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Just how reliable is IRS.gov?

For years, the first stop for taxpayers and tax professionals with any sort of tax-related question was the Internal Revenue Service's phone line, which has always been staffed by agency employees during regular business hours Monday through Friday.

However, as wait times only continued to increase and staff became even more overwhelmed -- especially during tax season -- the agency began increasingly directing taxpayers and tax professionals alike to its website IRS.gov. The idea behind this push being that the answers to most questions could be found here.

For their part, taxpayers and tax professionals embraced the IRS.gov website, finding it incredibly informative and rationally believing it to be the most reliable source on the internet.

This might soon change, however, given the recent publication of a memorandum by the IRS' Small Business/Self Employed Division to all IRS Field Examination Area Directors informing them to advise examiners that "frequently asked questions (FAQs) and other items posted on IRS.gov that have not been published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin are not legal authority."

For those unfamiliar with the Internal Revenue Bulletin, which is called the "authoritative instrument" in the memo, it's published on a weekly basis and serves as the official platform for announcing the following:

  • IRS rulings and procedures
  • Treasury decisions
  • Tax Conventions
  • Executive Orders
  • Court decisions
  • Legislation
  • Items of general interest

As to what exactly this means for the average taxpayer looking to find some much-needed information, IRS.gov remains a valuable resource for securing general answers. However, unless they are willing or able to find the same answers after cross-referencing the IRB, they should know that the information can't really be used "to sustain a position." In other words, the information on IRS.gov is trustworthy, but shouldn't be assumed to be the final word in any legal matter.

Perhaps more than anything, this underscores how anyone with federal tax concerns should strongly consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who knows where to find the necessary information and pursue the necessary solutions.      

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