It's clear that taxpayers who don't use professionals to prepare their returns need to have up-to-date guides and/or software. Below are helpful tips and stories on how to get the most out of your tax return.

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Since 2001, American taxpayers have had no greater friends than the members of Congress. Through last fall, legislators in that period enacted five major tax bills, three containing the words “tax relief” in their names and the other two featuring “jobs creation” in their titles.

So why, then, does the nation need a President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform, which recently set up shop and began looking for ways to revise the tax laws?

If you haven’t done your tax return yet, you’re about to find out. The Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, the Job Creation and Worker Assistance Act of 2002, the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Act of 2003, the Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2004 and the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 have taken a tax system that was already complicated enough and turned it into a kaleidoscope of annually changing brackets, limits and rules. Provisions blink on and off like lights in Times Square. Benefits scheduled to expire are extended — or allowed to expire and then extended. Benefits scheduled to phase in are suddenly accelerated, but their scheduled expiration date is left in place.

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So as we turn into the homestretch of this year’s filing season, it’s clear that taxpayers who don’t use professionals to prepare their returns need to have up-to-date guides and/or software.

And don’t pooh-pooh the Internal Revenue Service Web site. It’s www.irs.gov, and you can get publications and instructions on most issues, as well as most required forms.