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You can't always believe what you read in IRS docs

When Congress changes the law late in the year, the agency doesn't alway update its publications.

By Jeff Schnepper Feb 26, 2010 2:08PM

I recently got a phone call from my editor, Charley Blaine. It was 9:30 p.m. so I figured it was important. Charley is the ultimate professional. Look up “credibility” in the dictionary and it says “see Blaine, Charley.”  This time he was really disturbed.


When MSN posts a tax column, it links to appropriate IRS tax publications about the issues being discussed. Part of Charley’s job is to insure the accuracy of what’s posted. But, he complained, the relevant IRS publication on the tax aspects of home ownership and sale was wrong. It hadn’t been updated for the latest changes in the law.


Charley wanted to know when the publication would be updated and what I was going to do in the interim.

Frankly, I don’t blame the IRS. Congress has developed a habit in recent years of waiting until year end to make tax changes. The Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 was signed with less than 12 days left to the year. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, signed in February 2009, changed several rules affecting 2008 tax returns. The Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act of 2009 was passed in November. At least we got some lead time on that one.

The problem is that the IRS publications are created well before year end. That’s so they can be available to taxpayers in January. If Congress changes the law late in the year, in many cases the IRS publications have already been drafted and printed. There’s no time to change them. And let’s not even get into the cost of making the appropriate modifications.


But Charley had a point. There’s no reason the publications on the IRS web site shouldn’t be updated. If we’re lucky, the IRS will post a note saying the publication is not up to date.


Sorry, that’s like putting a sign on the road saying there’s a bump ahead. How about we take the money spent on the sign and fix the darned bump?


In the meantime, Charley will refer readers to the Tax Corner message board to get the latest in tax planning and preparation. Even if the IRS publications are out of date, the Tax Corner professionals will do their best to get you the most current and correct information. That’s why we’re here.


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