I recently received an email from Matthias M. Edrich, a tax attorney in the Denver office of Kutak Rock LLP, letting me know about an app that he developed called TouchTax. The app contains the full text of the current IRS Code and the related Treasury Regulations. I don't practice tax law, but Edrich sent me a free copy of his $5.99 app so that I could check it out. It looks like a useful app for anyone who wants to have access to federal tax laws wherever they go.
The app has a nice interface with a main page from which you can choose to browse the Code, Regs or IRS Bulletins, jump to a specific section in the Code or Regs, perform a keyword search, or go to one of your favorites. The relevant laws then appear in a layer on top (on the iPhone), but you can always tug the icon at the bottom left to move away that layer and go back to the main page. Edrich (pictured at right) has versions of TouchTax available on a large number of devices — not only the iPhone and iPad, but also Google Android phones and tablets, the gone-but-not-forgotten HP/Palm TouchPad Tablet, and the BlackBerry PlayBook. For example, here is a recent review of the TouchTax app on Android devices by Jeff Taylor of The Android Lawyer. And Florida attorney Rick Georges of FutureLawyer, an Android user, helpfully advises: "I would not mention to a date that you carry the entire Revenue Code on your phone. You are really already plenty dorky enough." Ahem.
If you know the Code section that you want to see, just make sure that the "Code" tab at the top is selected and enter the number. For example, if gift-giving is on your brain now that we are in the holiday season, you can enter "102" to jump to 26. U.S.C. § 102, the general rules on gifts and inheritance income tax.
One thing I like about the way that the sections are displayed is that major sections — e.g. § 102(a) and § 102(b) — are highlighted in pink. Major subsection titles are highlighted in purple, and then grey. This highlighting was helpful when browsing through a long section, often making it quick and easy to orient myself as to where I was in the statute. If you want to use the entire screen to read the law, just tap the double arrows at the top right to make the bars at the top and bottom disappear.
Use the left and right arrows at the bottom to browse backwards or forwards through the sections.
Unfortunately, the text is read-only and cannot be selected. Thus, you cannot copy a sentence of the law and then paste it into an email or another app. (See below for a work-around.)
The Code provisions also contain hyperlinks to the related Treasury Regulations, saving you the trouble of entering a new search.
If you want to email a section, tap the paper airplane icon. Instead of sending the text, the app prepares an email with a link to the same provision on the TouchTax website.
If you want to search for a keyword in the Code, Regs and IRS bulletins since 2003, tap the Keyword tab on the main screen. The search does not take place within the app itself but instead takes place on the TouchTax website. This means that the results come quickly, but it also means that you need to have internet access to perform a search.
Once the search results load, you have the option of redoing the search using a natural language relevancy search, which will give you even more results, although some might not include your exact keyword(s).
There is currently a problem with the keyword search feature: the keyword itself is not highlighted in the text. Thus, you know that the keyword appears somewhere, but you need to hunt for it manually. One (awkward) work-around: email the section to yourself, then click on the link which pulls up the text of the same section in the Safari browser, and from there you can use the search feature in Safari to see your search terms highlighted. You can also select and copy text in Safari, something that, as noted above, you cannot do in the app itself. Here are screens from Safari:
Fortunately, Edrich tells me that highlighting search terms is already on his list for the next update of the app.
The app includes a notes feature. Tap the pencil icon and enter a note associated with a section. From the main page of the app, you can see a list of notes that you have created. When viewing a note, you can choose to email it, which composes an email with the link to the statute but also includes your note in the text of the email.
I spent most of my time testing this app on an iPhone 5, but it is a universal app so it will also work on an iPad. On the iPad, the main page portion of the app is always visible on the left, with the content shown on the right.
The app does not give you any options for changing text size or font. The default actualy looked fine to me on an iPhone 5, but on the iPad mini I did find myself wishing that I could make the text larger.
Apps like this that contain the text of laws are only valuable if they are kept up to date. Edrich tells me that since he uses this app himself, he has been keeping it up to date and plans to continue to do so. He gets the content directly from the Government Publishing Office and uses the most recent official version of the Code and Treasury Regulations, updating the app each time the GPO publishes new official versions. Edrich tells me that he updates the Internal Revenue Bulletin information weekly. Edrich also states on the website for this app:
TouchTax is updated within a few weeks of each federal update of the official finalized Code and Regulations. The federal government appears to be updating these materials each May and June. The next Code update is expected in May 2013, and the new Regulations update is expected in June 2013.
This app itself was originally released a year ago, and it has already been updated six times since then, which bodes well for the future. Edrich tells me that there are already 2,000 people using his app, most of whom are iPhone/iPad users.
I'm glad to learn that the search issue I noted above is already on the list to be addressed in a future update. Hopefully Edrich can also add the ability to select text. But even in its current form, TouchTax is a useful app for those attorneys or accountants who work with the tax laws and want to have easy access at all times.