Where to Find Help Online

BY JOHN J GILL



A guide to Internet resources for CPAs.

Where to Find Help Online

By   John J. Gill
 
John J. Gill , CPA, CMA, is a sole practitioner in Newport News, Virginia, specializing in tax and information technology consulting. A member of the American Institute of CPAs, he serves on the information technology committee of the Virginia Society of CPAs. His e-mail address is jgill@taxlaws.com.

N eed expert help on an esoteric tax question, a unique depreciation problem or, for that matter, any issue relating to business and accounting? Help is only a few mouse clicks away. All you have have a virtual office that is staffed with experts on nearly every conceivable subject. This article provides a listing of where CPAs can turn for some of the best online services.



ACCOUNTANTS FORUM
One of the handiest online tools is the American Institute of CPAs Accountants Forum, which is on CompuServe (the address is GO AICPA). The Accountants Forum resembles an electronic bulletin board, where any CPA with access to CompuServe can post questions or messages on a wide assortment of professional topics ranging from auditing to underwriting. Users label their notes with brief titles, so scanning the list to find subjects of interest is easy. CPAs can read any posted message as well as any replies to those messages posted by others.

Web Pages Come and Go

Because interest in Internet Web pages has grown so rapidly, stability is not one of the enduring attributes of home pages. In many cases, individuals and organizations have been quick to create home pages-but some time later simply abandon them. So don't be surprised if you cannot access one of the addresses mentioned in this article, especially if you try to log on months after publication.

On one occasion, I was asked by a local attorney client to prepare an application for tax exemption for a trust created for the benefit of several charities after the death of a wealthy client. Since I wasn't fully familiar with the process, instead of declining the engagement, I raised the question on the Accountants Forum. A CPA in Illinois with experience on this issue responded and offered to help. Thus, I was able to provide the client with a valuable service, earn a fee and pay the practitioner in Illinois a fee for his guidance.

In addition to online messages, the Accountants Forum has a library that contains files on many professional issues uploaded by the AICPA and state CPA societies that visitors can access. CompuServe also runs a wide variety of other forums of interest to accountants-the Legal Forum (GO LAWSIG), the Accounting Software Vendor Forum (GO ACCOUNTING), the Entrepreneur Forum (GO USEN) and the Working From Home Forum (GO WORK). Each contains sections devoted to accounting and tax and software.

Also of value on CompuServe are dozens of specific sites for software and hardware vendors. Many vendors maintain these sites to offer technical support, provide a library of files that can be downloaded-such as new drivers, virus definition files and frequently asked questions-as well as to provide a place for users to share solutions to problems. Many vendors offer similar download services on their Web pages, but only CompuServe sites have such comprehensive user interaction in addition to the very high level of technical support assistance.

Here are some hardware and software vendors with CompuServe forums and their addresses: Timeslips (GO TIMESLIPS), Peachtree (GO PEACHTREE), QuickBooks (GO QUICKBOOKS), Microsoft Word (GO MSWORD), Microsoft Excel (GO MSEXCEL), Microsoft Office (GO MSOFORUM), Symantec (GO SYMNEW).

To subscribe to CompuServe, call 800-524-3388 and ask for the AICPA package, which includes a discount rate for the service.



INTERNET WEB PAGES
The Internet's World Wide Web also is a major link to thousands of online resources. Following are Web pages that CPAs would find valuable:

Big Yellow is essentially a nationwide Yellow Pages directory. It contains a list of businesses in the United States. You can conduct multidimensional searches by company name, address, business category, city, state and zip code.

Consumer Price Index is provided by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

CPA Firms with Web Pages is a directory created and maintained by Bowling Green State University. It claims to have the largest directory, with links to more than 812 firms.

CPAs and Firms is a directory of CPAs, CPA firms and state CPA societies. It includes telephone numbers, addresses and other useful information.

Four-11 provides e-mail addresses and telephone numbers for individuals and businesses that have chosen to list their electronic addresses.

Kent Information System's home page provides information on accounting and tax software, providing several hyperlinks to various vendor Web sites.

Who Is provides a list of the individual or company behind a domain (Web site address) name. This directory includes each domain name registered with InterNIC-the domain name regulator. A query of "aicpa. org," for example, discloses the address, telephone number and contact person responsible for this domain registration.



TAX SITES
Barry Rubin's State Tax Links provides hyperlinks to state tax forms, regulations and state tax codes when available. It's a no-nonsense Web site developed by a tax practitioner.

CCH Federal and State Tax News contains free highlights of daily tax news items, such as IRS letter rulings, court opinions and legislative updates.

Coopers & Lybrand Tax News Network is available by subscription only ($540 a year) and features daily tax news, uploads from Bureau of National Affairs, Tax Analysts and Warren, Gorham & Lamont. It also contains a search capability for all tax sites on the Web.

Code of Federal Regulations is operated by the House of Representatives Internet Law Library.

Court Decisions Online is maintained by the House of Representatives and includes U.S. Supreme Court and appellate court cases. Some of the material is original and some is hyperlinked to Villanova University, the University of Maryland and several other law school sources. While this Web page is not complete, it is updated periodically.

Dennis Schmidt's Tax Site is one of the better tax pages on the Net. Schmidt is an accounting professor at the University of Northern Iowa. Although this site contains no original material, it is an excellent resource of hyperlinks to many primary sites, including several federal court sites, state tax sites, articles and international tax sites. Like many Web pages, the availability of hyperlinks makes the navigation process very convenient.

Government Printing Office is a searchable database that also provides the latest information on pending legislation, the congressional directory and the Supreme Court calendar.

Interest Rate Information for tax calculations (applicable federal rate) is maintained by Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro LLP.

Internal Revenue Bulletin is available for viewing or downloading. At the time of this writing, only weekly bulletins numbered 96-01 and higher and the 95-02 semiannual bulletin were available. To read the bulletins, you need the latest Adobe Acrobat application, which is available free at http://www.adobe.com .

Internal Revenue Service maintains a library of current forms and publications, in addition to old forms dating back to 1992. Be forewarned that form availability is hit-or-miss: sometimes a common form is hard to find and sometimes rarely used forms are surprisingly available. To read the forms, you need the latest Adobe Acrobat application (see above).

IRS Market Segmentation is an IRS analysis of audit and collection issues for those involved in certain high-risk industries.

IRS Statistics Page is operated by the Transactional Records Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. This site offers information on audits and criminal tax matters by district, audit rates by income classification and tax prosecution by type of offense.

PPC Tax Action Bulletins from Practitioners Publishing Corp. (PPC) are provided every two weeks and contain highlights of the latest revenue rulings, court opinions, legislation and other timely tax topics. This is an abbreviated version of the PPC print publications.

RIA Hot Weekly News is a page that includes several brief news items on federal, state and international tax issues as well as on benefits and estate planning.

Social Security Resources includes information about Social Security taxes, rates and legislation. It also features an online benefits calculator.

Social Security Totalization Treaties is maintained by Frank McNeil, an expatriate and tax hobbyist who has designed a page with hyperlinks to places that list totalization treaties with other countries.

Tax Base on the Web is a daily service available by subscription ($247.50 a year per user) from Tax Analysts. It offers Tax Notes Today, Sales Tax Daily, Worldwide Tax Daily and Court Petitions and Complaints. The site contains news items, as well as proposed regulations, comments on proposed regulations, letter rulings, internal revenue bulletins, court opinions, Treasury tax correspondence and other timely information. This Web site dovetails with Tax Analysts' CD-based historical archive.

Tax Code Online is run by Cornell University. The Web page begins with a table of contents that is hyperlinked to take you anywhere in the code; however, the text is not searchable by word.

Tax Columns from the New York Law Publishing Co. feature scholarly articles.

Tax Notes Newswire is posted three times daily-at 10 A.M., noon and 4:30 P.M. eastern time-and features highlights of the latest tax news from around the country.

Tax News and Views This Week from Deloitte & Touche features a brief but insightful analysis of goings-on in Washington. Much of it is devoted to upcoming congressional committee meetings, pending legislation and Treasury initiatives.

Taxweb State Tax Issues is a collection of hyperlinks to nearly all state tax sites. Included are hyperlinks to a wide assortment of tax resources-from state government information to state code, regulations and current legislation. Also included are some federal links.

Thomas site includes the status of current federal legislation as well as other congressional documents. This is of value to CPAs seeking the latest information on pending bills.

Walt Bristow's Weekly Tax Newsletter highlights estate tax, deferred compensation issues and other timely tax information.

West Doc Case Retrieval contains state and federal cases. It's word searchable and text can be downloaded for a fee of $8 per case.



ACCOUNTING AND AUDITING SITES
Financial Accounting Standards Board's Web page contains information compiled by Rutgers University. The site includes FASB's publications price list as well as summaries of its pronouncements.

Governmental Accounting Standards Board's home page includes general information about the activities of the GASB.

Office of Management and Budget's home page carries information about the OMB.

PPC Accounting and Auditing Update is a sampling of Practitioners Publishing Corp.'s monthly print series. It is posted monthly, and while it contains only a partial list of what subscription readers receive, there are valuable updates on Financial Accounting Standards Board pronouncements, auditing guides and recent FASB emerging issues task force consensus positions.

State Audit Agencies information is provided on this site, which includes hyperlinks to various state comptroller and auditing offices. The page is made available by Kent Information Systems.



PRACTICE MANAGEMENT SITES
AICPA Conference Calendar is available at this site.

AICPA Daily News Flash includes news releases on financial, tax, accounting and membership matters.

AICPA Fax-Back Catalog lists documents available by fax-back service to AICPA members, including AICPA library acquisitions, CPA Letter articles and tax division documents.

AICPA Online contains a wide assortment of accounting information including selected articles from the Journal of Accountancy monthly magazine and the CPA Letter and the Practicing CPA newsletters.

Electronic Accountant Newswire, published by Faulkner & Gray, is updated three times a week with timely news from Washington, software vendors, the AICPA and other sources. It also contains archives of previous highlights.

Harcourt Brace CPA Weekly News Update is a compendium of weekly articles on topics relating to tax, practice management and nonprofit issues taken from the pages of various accounting newsletters published by Harcourt Brace. Also included is an archive of past issues.

Microsoft Accouting News Network is published in cooperation with Faulkner & Gray. The site contains excerpts from Accounting Today, the Practical Accountant and Accounting Technology, along with tips and infomercials from Microsoft about productivity enhancements using Microsoft products. Once you cut through the commercial clutter, there is some information, as well as complimentary downloads of templates for Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications.

PPC Sample Client Letters are posted by Practitioners Publishing Corp., and they can be downloaded free. Recently, the Web site had letters on medical savings accounts, new S corporation rules, estate planning and long-term-care tax planning.



STOCK QUOTES
Charles Schwab provides a free service for stock quotes and stock market charts.

Hoover's Corporate supplies stock quotes and corporate summaries. It also contains hyperlinks to Fortune 500 Web sites. For a fee it provides detailed reports from stock analysts.

Securities and Exchange Commission's Web page contains corporate SEC filings, in electronic form. The database is called EDGAR-for electronic data gathering, analysis and retrieval system-and is word searchable.

Wall Street Journal, Interactive Edition , contains stock quotes, stock market charts, company financial ratios, analysis of industry and market indices and company financial highlights and news and analysis. This is a subscription service: $29 a year for Journal print subscribers.



NEWSGROUPS AND MAIL LISTS
The Web is only one part of the Internet. In addition, there are e-mail and newsgroups. A newsgroup is similar to an automated e-mail processor: A newsgroup receives e-mail from a participant and it sends out copies to all newsgroup subscribers. Some newsgroups are moderated; that is, each message is intercepted by the moderator and reviewed before it's sent to subscribers.

Following are other mailing lists that are of possible interest to CPAs:

ACCOUNTING AND AUDITING STANDARDS LIST centers on auditing and review standards and is sponsored by Kent Information Systems; John Graves is the moderator. Send subscription requests to listserve@tapnet.com . Include in the body e-mail request the following text: "subscribe tax-aa-stds-app."

ACCOUNTING AND TAX LIST is from Australia but is widely followed in the United States. Send subscription requests to listproc@scu.edu.au. Include this text in the body of the message:

ACCOUNTING TECHNOLOGY DISCUSSION GROUP is an unmoderated mailing list, with a very active following and postings in the information technology arena. Although Canadian, the topics often apply equally well to non-Canadians. Send subscription requests to owner-can-acctech@hookup.net .

BANKRUPTCY AND INSOLVENCY LIST , sponsored by Bankruptcy Creditors' Service, Inc., is a collection of attorneys, consultants and accountants involved in insolvency consulting. Send subscription requests to tci@bankrupt.com .

INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE MAILING LIST , from the Pacific-Northwest District, is the only mailing list I am aware of that is sponsored by the IRS. It provides IRS news. Send subscription requests to majordomo@pen-west.irs.gov .

MANAGEMENT ACCOUNTING LIST is on management and cost accounting topics and is sponsored by Tax & Accounting Professional Network; Jim Snell is the moderator. Send subscription requests to listserve@tapnet.com , with this text in the message: "subscribe mgmt-acct."

PRACTICING CPA AND INTERNET LIST focuses on Internet usage for practicing CPAs and is sponsored by Kent Information Systems and moderated by John Graves. To subscribe, e-mail subscription requests to listserve@tapnet.com , with the following in the message: "subscribe cpa-inet-use."

TAX ANALYSTS serves more than two dozen specialized discussion groups. For specific instructions, log into http://www.tax.org/notes/default.htm .

TAX PRACTICE ISSUES LIST focuses on tax practices and is sponsored by Tax & Accounting Professional Network, moderated by Jim Snell. Send subscription requests to listserve@tapnet.com , with this text in the message: "subscribe tax-prct-issues."

TAX TOPICS , moderated by Dick Adams of the University of Baltimore, is the only newsgroup I subscribe to. It is an interactive forum of use to the general public and tax professionals. You can subscribe to this newsgroup (misc.taxes. moderated) through your Web browser.

Armed with this arsenal of electronic resources, CPAs can obtain timely information and provide added professional service to clients and employers-even without a large staff of experts.



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