Administrative guidance plays a significant role in understanding and interpreting the tax laws in the United States. While statutory law reigns supreme in the hierarchy of tax authorities, the importance of tax guidance cannot be overstated. It serves to fill the gaps inherent in statutory tax law, thereby providing crucial details of how tax laws should be applied and implemented — information essential for tax planning and compliance purposes.
One of the challenges associated with tax guidance is keeping abreast of the constantly changing collection of guidance documents issued at the state and federal levels.1 With new guidance issued frequently, one of the most useful tools for monitoring updates is newsletters and alerts.
CURRENT AWARENESS SOURCES
There are a multitude of tax-focused newsletters and alerts that vary in scope and content. Some provide broad nationwide coverage of tax topics while others focus on specific jurisdictions or tax practice areas. Some provide detailed commentary and analysis of tax issues while others merely report tax law developments. With so many options, evaluating newsletters to find the best fit for your informational needs is important.
When assessing tax-related newsletters, cost, content, and frequency are the three most important factors to consider. Most newsletters are delivered electronically by subscribing via either a free resource such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) website or a subscription-based service such as Bloomberg Law. Obviously, subscription services come with a high price tag, but they tend to offer more analytical content, advanced search features, and various frequency settings.
In this article, I’ll cover newsletters and alerts focused exclusively on tax guidance available through free government websites, Bloomberg Law, and Lexis Tax, although several research services also provide newsletters.2
The IRS offers a wide range of free e-news subscriptions on a variety of tax topics.3 One such newsletter is IRS Guidewire, which provides email notifications of newly issued tax guidance such as regulations, notices, revenue rulings, procedures, and announcements. The email notifications are triggered as guidance documents are issued, so the frequency of notifications can vary; in a given week, subscribers might receive multiple notifications or none at all.
IRS Guidewire has several advantages when compared to other newsletters. Most importantly, it is free and timely. Additionally, the notification emails are formatted for easy reading and quick access to full-text guidance documents. One potential downside of this service is that it does not provide commentary or analysis, but if staying updated is the goal, this service is more than adequate.
Bloomberg Law publishes several tax-related newsletters and although it does not currently publish a dedicated tax guidance newsletter, it offers two useful alternatives: the Daily Tax Report and the Federal Tax Developments Tracker.
The Daily Tax Report is Bloomberg’s flagship newsletter for all things tax. It covers federal, state, and international tax news. It also includes a special section on tax developments where newly issued tax guidance and recently decided cases are reported. The tax developments section is set apart from the rest of the newsletter content, making it easy to quickly peruse recently issued guidance documents.
The Federal Tax Developments Tracker is a database within Bloomberg that serves as a running ticker.
The Federal Tax Developments Tracker does not have its own newsletter, but subscribers may set up email alerts to receive notifications. One of the advantages of alerts is that they are highly customizable, allowing users to apply search terms, filter for specific types of guidance documents, put limits on categories of taxpayers (individual, corporate, nonprofit, etc.), and select from a range of frequency settings.
Like Bloomberg, Lexis Tax4 does not publish a dedicated guidance newsletter. Instead, Lexis Tax subscribers can set up email alerts within its IRS Rulings and Releases database that includes comprehensive coverage of IRS guidance documents. Consistent with other services, Lexis Tax allows subscribers to apply search terms, frequency settings, and filters, but its filters are not quite as robust as Bloomberg’s Federal Tax Developments Tracker.
The best option for tracking Michigan-specific guidance documents is the Michigan Department of Treasury website, which offers a free email subscription to its Michigan Tax Updates Newsletter.5 This newsletter is tailored to tax professionals and provides updates on a host of guidance documents including revenue administrative bulletins, audit manuals, technical advice letters, legal rulings, and more. Subscribers can choose to receive updates immediately, daily, or weekly.
Bloomberg provides state equivalents to the two services described in the federal sources section above. These are Daily Tax Report: State and the State Tax Development Tracker. Both sources provide
nationwide coverage of state tax developments including guidance issued by the Michigan Department of Treasury, but limiting results to Michigan-specific developments requires some extra effort. These newsletters may be useful to practitioners who provide multi-jurisdictional tax advice but for those whose practice is Michigan-focused, the free newsletter from the Michigan Department of Treasury seems to be the better and more affordable option.
Newsletters and alerts are important tools for keeping pace with the ever-evolving landscape of tax guidance at the state and federal levels. With a diverse array of options available ranging from complimentary newsletters provided by entities like the IRS and the Michigan Department of Treasury to highly adaptable alerts offered by Bloomberg and Lexis, there is a suitable resource to meet the needs of most tax practitioners.