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Unrelated Business Income Tax Return
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Unrelated Business Income Tax Return

Even though an organization is recognized as tax exempt, it still may be liable for tax on its unrelated business income. Unrelated business income is income from a trade or business, regularly carried on, that is not substantially related to the charitable, educational, or other purpose that is the basis for the organization’s exemption. An exempt organization that has $1,000 or more of gross income from an unrelated business must file Form 990-T.

The obligation to file Form 990-T is in addition to the obligation to file the annual information return, Form 990, 990-EZ, or 990-PF.

Estimated tax. Exempt organizations must make quarterly payments of estimated tax on unrelated business income. An organization must make estimated tax payments if it expects its tax for the year to be $500 or more. Use Form 990-W to figure the organization’s estimated tax payments.

Travel tour programs.   Travel tour activities that are a trade or business are an unrelated trade or business if the activities are not substantially related to the purpose to which tax exemption was granted to the organization.

Whether travel tour activities conducted by an organization are substantially related to the organization’s tax exempt purpose is determined by looking at all the relevant facts and circumstances, including, but not limited to, how a travel tour is developed, promoted, and operated.


ABC, a university alumni association, is tax exempt as an educational organization under section 501(c)(3). As part of its activities, ABC operates a travel tour program. The program is open to all current members of ABC and their guests. ABC works with travel agents to schedule approximately ten tours annually to various destinations around the world. Members of ABC pay $1,000 to XYZ Travel Agency to participate in a tour. XYZ pays ABC a per person fee for each participant. Although the literature advertising the tours encourages ABC members to continue their lifelong learning by joining the tours, and a faculty member of ABC’s related university frequently joins the tour as a guest of the alumni association, none of the tours include any scheduled instruction or curriculum related to the destinations being visited. The travel tours made available to ABC’s members do not contribute importantly to the accomplishment of ABC’s educational purpose. Rather, ABC’s program is designed to generate revenues for ABC by regularly offering its members travel services. Therefore, ABC’s tour program is an unrelated trade or business.

For additional information on unrelated business income, see Publication 598 and the Instructions for Form 990-T.


For most organizations, an activity is an unrelated business (and subject to unrelated business income tax) if it meets three requirements:

  1. It is a trade or business,
  2. It is regularly carried on, and
  3. It is not substantially related to furthering the exempt purpose of the organization.

There are, however, a number of modifications, exclusions, and exceptions to the general definition of unrelated business income.

Additional Information:


Additional Resources

The Unrelated Business Income Tax and the Future of the Online Library-book Sales
by Keaton Oberst

Tax Information for Nonprofits Assembled by Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD 

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here