The 2015 Annual Survey of New York State Practitioners, published in the November 2015 issue, revealed that free tax research tools have become increasingly popular with tax professionals. Free research applications are well liked at firms of all sizes, especially smaller practices, and might provide fast and easy answers for busy and mobile CPAs. Commercial services should not be overlooked, however, and offer some useful free materials to non-subscribers.
Google Tax Research.
Google’s tax research tool can be found at http://www.globaltaxlaws.com/google_tax_research. Google’s tax research engine will yield different search results than just a general Google search by keyword filtering, though it requires some experimentation to obtain useful results. The outcomes are presented in no particular order and will probably include some outdated materials that remain on websites. However, Google pulls up a wide range of items that would not be available in a one-step search on a commercial provider.
Google tax research findings can be organized by federal tax, secondary source, state and local tax, international tax, and primary source. Most items appear on multiple groups, as indicated on each entry’s label.
As an example, the “research and experimentation credit” has been in the news lately. Congress has made the credit permanent and allowed eligible small businesses to apply it against the alternative minimum tax liability. Google can process the search under either the formal tax name for the credit, or under that more common accounting term “research and development” credit. The first items that appear under the “all” results tab are a Wikipedia entry and some older entries from 2010; scrolling through the results list, however, turns up some interesting materials, such as IRC Section 41 on the Legal Information Institute (Cornell Law School), the Form 6765 for claiming the credit, and the IRS audit techniques guide. Other results include articles and reports from IRS publications, the Government Accountability Office, Tax Policy Center, Congressional Research Service, the IRS website, and journal articles.
Lexis Web is a free online legal search engine that provides access to general Internet information, at http://www.lexisweb.com. The search scope can be refined based on practice area, such as taxation law, site type, related topics, jurisdiction, source, and file format.
Lexis Web is most useful for locating more general information rather than up-to-the-minute practice applications. However, it does include some interesting materials that may not turn up from other sources. For example, a search for “shared responsibility payment” turns up selections from IRS Internal Revenue Bulletins, and articles on a variety of commercial and free websites and blogs, such as the IRS, the U.S. Small Business Administration, National Business Group on Health, and CPA firms.
Articles, News, and Reports
Bloomberg BNA’s Insight Center, at http://www.bna.com/news/#!topic=tax, offers free access to its special reports. For example, the “Presidential Candidates’ Positions on Taxes” report (bit.ly/1Z8fOfU) summarizes candidates’ remarks by topic, including individual income and capital gains tax rates, alternative minimum tax, credits and deductions, employment taxes, retirement incentives, healthcare, corporate tax rates, international business taxes, and estate taxes.
Bloomberg BNA also conducts an annual survey of state tax departments. The 2015 survey report focuses on issues such as nexus policies and income sourcing. States have still not made progress on developing uniform income sourcing policies, particularly with regard to services, intangibles, and cloud computing. Tables of state-by-state policies and practices are also available, and helpful for understanding each state’s basic positions (bit.ly/1ZcigY2). Bloomberg BNA also offers practical resources like the “2016 Projected U.S. Tax Rates” report (http://bit.ly/1JwHEAD), which includes pro forma income tax rate schedules, tax credit ranges, retirement savings caps, and many more projections.
CCH Wolters Kluwer.
“CCH Wolters Kluwer’s News & Insights: Federal Tax Legislation” allows public access to many of its special reports, such as the recent “Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015” report that covers individual, business, and energy extenders, as well as miscellaneous provisions and tax administration issues. Other resources include the“2015 Year-End Tax Planning” and the “Identity Theft Update” reports (https://www.cchgroup.com/news-and-insights/federal-tax-legislation).
Thomson Reuters Insights (https://tax.thomsonreuters.com/products/brands/checkpoint/) presents free monthly applicable federal rate reports in a handy PDF document (http://tmsnrt.rs/1JZG5pR). It also offers a new white paper on a current topic approximately every month (http://tmsnrt.rs/1OPf6om).
“Get Ready to Play or Pay: Employer Shared Responsibility Under Health Care Reform” (http://tmsnrt.rs/1VMJbUJ) summarizes the background of employer responsibility, provisions applicable to large employers, liability for failure to offer minimum essential coverage, and reporting requirements.
Through its new online tax research tool, Catalyst, Checkpoint is also offering a free white paper, “Unlocking the Limits of the Keyword: 5 Ways to Be a Better Tax Researcher” (http://tmsnrt.rs/1ZPShCD), which gives information and advice on how best to conduct effective and accurate research.
Parker Tax Pro Library.
Parker Tax Pro offers an extensive collection of free tax research resources targeted to tax professionals of any of the commercial providers at http://www.parkertaxpublishing.com/public/bulletin_articles.html. The materials are organized by articles, tax briefs, federal tax bulletins, and client letters. Articles include current news, such as an extensive “House Permanently Extends Numerous Tax Provisions Including Increased Section 179 Expensing and Enhanced Child Tax Credit.”
Parker also presents separate in-depth “CPA Year-End Tax Planning” coverage for businesses and individuals, with the business side (http://bit.ly/1Ph9sWm) covering depreciation issues, S corporation shareholder salaries, retirement plans, and changes in tax return due dates, and the individual side (http://bit.ly/1VMK2ou) covering retirement contributions, net investment income tax, additional Medicare taxes, and many more topics.
Parker offers tax briefs that summarize current monthly updates from recent legislation, court cases, revenue procedures and rulings, and notices. Tax bulletins also include upto-date briefs, as well as in-depth articles covering IRS pronouncements and court decisions.
TaxMode is an individual income tax calculator (http://www.taxmode.net) that is available for multiple platforms: Android and iOS smart phones and tablets, as well as Windows phones and desktop. It is designed to be a quick income tax liability calculator, but it can also be used for comparing tax planning scenarios. It covers not only regular income tax, but also self-employment tax, alternative minimum tax, net investment income tax, and the additional Medicare tax.
The basic tax calculator tool is free, with additional features available for purchase from within the application. The basic functions include summary and detailed reports, estimated tax payment amounts, and a choice of chart formats. With the premium functions, users can view detail on selected tax forms such as the Form 1040 Schedule D and Form 6251 Alternative Minimum Tax, create income statements, compare alternative scenarios, compare two tax years, and print reports.