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Are you following the official IRS tax guidance?

Many of us have, if we’re curious about a particular tax-related issue, consulted the IRS website (www.irs.gov), especially now as the tax year is winding down. We assume that since the content on the site is put out and endorsed by a government agency, it is valid, factual and reliable.

While information on the site may indeed be factually accurate, it is, surprisingly, not the “official” source of IRS guidance. Earlier this year, the service released a memo advising individual and business taxpayers alike to not rely on any information on the site unless it has also been incorporated into either the Tax Code or the Internal Revenue Bulletin. 

These are the only recognized legal sources of tax information that can be used, for example:

  • To give valid reason why a particular deduction, credit or exemption was taken
  • As a legal defense against criminal tax charges
  • To argue against allegations of tax underpayment, audit or garnishment

To put this in “plain English,” the IRS is essentially saying that you cannot – and should not – trust the information posted on its website, nor any information that comes directly from an IRS employee. If a tax agent advises you during an audit to take a particular action that hasn’t been codified into the Tax Code or been released via the Internal Revenue Bulletin, you might follow those instructions, assuming you’re safe in doing so. There’s a good chance you could actually be wrong, though.

Forbes writer Robert Wood, who frequently contributes tax-related information to Forbes readers, aptly describes this IRS conundrum as “a form of inside baseball that is hard to justify.” The problem, of course, with not being able to rely on information gotten directly from the IRS site or from an employee is that most people don’t know to take the additional step of verifying either codification or publication in the Internal Revenue Bulletin.

Rather than run the risk of inadvertently relying on “unofficial” information provided by the IRS website or by a low-level agency worker, seek professional tax advice from an experienced tax attorney. Tax lawyers understand the legal steps that the IRS must take in terms of tax collection and auditing, and they understand how the myriad provisions of the tax code interact.

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