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Tax tips for every income

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With the April 15 tax-filing deadline coming up, it may be hard to imagine that a book on taxes could be amusing. But that's the case with Mary L. Sprouse's How to Survive a Tax Audit (New York: Doubleday & Co. $11.95).

This 272-page hardcover by a former Internal Revenue Service audit manager is so full of colorful anecdotes to illustrate points, and so clearly and brightly written, that much of it is fun to read as well as informative.

That cannot be said for the seven other tax books reviewed here. They may be useful and jammed with tax information, but reading them will not likely prompt any chuckles -- except maybe if you find a new tax loophole that is going to enlarge your refund enough to send your child through college.

Sprouse accomplishes something else rather astounding: The reader not only learns a great deal about the IRS and its auditing procedures, but he may also develop a certain sympathy for the tax auditor's problems and attitudes. As she writes: "If you enjoy a good insult, towering rages, hysterical weeping, or mail that ticks, have I got a job for you! Being an Internal Revenue Service auditor can be like riding an emotional roller coaster."

Some 2 million US taxpayers are audited each year. Without being sensational or scary, Sprouse offers good advice on how to handle such an event as cheaply as possible. She also has some suggestions on how to reduce the chances of being audited, though the systematic yet random nature of the selection process means the risk is always there. She further cautions taxpayers on the importance of good records and of careful selection of tax preparers. For instance, she warns against the preparer who guarantees you a refund or sets his fee as a percentage of the refund, or who charges by the page.

In any case, the reader of this book will most likely obtain useful knowledge about the nation's tax collection system.

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