The internet has become the go-to source of general information for many people. Used judiciously, it can also be a source of tax information for CPAs and other tax professionals. Many nongovernment websites provide free information as part of their marketing of the products and services they offer for sale. This does not mean the free information is unreliable, but it does raise the possibility that it is incomplete, particularly when it comes to the more detailed complexities of individual tax issues.
This column describes web resources that provide significant free information about federal taxes. As indicated in the title, this is a subjective selection of sites that the author has found useful.
Caution: Please keep in mind that the internet is a dynamic environment, and no guarantees are made about the completeness, accuracy, or timeliness of information found on any of these websites.U.S. Tax Court
ustaxcourt.gov : The U.S. Tax Court posts its opinions on the day they are issued and saves them in an archive. All Tax Court regular and memorandum decisions are available from Sept. 25, 1995, to the present. Summary opinions are available from Jan. 10, 2001, to the present. These opinions are searchable by date, case (petitioner) name, judge, and opinion type. Full-text search of the opinions is also available. Code section numbers are useful keywords in a full-text search. Tax Court opinions are downloadable as PDF files.The Joint Committee on Taxation
jct.gov : Probably the most often accessed documents on the Joint Committee on Taxation's site are the Bluebooks, which provide explanations of tax legislation enacted by each Congress. Generally, these documents are issued every two years, although major legislation (e.g., the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, P.L. 111-148) may get an explanatory publication of its own.
Other publications deal with budget estimates and descriptions of proposed legislation.
Most of the publications on this site are downloadable as PDFs.Ryan Tax Gateway
ryan.com/Tax-Gateway/Search-by-Topic : The Ryan Tax Gateway is part of the website of Ryan LLC, a global tax services firm based in Dallas. These pages provide links to each state's department of taxation, state legislature, court system, and other information that could be useful to a tax practitioner. Also included are topic search, tax developments, and articles of interest.
Another section provides a list of topics, which currently include electronic commerce taxation, federal law on state and local tax, property tax, and several others.
The Federation of Tax Administrators maintains a similar website ( taxadmin .org/fta/link/default.php) with links to all state websites plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.Tax, Accounting and Payroll Sites Directory
taxsites.com : As this site's name suggests, it provides numerous links in three broad categories: Tax, Accounting, and Payroll/HR. Each subcategory leads to a list of links on that topic. For example, under Tax, the topic International Tax Websites leads to a list of government tax websites for over 80 countries. The other two categories, Accounting and Payroll/HR, are organized in a similar manner.Tax Guide for Investors
fairmark.com : The two resources at this site are Tax Help and Fairmark Forum. In addition to considerable information related to taxation of investments, Tax Help contains information for the current filing season and on current and past inflation-adjusted figures. The message board, Fairmark Forum, is described below.Internal Revenue Service
irs.gov : Besides providing forms and publications going back many years, the IRS site contains specific information for individuals, small businesses, and tax professionals, among others. Information on refund status, hot topics, news, and more is also available.
Unfortunately, the IRS's own search feature is usually not very helpful in locating a specific document. It is quicker to use an external search engine if you are trying to find a specific revenue ruling or revenue procedure. For example, Rev. Proc. 2001-10 (no quotation marks needed) as the keywords in a Google search yields a list of hits that has a PDF version of the document at the top of the list. And that document is on the IRS website, whose own search function does not locate it, even spelled out in full with quotation marks.Internal Revenue Code
law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26 : The Cornell University Law School provides the U.S. Code, including the Internal Revenue Code (Title 26), along with information on how up-to-date the site's version is. As of this writing, it was current up through P.L. 113-163, which was signed by President Barack Obama on Aug. 8.Tax Discussion Boards
A well-moderated, active discussion board is an excellent way of obtaining answers to tax questions from other professionals. The ones listed here are relatively active, particularly during tax season, with moderators who do a fairly good job keeping the boards free of spam advertisements and trolls. (Trolls are generally troublemakers who post disagreeable, insulting, or otherwise antisocial comments.) Most regular participants in the boards listed here will, upon request, provide authoritative citations that support opinions they have expressed.
It is a good idea to read tax discussion boards for some time before posting. This allows the newcomer to develop a sense of what is acceptable and to identify the skills, interests, and personalities of the regular participants. With the exception of the Yahoo Tax Professionals group (described below), members of the general public join in the discussions and post questions. Sometimes questions introduce new perspectives on a problem, and the resulting answers are informative and useful. Most questions from the general public are routine (from most tax professionals' points of view) and easily answered by anyone so motivated. A few result in adding nothing to anyone's personal knowledge base.
One important hint is to make the subject of a post as descriptive as possible. Subjects like "tax question" or "I need help" at best delay getting a useful response and at worst provoke less-than-friendly responses from the more curmudgeonly regulars. (Yes, there are curmudgeons out there—and that is a gentle description of some of them.)
fairmark.com/forum : The Fairmark Forum is a publicly accessible board that is part of the Tax Guide for Investors site mentioned above and is moderated by the site owner, Kaye Thomas, who does an excellent job of keeping his site free of advertisements, trolls, and tax protesters. The board's regulars include a number of experts on a wide range of tax topics who willingly share their expertise with others.
groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/misc.taxes.moderated : This is a publicly accessible Usenet group moderated by Dick Adams, CPA, of Maryland. Adams also does an excellent job of keeping this board free of advertisements, trolls, and tax protesters. The regulars on this board include a number of experts on a wide range of tax topics who willingly share their expertise with others.
groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/taxprofessionals/info : This is a restricted group moderated by Michael T. Wing, CPA. (Yahoo membership is required to access this group.) Wing does an excellent job of keeping the board free of trolls and tax protesters. Yahoo, however, inserts irrelevant advertisements into discussions that the group owner cannot control. The regulars are quite knowledgeable and willing to share their expertise and knowledge with other tax practitioners.
AICPA Tax Practitioners
www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=160636 : This is an active discussion board managed by AICPA staff. LinkedIn members must request membership in this group. Requests are almost always granted by the AICPA staff who manage the group. Members are not required to be AICPA members or CPAs. Advertisements, both relevant and irrelevant, are common. As with other LinkedIn groups, participants can easily flag a post as a promotion, job listing, or just inappropriate. AICPA staff review all flagged posts.
www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=42838 : TheLinkedIn Tax Professionals group is an active discussion board. LinkedIn members must request membership in this group. Requests are almost always granted by the owner of the group, Radomir Graj. (The author of this column is a moderator of the group.) Every effort is made to see that posts are classified properly and are relevant to the board's purpose.
This group targets accounting professionals around the world. As a result, posts about tax issues in other countries (and in the languages of those countries) are common.
U.S. Income Taxes
www.linkedin.com/groups?mostRecent=&gid=1884032 : The LinkedIn U.S. Income Taxes group focuses, as the name suggests, on income taxes in the United States. LinkedIn members must request membership in this group. The author of this column, who owns this group, grants almost all requests for membership. This group is less active than most listed here.
quatloosia.blogspot.com : Quatloos maintains a cyber-museum of scams and frauds. Chances are, if there is a tax or investment scheme being pushed by unscrupulous promoters, information about it will be available on this website.Tax Blogs
Blogs are not as conducive to ongoing discussions because only the blog owner can start a thread, which is a series of posts about a specific topic. There are internet blogs on any topic imaginable. Some, such as the ones listed below, provide a means of keeping up with tax topics of current interest. The blog owner sets the agenda. Most allow comments in response to their posts. However, the comments are seldom as illuminating as threads on discussion boards.
While all the listed blogs are primarily devoted to taxes, the owners frequently comment on other issues. The owners of all blogs, including these, are likely to provide links to sources (e.g., newspaper articles, press releases, blog posts) on other websites with comments on the content of that other item.
Forbes hosts the last three listed here. Because they seem to have a higher number of visitors, initial posts are more likely to generate thought-provoking responses than on most blogs.
taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog : Paul L. Caron, a professor at the Pepperdine University School of Law, is the owner of the TaxProf blog. Besides a variety of tax issues, he often posts about issues of concern to law school administrators and faculty.
taxabletalk.com : Russ Fox, E.A., of Clayton Financial and Tax, is the owner of Taxable Talk. His blog is a mix of technical tax posts and commentary on tax issues.
mauledagain.blogspot.com : The Mauled Again blog is produced by James Edward Maule, a professor at the Villanova University School of Law. It is a mix of technical tax posts and commentary on tax issues with a somewhat greater emphasis on tax commentary.
Robert W. Wood
forbes.com/sites/robertwood : Wood is a tax lawyer in San Francisco. One of the focuses of his practice is taxation of lawsuit payments, but his blog ranges widely across many tax-related issues.
Peter J. Reilly
forbes.com/sites/peterjreilly : Reilly is a CPA in North Oxford, Mass. He concentrates on individual and business taxation but is quite willing to comment on other tax-related issues.
Kelly Phillips Erb
forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb : Erb is a tax lawyer in Philadelphia. Much of her background is in estate taxation, but her blog is likely to address any tax issue.Public Library Resources
Many public libraries have subscriptions to online databases that can be accessed by patrons (some of which can be accessed off-site). Common subscriptions include Infotrac General OneFile (tax periodicals include The Tax Executive, Tax Notes, Taxes—The Tax Magazine, The Tax Lawyer, Journal of State Taxation, Journal of Taxation, and dozens more), Morningstar Investment Research Center, Value Line, and others.
Not all library systems have the same subscriptions. It may be worthwhile to investigate the holdings of nearby public library systems, particularly larger ones, and pay any nonresident fee to gain access to a desired database.Search Engine Techniques
Using an internet search engine such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo can facilitate quick access to relevant information. The search term "income tax" (without the quotation marks) yields tens of millions of hits on each of these search engines. A successful internet search requires judicious use of keywords and appropriate connectors, a skill developed through experience.A Low-Cost Solution
Tax practitioners need access to reliable, low-cost tax facts and opinions. The internet provides the opportunity to gain such information, much of it at no cost. It allows a tax professional to remain current with changes in tax law, identify opportunities and costs brought about by those changes, and receive suggestions on how to take advantage of the opportunities and mitigate the costs.
author is not responsible for the content of the sites
mentioned in this column, except for posts or other
content that the author has contributed himself.
Inclusion of a website in this column does not
represent an endorsement by the author or the AICPA.
Neither the author nor the AICPA makes any
representations or guarantees the accuracy or
relevance of the content of any of these internet
Holub is a National Director in the
Professional Practice Department of Cherry
Bekaert LLP in Tampa, Fla., and is a former
chairman of the AICPA Tax Division Tax Practice
Management Committee. Charles
Parr is the managing shareholder of Parr
& Associates in San Antonio. William
Brown is managing partner of Holland
& Brown CPAs PLLC in North Chesterfield, Va.
Mr. Parr is chairman of the AICPA Tax Practice
Management Committee. For more information about
this column, please contact Dr. Brown at email@example.com.