The Internal Revenue Service's application for an employer identification number (or EIN) requires the applicant to submit the name and tax identification number (usually a social security number) of the applicant's "responsible party." That is true whether the application, Form SS-4, is submitted on paper or online, and it is true for any type of organization applying for an EIN, including corporations, limited liability companies, partnerships, trusts, and tax exempt organizations. That is the last time most organizations ever think about the "responsible party." Until now.
On May 6, 2013, the Internal Revenue Service published a final rule that requires any business, nonprofit organization, trust, or other entity with an EIN to report any change in the entity's responsible party. Here are the answers to some questions that essentially every business and tax exempt organization should know.
Who is a "responsible party"?
The answer differs a bit for various types of organizations. For companies with shares traded on a public exchange or securities registered with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission, the responsible party is defined fairly unambiguously:
For corporations, the responsible party is the principal officer. For partnerships, the responsible party is a general partner. For trusts, the responsible part is the trustee, grantor, or owner. For disregarded entities, the responsible party is the owner.
For other entities, the definition is more ambiguous:
The responsible party is "the person who has a level of control over, or entitlement to, the funds or assets in the entity that, as a practical matter, enables the individual, directly or indirectly, to control, manage, or direct the entity and the disposition of its funds and assets."
For business corporations, the responsible party may be the president or chairman of the board; for LLCs, a member; for partnerships (including limited partnerships, such as family limited partnerships), a general partner.
The issue of identifying a responsible party for a nonprofit organization may be particularly problematic because, in many organizations, no single person who has the authority to control, manage, or direct the organization and -- in particular -- to control the disposition of its funds and assets. In fact, we often tell the boards of directors of our nonprofit clients that, collectively, they have full authority to control the organization but, individually, they have no authority at all. Even so, the IRS requires the designation of a responsible party, and the organization must decide who best fits the definition. For some organizations, that may be the executive director or CEO; for others, it may be the president or chairman of the board.
Our LLC has three members, all with the same rights and authority. Who is the responsible party?
If more than one person qualifies as a responsible party, the entity must select one of them by whatever criteria the entity chooses.
When and how must changes be reported?
As of January 1, 2014, any change in an entity's responsible party must be reported on IRS Form 8822-B within 60 days after the change takes effect. Changes made prior to January 1, 2014 must be reported before March 1, 2014.
Our organization obtained an EIN years ago, and we have no idea who was listed as the responsible party. But Form 8822-B requires us to list not only the new responsible party, but also the old one. What do we do with that?
The best course is probably to submit Form 8822-B without the information about the old responsible party and attach a statement explaining what you have done to locate the information and why it is unavailable despite those efforts. [Revised February 21, 2014, to include the idea of attaching a statement -- a suggestion from James W. Foltz, Attorney at Law, of Indianapolis, Indiana.]
Our nonprofit has filed Form 990 (or 990-EZ or 990-N) every year, and we always have to list the organization's principal officer. Isn't that good enough?
From what we know at the moment, probably not. Even if the responsible party and the principal officer are the same person, Form 8822-B calls for the responsible party's social security number, but Form 990 does not. The same thing is true for the tax matters partner identified on Form 1065 filed by partnerships and by LLCs taxed as partnerships.
I called the IRS and tried to get some more specific information about the new reporting requirement, and the person I spoke with had never heard of this new requirement. Are you sure about it?
We had the same experience, but, yes, we're sure. We hope the IRS will issue guidance that clarifies some of the details, but we're sure the rule is in effect.
What happens if we do not file Form 8822-B or file it late?
That's the good news. As far as we can tell, there is no penalty for failing to file or for filing late. Even so, everyone with an EIN, including small businesses and tax exempt organizations, should comply with the rule using the best understanding of the requirement and the best information available.