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If you can't understand the tax code, don't feel bad: Neither can the Internal Revenue Service or commercial Web sites that tout expert tax advice.

The disheartening news surfaced from a test performed recently by the Treasury Dept.'s Inspector General for Tax Administration. The IG submitted 50 tax-law questions, all related to small business or self-employment, to the IRS' Web site, then queried three undisclosed commercial tax-help Web sites. The tally: The IRS got only 54% of the answers right. The commercial sites did even worse, scoring a dismal 47%. (They did, however, answer in a more timely fashion than the Feds). There were 12 questions that no one managed to answer correctly.

The IRS Web site responded to 262,000 tax law questions last year and is projected to answer 350,000 this year. The IRS maintains that overall, its Web site provides correct answers to 80% of the e-mails it receives. Close enough for government work?


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