Tax Reference Books

Print and electronic resources for tax practitioners

Every tax professional relies on books to provide up to date information on tax laws, accounting issues, and quick access to IRS forms and publications. Here's a roundup of the best tax reference guides based on my experience of having used each of these reference books at one point or another in my career.

U.S. Master Tax Guide

African American businessman working in office
Jetta Productions/ Blend/ Images/ Getty Images

The US Master Tax Guide from CCH is typically the first reference book I turn to when looking up information. The 2014 edition has 1,008 pages and covers all the essential tax laws. Provides in-depth details on the taxation of individuals, corporations, S corporations, partnerships, trusts, estates, tax-exempt organizations, and gift taxes. Excellent binding and paper, so highlighting won't bleed through, and the binding won't crack. (Hint: you can find prior year editions of the MTG at a deep discount at various booksellers.)

RIA Federal Tax Handbook

The RIA Federal Tax Handbook from Thomson Reuters is another reference book, similar in scope to the US Master Tax Guide. Provides extensive coverage of individual income taxes, corporations, partnerships, trusts and estates, tax-exempt organizations, banks, and retirement plans. While the RIA handbook covers the same material as CCH, sometimes RIA provides more information and sometimes CCH provides more.

Internal Revenue Code and Regulations

For years I purchased print editions of the Internal Revenue Code. I'm a book person, so I didn't mind. But one year my brand new edition of the Code was delivered the day after Congress passed a major tax bill. And then I knew that I had just purchased an expensive bundle of paper. So for the past few years, I've been using electronic versions of the Code and Regulations. It's easier to sort through and find what I'm looking for (although I must say that reading the Code on paper is easier than reading it on the screen since I can highlight, take notes, and add sticky notes). There are many electronic versions of the Code and Regs in the marketplace. Your tax software provider may even provide you with access. Options include Intelliconnect (CCH), Checkpoint (RIA) and Parker Tax Pro Library.

The Internal Revenue Code is also available for free on the Internet through the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School and through the TaxAlmanac (Intuit), vLex, and Fourmilab. Be vigilant in checking when the site has last updated the content. I've noticed that the free code publishers often lag behind the professional databases.

Both RIA and CCH publish print editions of the Internal Revenue Code. I prefer RIA's one-volume binding.

For the Income Tax Regulations, options include the professional research databases Intelliconnect, Checkpoint, and Parker. For free online versions, check out the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (GPO) and the Legal Information Institute (Cornell).

And here's a bonus Web search tip. If you're searching for a particular code section and you know the section number ("section 121," for example), also try searching by using the following keyword patterns: 26 USC # or 26 CFR # (for example, "26 USC 121" or "26 CFR 121"). I've found this keyword pattern usually gives me different (and sometimes better) results in my search engine.

Quick Reference Guides

There are two quick reference guides that I am aware of.

TheTaxBook is a reference guide to individual and business taxes. The deluxe version includes essential information for individuals at the federal and state level and covers rules for C corporations, S corporations, partnerships, and estates. The authors provide useful commentary, highlighting practical strategies you can use every day.

A competing product is Quickfinder. The premium version covers 1040 issues, state taxes, partnerships, S corporations, C corporations, estates and trusts, and payroll returns.

IRS Tax Products DVD

The IRS and the NTIS publish an annual compilation of IRS forms and publications on one handy DVD. It's called Publication 1796 and costs $30. You can sometimes pick up a copy for free at the IRS Nationwide Tax Forums. The DVD includes forms, instructions, and publications for the current year, plus forms and instructions for previous years. Also, includes a copy of the Internal Revenue Code and Internal Revenue Bulletins.