Three Types of Tax Records That Are Available to the Public on Businesses

January 31, 2023

We were finally able to see Donald Trump’s sought-after tax returns a few months ago. This sparked some questions about who legally has access to someone’s tax records. While personal and business tax records are to be shared at the discretion of the taxpayer or the business officer only — there are several forms of tax records in the US that are publicly available. While these records may not easily accessible they are still publicly available to anyone who wants to access the records.

In the US, certain tax records of businesses are publicly available. Below we will highlight some of the types of tax records that are typically available to the public and how to access this data.

Form 990

This is a tax form that is required to be filed by tax-exempt organizations, including non-profits. Form 990 provides information on the organization's mission, programs, and finances. The IRS offers bulk downloads of the data on non-profits on its website. There is also a search function built on the IRS website to search these organizations. Beyond what the IRS publicly offers, ProPublica has built a tool called Nonprofit Explorer, this tool is designed to provide summaries of 3 million tax returns from tax-exempt organizations and see financial details such as their executive compensation and revenue and expenses.

State tax returns

Some states make business tax returns available to the public, although the availability can vary from state to state. State tax returns can be accessible, but it is much more difficult to gather any strong sense of how to access state tax records, even as the owner of a business. For instance, in California — you need to log on to the state MyFTB website. Once you do that you have to complete a form and then print out that form and mail it to the agency.  State returns have a long way to go when it comes to accessing the records.

Federal tax liens

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) files tax liens against businesses that owe taxes and are not paying them. These liens are a matter of public record and can be searched and viewed through the IRS's website or other publicly available databases.

This is where the business starts to show — there are several sites that offer access to federal tax liens. We count up to 10 vendors who will provide data on businesses with federal liens.

Tax records are far behind other financial information as it pertains to access online. These are three of the types of tax records you can access publicly online. The availability and specifics of tax records can vary between states and some records may not be available online or to the public.

Additionally, certain types of businesses such as sole proprietors may not be required to file tax returns publicly. At ModernTax, we are building a business-to-business insights platform, backed by real-time tax data on demand. We source our data from both public domains and with permission access from sources like the IRS, state and local governments, and registered tax representatives. To learn more about accessing business tax records complete the form and we will reach out.

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