Tax Law On The Internet

Well, it’s that time of year again. At least if you are a procrastinator, or if you owe money! Yes, tax time is upon us, so it’s time for our annual review of tax law sites on the Internet.

By Erik J. Heels

First published 4/2/1998; LegalResearcher.com; publisher: New York Law Publishing Company

This year, things are distinctly different. There are the tried and true sites, of course, such as the IRS (http://www.irs.ustreas.gov/) and FindLaw’s tax listings (http://www.findlaw.com/01topics/35tax/index.html). But there are also new sites.

In fact, the Internet itself seems to be changing. If you can use a website to prepare and submit a tax return, and if you used to do that with a PC- or Mac-based application, what’s the difference between a website and an application? Perhaps it is that you pay for the application with cash, and you pay for the website by having to view advertisements. But applications also contain advertisements, and they also frequently contain “Internet update” features, which allows you to download the latest information directly from the vendor’s website. In short, the distinction between websites and applications itself is disappearing. In fact, several startup companies are entering the Applications Service Provider (ASP) market – i.e. web-based applications.

The tax industry relies heavily on rules and formulas, so it is well-suited to automation. Which makes it no surprise that there are so many tax-related sites out there. I found this year’s crop of sites by searching for “tax law” at the Internet’s top 20 sites (as ranked by http://www.mediametrix.com).

If you are looking for information about tax shelters – and offshore tax laws in particular – check out the International Tax Planning Association (ITPA, http://www.itpa.org/). The ITPA is a multi-disciplined organization consisting of 1200 bankers, trust officers, finance directors, accountants & lawyers. At the site you’ll find a large collection of offshore laws, tax articles, and related information.

For those interested in multistate tax issues, check out the Multistate Tax Commission (http://www.mtc.gov/), an organization of state governments that works with taxpayers to administer tax laws that apply to multistate and multinational enterprises.

TaxSites (http://www.taxsites.com/) is a Yahoo-like collection of tax-related sites maintained by Dennis Schmidt, a Professor of Accounting at the University of Northern Iowa. The unique perspective of an accounting professor is this site’s strength. Prof. Schmidt looks at things from a perspective that lawyers and consumers may not have. For example, you’ll find links to summaries of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 from major accounting firms: Arthur Andersen, Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young, and KPMG.

Even H&R Block’s site (http://www.hrblock.com/) provides a decent amount of self-help information. The site features easy-to-read summaries of tax law changes, an interactive tax refund calculator, and downloadable tax forms.

If you’re looking for professional tax help, another good site is 1-800-TAX-LAWS, Inc. (http://www.5010geary.com/). 1-800-TAX-LAW is a network of Certified Public Accountants, Enrolled Agents, Licensed Public Accountants, Certified Financial Planners and Attorneys.

This year, I am preparing my taxes with TurboTax. Perhaps the best example I can give of a website/application is TurboTax itself. The application allows me to submit my taxes electronically. And the website features Web TurboTax (http://www.turbotax.com/webturbotax/), which is, in short, a web version of TurboTax. Enable cookies, Java, JavaScript, grab your credit card, and you’re ready to go. In fact, you won’t even need your credit card unless you like the service. Intuit (the makers of TurboTax) allows you to enter all your information and see what you think. Only when you’re ready to print or electronically file your return will you be asked to pay for the service. And it only costs $19.95 for a Federal Form 1040. I’m pretty sure I paid more for my TurboTax application at CompUSA. Oh well, just wait ’til next year!

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