The Tax Research Process

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The Tax Research Process
The overriding purpose of tax research is to find solutions to the tax problems of one’s clients or employer. The process is similar to that of traditional legal research. The researcher must find authority, evaluate the usefulness of that authority, and apply the results of the research to a specific situation. One can identify two essential tax research skills:

* The first is using certain mechanical techniques to identify and locate the tax authorities that relate to solving a problem. 

* The second entails a combination of reasoning and creativity and is more difficult to learn. A researcher must begin with native intelligence and imagination and add training and experience properly to apply the information found. Creativity is necessary to explore the relevant relationships among the circumstances and problems at hand to find a satisfying (and defensible) solution. In many cases, no legal authority exists that is directly on point for the problem. If such a situation comes up, the researcher must combine seemingly unrelated facts, ideas (including those that he or she has derived from previous research work), and legal authority to arrive at a truly novel conclusion. This creative ability of the researcher often spells the difference between success and failure in the research process.  Outline of Tax Research Process

As the tax problems of the client become more significant, the related tax research can become time-consuming and, thus, expensive to the client. A moderate tax research problem often takes up to eight or ten hours of research time, and the bill for these services may approach or even exceed $2,000. Because of the costs that are involved, the tax researcher must work as efficiently as possible to obtain the solution to the client’s problem. The researcher needs a framework for the research process, so that he or she does not waste time and effort in arriving at a solution to the problem. The tax research process can be broken down into six major steps. Tax researchers (especially those without a great amount of experience at the task) must approach the resolution of a tax problem in a structured manner, so that the analysis of the problem will be thorough and the solution complete. 

Step 1: Establish the Facts
Before a researcher can analyze the tax consequences of a transaction, he or she must understand the transaction itself. Specifically, the researcher should discuss the details of the transaction with the client to ascertain the client’s motivation. What are the client’s business or financial objectives in undertaking the transaction? What does the client foresee as the desired outcome? What risks has the client identified? By asking these types of questions, the researcher gets to be more acquainted with the non-tax features of the transactions. Discover All the Facts

The researcher must discover all the facts concerning the client’s transaction. Like a newspaper reporter, the researcher should question the client about the precise "who, when, where, why, and how" of the transaction. The researcher should not assume that the client’s initial summary of the transaction is factually accurate and complete. Perhaps the client hasn’ t determined all the facts that the researcher needs. Or the client may have discounted the significance of certain facts and omitted them from the initial summary. The researcher should encourage the client to be objective in stating the facts. Often, a client unwittingly presents the researcher with the client’s subjective conclusions about the facts rather than with the facts themselves. Impact of Client’s Tax Knowledge

When a researcher is working with a client to uncover the relevant facts, the researcher must take into account the level of the client’s tax knowledge. If the client has some knowledge of the tax law, the researcher can ask questions that presume such knowledge. On the other hand, if the client is unsophisticated...
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