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Rely on IRS.gov FAQs at your peril

If you have questions about immigration to the United States, you go to USCIS.gov, the official website for the Citizenship and Immigration Services. They have a Frequently Asked Questions area you can turn to and hopefully get straight answers to specific questions. The same goes for most of the major departments.

As important as the Internal Revenue Service is, something similar would seem logical to expect from that agency. Think about it. The IRS is the financial engine of the U.S. government. It might be fair to say that tax issues affect more individuals directly than any other aspect of government activity. Sadly, though, if you depend on information from an IRS.gov FAQ site to be a shield through an IRS dispute, you could be sadly disappointed. Better to enlist an experienced attorney.

Wealth of online material doesn't mean it's legit

Many taxpayers over the years have come to learn too late that you can take the advice of an IRS representative over the phone, but you do so at your peril. It's been a sore spot for taxpayers and third-party filers for ages. These days, you're lucky if you can reach an actual employee for help at all, so web-based resources are much more important. Unfortunately, the information in FAQs may be as unreliable as previously human sources.

The IRS made that clear in one recent memo. The notice sought to remind IRS area directors that FAQ pages and content elsewhere on IRS.gov carry no legal weight – unless it has appeared in the Internal Revenue Bulletin. That's a weekly publication announcing official rulings, making the official, official source for IRS truth.

It would be nice to think that translating official, official information from the bulletin into the FAQs that most taxpayers will access would be a priority, but who knows? Meanwhile, Minnesota and western Wisconsin taxpayers will be wise to rely on skilled counsel.

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