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Are we fair yet?

When I think about all the things school never prepared me for, two subjects jump to mind: dating and taxes.

Since thousands of pages are required to explain the art of the date, and since I've yet to convince the editors here that this is a wise use of space, I'll quickly move to the latter, simpler subject.

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First, a little history.

When lawmakers got together in 1913 to devise the first federal income-tax code, they hammered out 400 pages - shorter than most Stephen King novels and much less scary. The tax rate back then was 1 percent and it applied to only 1 in 271 Americans.

Since we at Work & Money don't wish to frighten our readers, let's just say that since then the tax code has become ... well ... a bit more complex.

Last year - after Congress agonized over articles; after Washington's number crunchers crunched and policy wonks wonked - we wound up with 42,560 pages of information that makes up the federal tax law. (Hmmm, maybe explaining dating would be easier.)

Lawmakers made more than 600 tax-code changes in 1998 as part of the undying effort to create a system that is fair for all.

Guess what? We're not fair yet.

An indication of that came during President Clinton's State of the Union address when he presented a whole bunch of new tax change proposals. While their merits are debatable, you can be sure they won't make tax day any simpler.

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Fortunately, today's taxpayers don't need to read all the tax rules to do their taxes. And that's where the story to my right comes in.

More and more Americans are turning to tax software to get the job done. Suddenly, the annual chore is becoming less chorelike.

Computer filing helps cut down the hours spent on taxes, leaving you more time to flirt with the one you fancy.

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