The limits of helpfulness at the IRS

As its customer service budget has shrunk in recent years, the IRS has pushed hard to get people to go online with tax questions.

Online resources do not take the place of a phone conversation with a tax compliance professional. But the IRS website, IRS.gov, does generally have a lot of information.

Is the information there reliable?

You’d think it would be, since it’s an official IRS website. Recently, however, a division of the IRS issued an internal memo about the status of this information. The memo was from the Small Business/Self Employed Division (SE/SE) and went to Field Examination Area Directors.

In the memo, the SB/SE stated that FAQs and other information on IRS.gov that has not appeared in the Internal Revenue Bulletin (IRB) are not to be considered legal authority.

To be sure, IRS.gov is an official source of information. It contains, for example, useful FAQs about the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP). The site also has detailed informational guides on other aspects of the taxation of foreign income.

But the recent IRS memo is saying that IRS.gov is not as official as the Internal Revenue Bulletin.

With a tax code that is notoriously complex and changes frequently, this limitation is a real problem. After all, many of the helpful FAQS and other user-focused information on IRS.gov don’t appear in the formal Internal Revenue Bulletin.

IRS.gov can still be a source of information. If you have serious compliance or enforcement questions, however, there is no substitute for the advice of a skilled tax attorney.

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