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I work for a regional CPA Firm and would greatly appreciate some "Best Practices" in connection to Tax Research Techniques to assist our firm become more effective and efficient with addressing and resolving tax matters?

Tax Research Methodology Tax Research Techniques
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Peter J. Scalise
In order to optimize your CPA Firm’s overall efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity in connection to researching and resolving a tax issue and determining the sustainability of a tax return filing position per Circular 230, the appropriate tax research processes must be meticulously designed, implemented, and executed. The subsequent five practical steps will guide you in establishing an all-inclusive tax research effort on behalf of your entire client base while properly ascertaining the likelihood of success should a tax position taken on a tax return be challenged by the Internal Revenue Service (hereinafter the “Service”) upon examination.

Establish the Facts and Circumstances

The first step in the tax research process is to establish all of the facts and circumstances provided by your client in order to determine which tax laws apply to your client’s fact pattern. At this initial stage, it is imperative not to omit nor overlook any of your client’s facts and circumstances whether appearing material or immaterial. Always be guided by the axiom that facts and circumstances appearing to be immaterial individually may, in fact, be material in the aggregate.

Determine All the Issues

The second step in the tax research process entails determining all of the tax issues affecting your client’s specific facts and circumstances and any and all mitigating factors. Normally, complex tax issues evolve through several stages of development. For instance an experienced tax professional, based upon his or her prior knowledge of the tax laws, can normally determine most of the initial pertinent issues in terms of general tax laws. However, after performing an initial search of the authorities to answer the initial issues, a tax professional often discovers that one or more additional specific technical questions of interpretations must be resolved before the initial issues can be fully addressed. Consequently, at this stage, a tax professional may also encounter the need to obtain additional facts from the client. Accordingly, the tax research process may have to move back from step two to step one. In addition, you the tax professional may learn at this stage that facts initially not considered to be important may in fact prove critical to the resolution of all of your client’s tax issues.

Identify Statutory, Administrative, and Judicial Authority

The third step in the tax research process entails identifying the specific authorities to support all of your client’s tax issues while appropriately weighing authorities that may be contrary to your supporting position. Generally, this process begins with consulting statutory authority (e.g., the Internal Revenue Code) and quickly expands to encompass administrative authority (e.g., Proposed Treasury Regulations, Temporary Treasury Regulations, Final Treasury Regulations, Revenue Rulings, Revenue Procedures, Private Letter Rulings, Technical Advice Memorandum, General Counsel Memorandum, Circular 230, Internal Revenue Manual, Internal Revenue Bulletins, IRS Field Service Advice Memorandum, IRS Determination Letters, and IRS Notices, etc.) and judicial authority (e.g., judicial interpretations decided by the U.S. Tax Court, the U.S. District Court, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court). In addition, at times, you the tax professional may have to consult the legislative history (e.g., the Public Laws and Congressional Committee Reports from the House of Representatives and the Senate) of a particular Internal Revenue Code section to fully address what Congress’s intent was in passing a particular bill. Lastly, you may also want to consult the voluminous range of editorial interpretations (e.g., Tax Treatises, Tax Journals, etc.) available to assist in the interpretation a particular tax issue. However, it must be duly noted that editorial interpretations are impermissible sources of authority before the Service and the judicial system.

To continue reading about my five practical steps in establishing an all-inclusive tax research effort on behalf of your entire client base while properly ascertaining the likelihood of success should a tax position taken on a tax return be challenged by the Service, please consult my published article entitled “Tax Research Methodology” at www.taxconnections.com/taxblog/tax-research-methodology-2/#.WN0jA28rKos
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