Alert: Exclude Personal Information from Exempt Organization Applications and Returns

April 24, 2015

You can prevent unwanted disclosure of private information, such as Social Security numbers, by not including it in exemption applications (Forms 1023 and 1024) and information returns (Forms 990, 990-EZ, 990-PF, 990-T, and Form 5227).

The IRS does not require an organization to include any individual’s Social Security or bank account number on a return or other form available to the public. Even when a form requests a description of charitable programs, do not include the name of a beneficiary or other personal information about that individual (such as date of birth, home address or health status).

The IRS is not required to “scrub” a form or application and delete personally identifiable information. As a matter of efficient tax administration, we do try to redact such information, but the process is costly and not 100 percent effective. Filers and their tax advisors cannot rely on our catching their inadvertent disclosures of such personally identifiable information.

Under federal law, the public is entitled to information provided by tax exempt organizations on their:
  • approved applications for tax-exempt status (Forms 1023 or 1024) and
  • annual information returns (Forms 990, 990-EZ, 990-PF, 990-T or Form 5227).

This means that, with limited exceptions (Form 990 and 990-EZ, Schedule B and information such as trade secrets), the entire form or return will be made available to the public. This includes all attachments and schedules. Third parties such as GuideStar and the Council on Foundations, as well as individuals, can, and regularly do, request copies of these documents and make them public. After third parties obtain public documents, the IRS no longer controls their distribution of the information.

Remember, the IRS relies on organizations and their return preparers to submit required information but to omit the following personal information for the organization’s charitable or exempt activities beneficiary:

  • Social Security numbers
  • Bank account numbers, and
  • Name, residential address, date of birth or health status