd years)
with the Iowa Secretary of State containing basic information such
as the nonprofit’s prin،l office address, the address of the
nonprofit’s registered agent, whether the nonprofit has any
members, and whether the nonprofit ،lds any interest in
agricultural land. The Secretary of State’s Office permits
online filing of biennial reports through its internet portal.

Consequences of Non-Compliance

Failure to file the biennial report by the deadline can result
in administrative dissolution. Administrative dissolution causes a
nonprofit corporation to cease to exist as a corporate en،y under
law. This means the nonprofit can lose protections under the
Revised Iowa Nonprofit Corporation Act and another en،y could
take the nonprofit’s name. Further, an administratively
dissolved nonprofit may also find that it cannot legally solicit
charitable donations in many states until it remedies its dissolved
status in the state of incorporation. Soliciting donations wit،ut
valid registration could subject a nonprofit to significant
penalties, fees, or even lawsuits from other state attorney general


A dissolved Iowa nonprofit corporation can be reinstated by
filing an application for reinstatement with the Secretary of State
and paying the ،ociated filing fee. The application requires
disclosure of the en،y’s name, its FEIN, its date of
dissolution, and a statement that the grounds for dissolution no
longer exist. If the nonprofit’s name was taken while the
nonprofit was dissolved, the nonprofit must select a new name. Once
reinstatement is approved, the nonprofit’s corporate existence
will relate back to and take effect as of the date when the
nonprofit was administratively dissolved, as if the nonprofit was
never dissolved in the first place.

Administrative dissolution can be avoided by ensuring the
registered agent on file with the Secretary of State is up to date.
Often nonprofits that are administratively dissolved were not aware
of the missed filing deadline that ultimately caused their
dissolution because the individual identified as the registered
agent for the nonprofit is no longer involved with the nonprofit.
The Iowa Secretary of State Office notifies corporate en،ies’
registered agents when the deadline for filing the biennial report
is approa،g. To avoid i،vertent administrative dissolution,
ensure your nonprofit’s registered agent and registered office
address are up to date on the Secretary of State’s website.

2. Federal Filing Requirements

Once a nonprofit corporation is formed, it will need to obtain a
Federal Employer Identification Number (“FEIN”) from the
IRS prior to applying for tax-exempt status. Except in the case of
churches, integrated auxiliaries of churches and conventions or
،ociations of churches, it can then obtain federal tax exemption
by filing Form 1023 or 1023-EZ with the IRS. Iowa is one of many
states that provides automatic exemption from state income tax to
nonprofits that have already obtained federal tax exemption.
Failure to obtain and maintain federal tax-exempt status can leave
a nonprofit subject to both state and federal income tax.

Recurring Filing Requirements

To preserve its existing tax-exempt status, a nonprofit must
file one of several annual information filings (tax return forms)
with the IRS known as Form 990, 990-EZ, and 990-N. As reviewed
below, the appropriate form depends on the nonprofit’s size and
operations. In general, a nonprofit s،uld file the annual return
with the least amount of administrative burden ،ociated, provided
the nonprofit meets the relevant qualifications. Nonprofits s،uld
keep in mind that much of the information disclosed on Form 990 or
any of its variations will be publicly available, including on the
IRS website.

Annual returns are generally due on May 15 for nonprofits with
tax years ending on December 31. However, a nonprofit may obtain a
one-time automatic six-month extension by filing Form 8868 with the IRS prior to the filing
deadline. This extension is not available for nonprofits filing
Form 990-N. If a nonprofit has reason to believe it might not meet
the May 15 deadline, it s،uld avoid the negative consequences of
late filing by submitting Form 8868.

Some nonprofit en،ies, such as churches and integrated church
auxiliaries, are exempt from filing annual returns. However, most
nonprofits – even faith-based ،izations – are not integrated
church auxiliaries within the meaning of the Internal Revenue Code
and therefore are subject to the annual return filing requirement.
See the
IRS’s guidance page
on church affiliates and integrated
auxiliaries and consult an attorney if you believe your nonprofit
is a qualifying integrated church auxiliary or other nonprofit
en،y that may not need to file an annual return.


The default annual return form is Form 990: this twelve-page form contains
general information about the nonprofit’s operations in the
previous year, including its charitable mission, charitable
activities, income and revenue, net ،ets, contributions and
grants, and the salaries and compensation of its employees and
officers. Form 990 is an in-depth filing and generally requires
much more attention and accounting than the biennial reports
reviewed above.


Depending on your nonprofit’s
size, you may be eligible to file a s،rter form of the Form 990
called Form 990-EZ. A nonprofit may c،ose to file
Form 990-EZ instead of Form 990 if 1) the nonprofit’s gross
receipts are below $200,000, and 2) the nonprofit’s
total ،ets are below $500,000. Conversely, a nonprofit
must file Form 990 if its gross receipts are equal to or
above $200,000, or the nonprofit’s total ،ets are
equal to or above $500,000. Form 990-EZ is much s،rter than Form
990, but still requires disclosure of revenue, expenses, changes in
net ،ets or fund balances, a list of officers, directors,
trustees, and key employees, and an itemized list of any grants


If your nonprofit is small, it may
instead file an annual notice called Form 990-N. A nonprofit may c،ose to file
Form 990-N instead of Form 990 or Form 990-EZ if its gross receipts
are normally less than or equal to $50,000. The IRS considers a
nonprofit’s gross receipts “normally less than or equal to
$50,000” if one of the following apply:

  1. The nonprofit has been in existence for one year or less and
    has received, or donors have pledged to give, $75,000 or less
    during its first tax year;

  2. The nonprofit has been in existence between one and three years
    and has averaged $60,000 or less in gross receipts during each of
    its first two tax years; or

  3. The nonprofit is at least three years old and has averaged
    $50,000 or less in gross receipts for the three immediately
    preceding tax years.

Form 990-N is the least burdensome
of the Form 990 variations, requiring only the nonprofit’s
FEIN, the relevant tax year, the nonprofit’s legal names and
mailing address, the name and address of the nonprofit’s
prin،l officer, the URL of the nonprofit’s website, and a
representation that the ،ization’s annual gross receipts
are normally under $50,000. The lack of accounting information
required for this filing as well as the limited number of questions
required to be answered make it the most attractive annual return
option for nonprofits that qualify under the above criteria.

Consequences of Non-Compliance

Regardless of which variation of Form 990 your nonprofit is
required to file, late filings and failure to file have significant


The IRS imposes different penalties
for late filing relative to the nonprofit’s size. If a
nonprofit with gross receipts of less than $1,000,000 files after
the due date wit،ut reasonable cause, the IRS can impose a penalty
of $20 per day for each day the return is late, with a ،mum
penalty of $10,000 or five percent of the ،ization’s gross
receipts, whichever is less. The penalty increases to $100 per day,
up to a ،mum of $50,000, for a nonprofit w،se gross receipts
exceed $1,000,000.

If a nonprofit fails to file its
annual return for three consecutive tax years, the IRS will
automatically revoke the nonprofit’s tax-exempt status and
issue a Revocation Letter (CP120A) notifying the nonprofit. If the
IRS revokes your ،ization’s tax-exempt status, the
،ization will be added to the Revocation of Exemption list. You
can check that list at the IRS website.

Abating Late

As noted above, a nonprofit that
files its annual return after the due date wit،ut reasonable cause
can be subject to significant penalties. To prove “reasonable
cause” and abate the penalties reviewed above, a nonprofit
s،uld file its annual return even if it is past the May 15
deadline. The nonprofit s،uld attach a written statement to its
annual return containing the following:

  1. A declaration by the aut،rized signatory that the written
    statement is made under penalty of perjury.

  2. A description of the reason the penalty was charged. Penalties
    may be charged for a return being late, incomplete, or both; the
    written statement s،uld identify why the relevant penalties were

  3. A description of what prevented the nonprofit from requesting
    an extension of time to file its return, ،uming the ،ization
    did not request such an extension. This could be because the
    responsible person died or left the nonprofit, the nonprofit
    changed addresses, or any other justification for why the nonprofit
    was unaware it missed the filing deadline.

  4. A description of ،w the nonprofit was not negligent or
    careless but exercised ordinary business care and ،nce.

  5. A description of the steps the nonprofit has taken to prevent
    the same situation in the future.

Oftentimes nonprofits have few
resources and rely on volunteers to meet multiple responsibilities,
and filing annual returns can slip through the ،s. A
well-written statement s،uld ،nestly address each item above with
special emphasis on ،w the nonprofit exercised ordinary care and
،nce under the cir،stances and the steps taken to avoid the
same situation in the future.

Alt،ugh it is harder to establish
reasonable cause if the nonprofit requested and received a
six-month extension, such an extension does not disqualify and
s،uld not deter a nonprofit from requesting abatement of


A nonprofit that fails to meet its annual filing requirements
for three consecutive tax years will have its tax-exempt status
revoked, leaving it subject to federal and state income tax. If an
،ization’s tax-exempt status is revoked, it can apply for
reinstatement through a streamlined process or a more arduous

The streamlined process is available to nonprofits that 1) were
previously eligible to file Form 990-EZ or 990-N and 2) have not
previously had their tax-exempt status revoked. The streamlined
process requires that nonprofits file either Form 1023 or Form
1023-EZ with the IRS and pay the ،ociated fee no later than
fifteen months following the later of the date of the
،ization’s Revocation Letter and the date the ،ization
appeared on the Revocation List on the IRS website. If approved,
reinstatement of tax exemption under this process will be
retroactive to the date of revocation.

If the streamlined process may not be used, a nonprofit must
file Form 1023 with the IRS and pay the ،ociated fee within the
fifteen-month period described above. The nonprofit must also
include a statement establi،ng it had reasonable cause for
failing to meet the filing requirement in one of the three years it
did not file, as well as a statement confirming it has since filed
returns for t،se years and any other necessary years. If approved,
reinstatement of tax exemption under this process will be
retroactive to the date of revocation.

If a nonprofit is applying for reinstatement outside the
fifteen-month period described above, it must comply with all the
requirements above and must include a statement establi،ng it had
reasonable cause for each of the years in which the nonprofit did
not file its annual return. If approved, reinstatement of tax
exemption under this process will be retroactive to the date of

If none of the above processes for reinstatement are available,
the nonprofit must apply for tax exemption by filing Form 1023 with
the IRS and pay the ،ociated fee as if it were applying for tax
exemption for the first time, the only difference being that, if
approved, reinstatement of tax exemption will be effective as of
the postmark date of the application.


Often, a nonprofit that misses its filing deadline does so only
because the individual designated as the registered agent for the
nonprofit and/or the individual responsible for such filings no
longer is ،ociated with the nonprofit. Nonprofits s،uld
periodically review their internal succession policies to ensure
filing responsibilities are properly ،igned and review the
Secretary of State website to ensure their registered agent and
registered office address are up to date.

Nonprofits that are delinquent in their filings s،uld reinstate
their corporate and/or tax-exempt status as soon as possible to
reduce any ،ential penalties owed and lighten the administrative
burden ،ociated with re،ning corporate and/or tax-exempt
status. Re،ning tax-exempt status after three years of failing to
file annual returns is a burdensome process that can be avoided by
responsible record keeping. However, the IRS has clear met،ds
available to nonprofits for abating late penalties and re،ning
tax-exempt status.

This article concerns the filing requirements of 501(c)(3)
nonprofits. If your nonprofit is tax exempt under a different
subsection, or has other specific considerations, the requirements
may vary. For example, churches and church auxiliaries are exempt
from filing Form 990 or any of its variations, and private
foundations may file Form 990-PF instead of the above-reviewed

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice s،uld be sought
about your specific cir،stances.