Taxes For Dummies

Taxes for Dummies Is a Hit

Doing her work at home
••• PeopleImages/DigitalVision/Getty Images

Taxes for Dummies first hit the shelves in 1999 and went on to become a Wall Street Journal bestseller. Written by Eric Tyson and David J. Silverman EA, it talks taxes in plain English. Don't let the publication date scare you off -- the original version has been completely updated to cover all changes in tax law between then and now. I've read it, and here's what I think.

Taxes for Dummies is easy to read, well-organized and thoroughly helpful. I recommend it to anyone who wants to prepare his own taxes, either by hand or by computer. The book offers excellent advice and strategies for dealing with the Internal Revenue Service. I especially like the line-by-line tips for filling out the shorter 1040-EZ and 1040-A forms.

What's Good About It 

The table of contents lists each line of the tax form, making information easy to find. The book provides instructions for the 1040EZ, 1040A and 1040, whereas most tax books for beginners just cover the 1040. Icons indicate tax-saving tips and warnings to help keep you out of trouble. The writers have done an excellent job of turning IRS technical jargon into something we can actually understand.

Taxes for Dummies Guides You Step-by-Step in Dealing With the IRS

If you've received a letter from the IRS -- and one out of every three taxpayers has, according to the book -- Taxes for Dummies tells you what the letter means and how to respond to it. The authors even provide sample letters so you can act promptly. Just the exceptionally well-written advice for dealing with the IRS is worth the price of the book.

The Section on Tax Planning is Well-Balanced and Sensible

The authors' tips on how tax planning impacts financial aid for college are unique. I haven't seen this type of information widely circulated before. Taxes for Dummies also provides sensible tips for finding a tax preparer, including a list of 10 questions you should ask during your initial interview. The information on reconstructing missing tax records is superb. The authors provide excellent suggestions for substantiating cost basis, business expenses, and fair market value.

One Drawback 

Some of the major problems that taxpayers face are given very cursory treatment in the book. For example, clients with losses of any kind, such as rental income, stock investing or business, need to keep excellent records to protect themselves. I wish the authors had presented tips for what records to keep to help taxpayers defend their returns in audit situations. 

Some Very Minor Problems

No book, however comprehensive, can include everything. Readers are directed to IRS publications and instructions for further details at particular points. A do-it-yourself taxpayer might not have the patience to go hunting for other publications and may need instructions and worksheets not found in this book. The book doesn't include any tax forms, so you'll have to obtain them elsewhere, such as from the library, post office or on the Internet.