The World Wide Web is now in its third generation, having evolved from simple document distribution to a graphical environment and now to a more useful blend of video, sound and graphics. Not all websites have made the transition, of course, and not all provide the information they could or should.
But with each passing year, there are more websites with better information and services. Certainly with respect to tax preparation and information, the sites have improved substantially in just the past few years.
For the 2009 tax season, therefore, we revisited sites to see how useful they might be to assist accountants in surviving busy season.
Here’s a quick list of the five we found most useful:
1. The IRS Website (www.irs.gov). What began as an online bulletin called the Digital Daily in 1996, the official IRS website took shape in 2002 and was renamed IRS.Gov. But the more significant changes came with a late-2006 makeover. Customer surveys had indicated that navigation and search capabilities were poor on the old site, so the agency spent five months developing criteria and then held a shootout among search engines. The result is an appealing website with a strong set of features for tax professionals.
Here you’ll find the latest changes to tax laws, a checklist of how to prepare taxes for clients, assorted tips and forms, as well a insights into the IRS strategies and messages for the year. You’ll also discover a complete set of federal tax regulations, an electronic “reading room” of advisories and reference materials, as well as information that has been released under the Freedom of Information Act that may be relevant to tax preparation. And there is a section that allows professionals to subscribe to news and alerts that will keep them current throughout the year.
2. Intuit’s Tax Almanac (www.taxalmanac.com). This Intuit website is a free online tax research resource and community for tax professionals. It provides a research library of the Internal Revenue Code, Treasury regulations, and other topical articles … along with discussion forums where tax practitioners can ask questions of other tax professionals. TaxAlamac.com is immensely popular. From November 2007 through April 2008, there was an average of 5,502 unique visitors per day to the site, an increase of 55 percent over the previous year. The site gets a lot of international visitors, as well, mainly from tax professionals who are doing returns for U.S. expatriates living in their native countries.
Of special interest is the summary of changes in the final version of the American Recovery and Re-Investment Act, the stimulus package just signed into law by President Obama.
3. Tax 2.0 (www.tax2point0.com). This site, operated by corporate tax consultants Vertex, Inc., provides an interactive forum for tax professionals. It offers news, forums and blogs from leading tax commentators. The home site for Vertex has always been a useful place for tax professionals to visit, particularly in the Resource section. A strong group of interesting tax links outlines organizations, research sites and government sites from the local to the federal.
4. Tax Topics (www.taxtopics.net). Tax Topics is a compendium of links to articles, other resources, federal and California tax laws, and other information compiled by author Alan G. Kalman. It is less a website than a portal, offering virtually the largest collection of links to information on its own and selected other sites.
5. Domino’s Pizza (www.dominospizza.com). You can pretend that you don’t order pizzas during tax season, but no one will believe you. That’s why Dominos made this list. Technically, most pizza lovers give Papa John’s a higher rating for taste, but that chain’s website and online ordering systems are a disaster. Pizza Hut is a close contender, with an excellent online order system and great pizzas. But the difference that puts Dominos at the top of our list is the "Pizza Tracker" feature that allows you to know within minutes when your pizza will be delivered. That, combined with economy and selection, put this at the top of the delivery list if not the flavor list.
Of course, there are lots of other sites that may prove helpful but are not in our top five.
- CCH, a Wolters Kluwer business, provides free news and analysis of recent tax and financial regulations on its homepage www.cch.com.
- Thomson Reuters has an outstanding state electronic filing guide that saves time and effort at cs.thomsonreuters.com/support/reference/elf.
- The Tax Policy Center at www.taxpolicycenter.org/index.cfm has everything you want to know about how tax law is being formulated.
- BNA offers tax articles and news that may be of value when tax decisions need to be made. Find that site at www.bnasoftware.com/News_Articles/Index.asp.
Finally, don’t forget our own site at www.CPATechAdvisor.com,
where you’ll find news, informative podcasts and interactive sessions
as well as reviews of tax and tax research products.