IRS Releases Updated Form 990-EZ

form-990-ez-topAs 501(c)3 organizations, PTAs are required to file some type of Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) every year. That form is due on the 15th day of the fifth month after the end of their fiscal year. For PTAs whose fiscal year ends June 30th, the filing deadline is November 15th.

PTAs that have gross receipts (i.e., total income) that are normally less than $50,000 file the online electronic postcard Form 990-N. Those PTAs with gross receipts between $50,000 and $200,000 use the Form 990-EZ. The IRS has issued an updated version of Form 990-EZ to help non-profit organizations file the form correctly. PTAs will use the new form for fiscal years that end after September 30, 2016 (i.e., with a due date of February 15, 2017 or later).

After analyzing where organizations were making mistakes on the Form 990-EZ, the IRS added 29 new “help” icons in specific fields to describe the key information needed and to provide links to additional helpful resources on the IRS website. The new form’s help icons are small blue boxes marked with a question mark (see picture). The icons and links work on any device with Adobe Acrobat Reader and internet access.

The IRS is encouraging non-profit organizations that file the Form 990-EZ to fill it out electronically rather than on paper. In 2016, the error rate for electronically-filed Form 990-EZ returns was 1 percent, while the paper-filed error rate was 33 percent. Once completed, the online Form 990-EZ can be printed out and mailed to the IRS.

The IRS does caution that the new help icons do not replace the Form 990-EZ instructions, but only serve as an aid in filling out the form. PTAs should follow the Form 990-EZ instructions when completing their return.

Illinois PTA Launches PTA Essentials Video Series

illinoispta-logoIllinois PTA offers free training, both in person and online, but realizes that not everyone’s schedule aligns with training opportunities. Today, Illinois PTA launches its PTA Essentials video series with two financial help videos on its YouTube channel:

PTA Essentials is a series of short videos that provide critical information on running a PTA. They are not intended to replace the Illinois PTA’s PTA University training courses. These videos offer a quick refresher for those who have already taken training and cover the basics for those who may be just starting a position and haven’t had the opportunity to take training yet.

The first two videos focus on key financial issues for PTAs. Failing to complete an audit, mishandling PTA funds, and not using deposit and expense vouchers are three of the most common ways PTAs run into financial problems. Future videos in the series will cover topics such as:

  • Running a PTA Meeting
  • How to Update Your PTA’s Bylaws
  • Maintaining Good Standing
  • Creating and Using Procedure Books

Click the subscribe button on any video to ensure that you don’t miss these future videos from Illinois PTA.

In addition to the PTA Essentials video series, the Illinois PTA YouTube channel has a recording of the first 2016 Illinois PTA Advocacy Day webinar on Illinois PTA Legislative Priorities for those who were unable to attend. Illinois PTA has also fixed an error in the sign-up form for the webinar series, so if you were unable to sign up to attend the Legislative Priorities webinar or want to sign up for these future webinars:

  • How to Meet with Legislators (October 13, 7:30pm)
  • Advocate the PTA Way (October 27, 7:30pm)
  • Hot Topics Briefing (November 10, 7:30pm)

head over to the revised sign-up form now.

What to Do When Your PTA Gets a Bad Check

Every PTA that takes in money ends up having a check that was written to the PTA
returned by their bank for non-sufficient funds (NSF). When NSF checks are part of a fundraiser that includes merchandise, the costs can be significant as the PTA is liable for full payment on all of the fundraising products purchased. It’s important to have standing rules about how your PTA will deal with NSF checks.insufficientfunds20-1902x913

An Ounce of Prevention

The first step in handling NSF checks is to set up rules that help prevent such checks being written in the first place. Good policies to include are:

  • Only accept checks that include the name, address, and telephone number of the person signing the check.
  • Do not accept pre-dated or post-dated checks, only those with the current date.
  • Require those who write an NSF check to the PTA to pay an additional service fee to the PTA in addition to reimbursing the PTA for any bank fees associated with the NSF check.
  • Do not accept checks from people who have written NSF checks in the past and not corrected the situation in a timely manner. That correction should include paying the PTA service fee and the PTA’s bank charges.

Make sure that parents are aware of your PTA’s requirements for accepting checks. Consider including a copy of the policy in fundraising materials. Review all of the checks received prior to ordering fundraising products to ensure that the PTA’s policies are being met.

Handling the NSF Check

Even with good check acceptance policies, your PTA will likely still receive an NSF check every once in a while. In most cases, such checks are simple mistakes that can be handled quietly with a phone call or e-mail. You can contact the check writer’s bank to see if the lack of funds was a temporary problem. Let them know you have a check from the account that was returned for non-sufficient funds and that you want to know if the account now has the funds to cover the check. If so, have your PTA’s bank process the check again, and contact the check writer for payment of service and bank fees.

When the politely quiet approach does not work, your PTA may wish to consider taking legal action. In Illinois, the first step is to send a letter to the check writer by certified mail with return receipt requesting the check be made good. The request should include:

  • The check number, the date it was written, the amount of the check, the bank on which the check was drawn, and the person or organization the check was written to.
  • Request that payment be made on the NSF check and the additional bank and service fees within 30 days of receipt of the letter. Under Illinois law, failure to meet the 30 day deadline can result in the check writer having to pay triple the amount of the check, but not less than $100 or more than $1,500.
  • Cite the Illinois check deception law (Chapter 720—Criminal Offenses, Title III—Specific Offenses, Article 17—Deception).

There are numerous sample NSF check request letters available online. Keep a copy of the letter for your PTA’s records along with an additional copy to file with any legal action. If the check remains unpaid after 30 days, take the check, copy of the notice letter, and any other documentation to your local clerk of court. The staff there should be able to help you in filing a complaint.

Preventing Theft, Fraud, and Embezzlement

From National PTA

Piggy-bank-theftIt is hard to acknowledge that theft, fraud and embezzlement are pervasive in today’s
society. In many cases, the person who
commits these acts is someone you know, like and trust. Convincing a nonprofit to prosecute is often difficult. A nonprofit’s duty to its members, the community, and its donors are significant and this should have strong consideration when determining whether to prosecute or not. Managers of nonprofit organizations must constantly be on the lookout for fraud. Fraud costs U.S. organizations more than $400 billion annually. The average organization loses approximately 6% of its total annual revenue to these abuses. And these abuses are perpetrated at all levels of the organization.

Internal Controls

Every organization should have a strong system of internal controls. Internal controls are not only for large organizations; there are steps small organizations can take to protect their assets as well. They may not have enough volunteers or employees to maintain strict delineation of duties but internal controls are still possible. Without good internal controls it could take months to become aware of a problem. View our Fraud Prevention Checklist. Also be sure to access the Preventing Theft in Your PTA e-learning course. This course will teach you how to detect theft in your unit and what to do if you suspect it is happening.

Internal controls are a process designed to provide reasonable assurance regarding the reliability of financial reporting, the effectiveness and efficiency of your operations, and compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Implementing proper internal controls provide assurance that:

  • Fraud will be discovered on a timely basis
  • Perpetrators will be identified
  • A strong deterrent to improper activities is in place
  • Loss will be covered by insurance

Good internal controls will take away the opportunity needed by desperate people to commit a crime. What will cause a normally good person to reach this point? Gambling debts, divorce, illness, drug problems, peer pressure, and work lay-offs are some of the reasons that are given when people are questioned about these abuses. It may be hard to take appropriate action when you have compassion for the person committing the fraud, but that should not be part of the consideration.

Internal controls include policies such as:

  • Always using deposit and expense vouchers for income and expenses
  • Requiring two signatures on every check
  • Having two independent money counters at an event before turning the collected funds over to the treasurer (who then counts again to confirm how much they are receiving)
  • Depositing funds immediately after events
  • Never using blank checks
  • Having bank statements sent to and signed off by a non-signatory to the PTA checking account who is familiar with the PTA’s activities (e.g., the PTA secretary if the president, vice president, and treasurer are all signatories to the account)

PTA-Specific Warning Signs

The following is a list of PTA-specific warning signs that may indicate that theft, fraud or embezzlement is taking place:

  • Treasurer’s report delayed or non-existent
  • Budget monitoring reports delayed (may be part of the treasurer’s report)
  • Delayed deposit of cash receipts
  • Missing supporting documents
  • Multiple corrections to the cash book
  • Checks bouncing when there should be sufficient cash
  • Lifestyle or behavior changes of staff or volunteers

The Cost of Not Prosecuting Fraud

There are many costs as a result of not prosecuting fraud:

  • Not pursuing action sets a precedent that may cause additional fraud later on or create an environment that encourages fraud rather than deters it.
  • This may cause loss of credibility and respect for the association among the members, community, partners and donors.
  • Lack of prosecution may void the insurance policy.

Fraud can have a significant impact on your association. It can lead to:

  • Financial loss
  • Costly investigation (in actual dollars and time lost)
  • Lost opportunities
  • Damaged reputation
  • Damaged relationships with vendors, partners, members and the community
  • Loss of donors
  • Litigation

Investigate all suspected fraud and decide if sufficient probable cause exists to prosecute. You may want to get an attorney involved from the beginning to make certain that evidence of possible fraud is properly preserved. They can advise the association on the likelihood of success in civil court, and protect the organization from issues related to improper actions or civil rights violations against the suspect.

Do not be afraid to talk about fraud. Make it well known that theft will not be tolerated and that prosecution may result. Promote safeguards to reduce incidents of fraud and encourage people to come forward if they suspect irregularities.

Suspected Fraud Action Step-by-Step

When you suspect fraud, be sure to consider the following:

  • Determine if insurance covers the loss.
  • Consider whether to call the police.
  • Consider whether to call the district attorney.
  • Consider whether to meet with the individual.
  • Contact your Illinois PTA district or region director for resources and guidance.

Be sure your PTA has a written policy with procedures describing how future incidences will be handled.

Check the insurance policy before you have a problem to see if it requires prosecution in order to recover a loss. You should also check the policy to see if it will cover losses if you do not have written controls in place or what happens if the controls are not followed. Many times this is grounds for denying a claim. You may want to check your state law to see if there are provisions that you may want to incorporate in your policy.

If you have evidence that fraud has occurred, take the following steps:

  • Do not make accusations.
  • Do not offer not to prosecute if the money is paid back. Doing so is a form of extortion.
  • Determine what other access the suspect has, what other types of fraud schemes the suspect could have perpetrated, the likelihood of collusion, and the possible duration of the schemes discovered.
  • Document all allegations.
  • Gather facts, documents and interviews.
  • Identify all bank accounts involved and consider closing or freezing the accounts. Follow the steps in your policy developed to cover such matters.
  • Contact the authorities.
  • Contact insurance company.
  • If it is determined that fraud did occur, National PTA recommends that the PTA should file an official report with the police department.