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Guide to Understanding the Differences
Among Official IRS Documents


Revenue Rulings, Revenue Procedures, Treasury Decisions,
Notices, Announcements, News Releases & Regulations


Official documents published by the Internal Revenue Service as revenue rulings, revenue procedures, notices, announcements, and news releases provide information and guidance for taxpayers, Service personnel, and others concerned. Their purpose is to help Service personnel apply the tax laws correctly and uniformly and to help taxpayers comply voluntarily with the tax laws. They are issued only by the National Office and published in the weekly Internal Revenue Bulletin (Bulletin, or IRB).

Publication in the Bulletin provides an orderly system for dissemination of information and promotes effective communication with the tax community. All published documents, except announcements and news releases, are reprinted in the Cumulative Bulletin,


"Revenue Ruling" Defined

A revenue ruling is an official interpretation by the Service of the Internal Revenue Code, related statutes, tax treaties, and regulations. It is the conclusion of the Service on how the law is applied to a specific set of facts. A revenue ruling states the Service position on an issue. Revenue rulings are issued only by the National Office and are published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin for the information and guidance of taxpayers, Service personnel, and others concerned.

Revenue rulings represent the conclusions of the Service on the application of the law to the pivotal facts stated in the revenue ruling. Revenue rulings and procedures reported in the Bulletin do not have the force and the effect of Treasury Department Regulations, but they may be used as precedents. Unpublished rulings will not be relied on, used, or cited as precedents by Service personnel in the disposition of other cases.

In applying published rulings and procedures, the effect of subsequent legislation, regulations, court decisions, rulings, and procedures must be considered, and Service personnel and others concerned are cautioned against reaching the same conclusions in other cases unless the facts and circumstances are substantially the same.

For more information about revenue rulings, see Revenue Procedure 89-14.


"Revenue Procedure" Defined

A revenue procedure is an official statement of a procedure that affects the rights or duties of taxpayers or other members of the public under the Internal Revenue Code, related statutes, tax treaties, and regulations that should be a matter of public knowledge. They are issued only by the National Office and published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin for the information and guidance of taxpayers, Service personnel, and others concerned.

When revenue procedures reflect the contents of internal management documents, it is Service practice to publish as much of the internal management document as is necessary for an understanding of the procedure.

Rulings and procedures reported in the Bulletin do not have the force and the effect of Treasury Department Regulations, but they may be used as precedents. Unpublished rulings will not be relied on, used, or cited as precedents by Service personnel in the disposition of other cases.

In applying published rulings and procedures, the effect of subsequent legislation, regulations, court decisions, rulings, and procedures must be considered, and Service personnel and others concerned are cautioned against reaching the same conclusions in other cases unless the facts and circumstances are substantially the same.

For more information about revenue procedures, see Revenue Procedure 89-14.


Distinction Between Revenue Rulings and Revenue Procedures

(1) Revenue rulings and revenue procedures are alike in that both are issued only by the National Office and both are for the information and guidance of taxpayers, Service personnel, and others concerned. One numerical series is used for revenue rulings and another is used for revenue procedures, and whether an item is published as a revenue ruling or revenue procedure depends on its content. Except in rare circumstances, an issuance in one series should not be used to modify, revoke, etc., an issuance in the other series. However, an issuance in one series may contain a reference to the other series for the purpose of relating an internal practice or procedure to a specific Service position. An announcement or notice should never be used to modify, revoke, etc., a revenue ruling or revenue procedure.

(2) Generally, a revenue ruling states a Service position, whereas a revenue procedure provides return filing or other instructions concerning the Service position. For example, a revenue ruling holds that taxpayers may deduct certain automobile expenses, and a revenue procedure provides that taxpayers entitled to deduct these automobile expenses may compute them by applying certain mileage rates in lieu of determining actual operating expenses.

(3) The revenue ruling series is used to set forth statements of Service position or to interpret the law with respect to a particular tax issue. The revenue procedure series is used to announce statements of procedure or general instructional information. A holding on a substantive tax issue to the effect that taxpayers must meet some procedural requirement is a statement of Service position and is not the proper subject for a revenue procedure.

(4) A revenue ruling does not ordinarily include a statement of Service practice or procedure, and a revenue procedure does not ordinarily include a statement of Service position on a substantive tax issue. When a matter involves both a statement of Service position on a substantive tax issue and a statement of practice or procedure, it normally requires the issuance of both a revenue ruling and a revenue procedure. They may be issued simultaneously and should be cross-referenced.

Rulings and procedures reported in the Bulletin do not have the force and the effect of Treasury Department Regulations, but they may be used as precedents. Unpublished rulings will not be relied on, used, or cited as precedents by Service personnel in the disposition of other cases. In applying published rulings and procedures, the effect of subsequent legislation, regulations, court decisions, rulings, and procedures must be considered, and Service personnel and others concerned are cautioned against reaching the same conclusions in other cases unless the facts and circumstances are substantially the same.


"Notice" Defined

A notice is a public pronouncement that may contain guidance that involves substantive interpretations of the Code or other provisions of the law. Notices may also be used for materials that would be appropriate for an announcement but for the need to preserve the guidance in the Cumulative Bulletin. For example, notices can be used to relate what regulations will say in situations where the regulations may not be published in the immediate future. Notices are published in the Bulletin and are included in the Cumulative Bulletin.

Under Revenue Ruling 90-91, "for purposes of applying the substantial understatement portion of the accuracy-related penalty,"... "all "notices and announcements issued by the Service and published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin are considered authority and may be relied upon to the same extent as a revenue ruling or revenue procedure."

The following topics comprise most of the "Notices" issued by the IRS:

  • Weighted average interest rate update
  • Inflation adjustment factors
  • "Differential Earnings Rates"
  • Changes to IRS Regulations
  • Presidentially Declared Disaster Areas
  • Requesting public comments, or scheduling public hearings on proposed changes to Regulations, Rulings, Procedures, etc.


"Announcement" Defined

An announcement is a public pronouncement that has only immediate or short-term value. For example, announcements can be used to summarize the law or regulations without making any substantive interpretation; to state what regulations will say when the regulations are certain to be published in the immediate future; or to notify taxpayers of the existence of an election or an approaching deadline for making an election. Because they only have immediate or short-term value they are not included in the Cumulative Bulletin.

Under Revenue Ruling 90-91, "for purposes of applying the substantial understatement portion of the accuracy-related penalty,"... "all "notices and announcements issued by the Service and published in the Internal Revenue Bulletin are considered authority and may be relied upon to the same extent as a revenue ruling or revenue procedure."

The following two categories comprise most of the "Announcements" issued by the IRS:

  • Lists of organizations now classified as private foundations
  • Names of organizations that no longer qualify as organizations described in Code Section 170(c)(2), under which contributions are are deductible by contributors.

You will also find that "Announcements" are issued to provide information relating to:

  • The availability of new, revised, or corrected forms, publications, instructions, or official IRS documents, such as Revenue Procedures, Regulations, and Treasury Decisions.
  • Guidance for completing tax forms, worksheets, or complying with regulations or procedures.
  • New or revised, or proposed administrative procedures; notices of proposed rule-making.
  • Procedures dealing with electronic filing of tax forms, and information reporting forms on electronic media.
  • Other items of general interest, such as: the standard mileage rates, seminar dates, settlement initiatives, etc.


"Regulations"

Regulations are the IRS Commissioner's rules, approved by the Secretary of the Treasury, or the Secretary's delegate, for the application and administration of the Internal Revenue laws. The purpose of regulations is to provide taxpayers, their representatives, and Service personnel with rules of general application so they may clearly understand the taxpayer's rights and duties under the law.

Regulations are promulgated by publishing in the Federal Register, and usually are published in the weekly Internal Revenue Bulletin. All persons concerned are, by reason of publication in the Federal Register, given notice of the official rules of the Department of the Treasury for the administration, application, and enforcement of the Internal Revenue laws.

In some cases the law requires that regulations be issued with respect to specific matters; in all other cases regulations are authorized by law to supply such detail concerning the administration of the provision of law and its interpretation as is appropriate to carry out the statutory enactment.

Regulations may be proposed, temporary, or final. Temporary or final regulations carry the approval of the Treasury Dept. and are issued as Treasury Decisions. Temporary regs may be combined with final regs in the same Treasury Decision, but they may not be combined in the same Regulations Section. Temporary regs are designated with a "T" as the final character in the section number, and the word "temporary" at the end of the section heading.

Final regulations carry the force and effect of law. Proposed regulations are the Service's position.


"Treasury Decisions"

Treasury Decisions are either temporary or final Regulations that have been approved by the Department of the Treasury after submission from the IRS. (Proposed regulations are not approved by the Treasury Dept.)


"News Releases"

Although the Bulletin is the authoritative instrument of the Commissioner for publishing revenue rulings, revenue procedures, notices, and announcements of the Service and for making announcements of general interest, under special circumstances, it is frequently necessary to release such information directly to the news media. A news release may be appropriate in those situations in which there is a significant need to alert the general news media (as distinguished from the commercial "tax services" and the financial, professional, and trade publications that normally disseminate information published in the Bulletin).

The issuance of a news release is, however, supplemental to, and not in lieu of, publication in the Bulletin. News releases are nontechnical documents targeted at the nonpractitioner taxpayer public. A news release is appropriate if the matter is likely to be covered in a major newspaper. Because news releases are, in effect, proposed articles for these newspapers to run, technical discussion is kept to a minimum.

News releases are disseminated by IRS's Public Affairs Division to the news media, but are not published in the Bulletin.


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