Tax advice book review
Cynthia E. Brodrick
- Watching paint dry
- A big night on C-Span
- Waiting at the airport for a delayed flight
- Celine Dion's Behind the Music episode
- Reading about taxes
It depends on who you ask. Though any of these could
be a cure for someone's insomnia, the last one can save you some
serious money. So, prop open those eyelids, and prepare to find
a book on tax preparation to guide you through this tax season.
|Tax books titled "2000" provide information
for your 1999 taxes.
To aid you, we reviewed three major tax preparation
Taxes for Dummies, 2000 edition;
The Ernst & Young Tax Guide 2000; and
H&R Block 2000 Income Tax Guide. All the books cost
about the same, so we judged them by other criteria:
- How easy is it to find an answer?
- Are the answers understandable?
- What type of taxpayer is this book best for?
Taxes for Dummies
Overview -- Written in simple English, this book gives
good advice, provides illustrative examples, and amuses with the
Dummies series' usual bad cartoons and goofy icons. It's terrific
for those doing their taxes for the first time or those just stepping
up to the advanced Form 1040.
Finding an answer? -- The table of contents and index
are well organized and understandable. Importantly, they are easy
on the eyes. Handy features of this book's format are two sections
that break down the forms and the most important schedules into
line-by-line descriptions. Hence, in the Table of Contents, you
can find the exact line you are stuck on and go directly to an explanation.
Understandable? -- Yes. The book is written in plain
English and does a great job of explaining terms and references.
The tax lingo is kept to a minimum.
What type of taxpayer? -- Taxes for Dummies
is excellent for the tax-preparationánovice. Even those who've been
around the tax block before can find worthwhile information. But
the book is shallow. Those with more complicated returns may find
it a bit simplistic. In fact, several times, the authors suggest
seeing a tax adviser or trying out tax-preparation software.
And, really, if your taxes are beyond the scope of
this book, you ought to consider paying for tax-preparation software
or the services of a professional. A book that goes into more depth
is only going to be more confusing and boring. Thankfully, Taxes
for Dummies gives advice on whether you need to hire a pro and
questions to ask when doing so.
H&R Block 2000 Income Tax Guide
Overview -- Do taxes give you gray thoughts? This
book's dark newsprint and small type will not change that. Sure,
it has tons of great info, but good luck with understanding it before
it sends you screaming and you throw it against a wall. This book
is similar to the textbook given to students of H&R Block's
tax preparer course. At least those unfortunate souls have a teacher
guiding them through the material.
Finding an answer? -- With all the info crammed into
two columns, H&R Block's table of contents is not easy on the
eyes, and it takes a while to figure out the format. The tiny print
in the index is more useful, but it's just as difficult to read.
Readers may find the alternative directory more helpful because
it re-categorizes sections of the book into groups of special topics,
such as retirement, homeownership and military personnel.
Understandable? -- Sometimes. I had to read (or at
least skim) most of a chapter to find an answer about the current
rate for short-term capital gains. However, H&R Block gave a
clear definition of a household employee -- now I know I don't have
to worry about the "nanny tax" for my monthly house cleaner. One
of the many useful charts quickly showed that my husband and I get
no income adjustment for our IRA contributions.
What type of taxpayer? -- H&R Block's book has
good information for the average tax-paying citizen, but it is best
for someone who's already familiar with tax talk. If you've used
an H&R Block preparer in the past, this book may help you take
over that role. On the other hand, if the book doesn't answer all
your questions, you can take advantage of the coupon for $10 off
an income tax preparation by a local H&R Block office. Doesn't
give you much faith in their book, does it?
The Ernst & Young Tax Guide 2000
Overview -- Accountants wrote this guide, and that's
clear all too often. It is also written for people with more money
than sense, at least the common sense to go get a professional preparer.
Find an answer? -- A reader can understand the format
of the table of contents and index pretty quickly. Thanks to the
use of a little color and good layout, the pages are easy to read.
Ernst & Young also provides a second directory that re-categorizes
sections into groups of special topics, such as investors, senior
citizens and business executives.
Understandable? -- On the plus side, Ernst & Young
provides lots of examples in highlighted, blue boxes throughout
the book. On the negative side, these darned boxes got in the way
of finding answers. Small subheads make it hard to pinpoint information.
Again, the book was written in an accountant's version of plain
English -- sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. The guide confused
me about the status of my daughter's day care, but it gave me excellent
advice on what to do when I don't have all the proper information
about a care provider.
Type of taxpayer? -- The Ernst & Young Tax Guide
is clearly for those with a little extra money in the bank. The
guide provides in-depth information about reporting income from
mutual funds and investments. It also has an entire chapter on "What
to do if you employ domestic help." Overall, this book is not good
for a first-timer, because it helps to know what you are looking
And the winner is ...
My best pick isn't a book at all. I'd save my money
and buy tax
But if you insist on being old-fashioned, the best
book is Taxes for Dummies. It will answer a lot of your questions
and teach you a lot about the ins and outs of tax returns. If you're
not ready to make the big do-it-yourself leap, study this guide
along with your return prepared by a professional or by tax software.
You'll be prepared next year.
No matter which volume you select, for less than $16,
you'll have the answers at your fingertips -- assuming you can find
them all. With time, patience and some lost sleep, you can do your
own return, using the forms conveniently located in the back of
each book. You can also be confident that you followed the rules
and didn't miss a deduction.
That's assuming the book didn't put you into a deep
sleep that causes you to miss this year's April 17 deadline. Sweet
|Tax book comparison
| Tax law changes
|| Yes, only 10, but clearly
|| Yes, but not well explained.
Directs you to relevant chapters to read more.
| Audit information
|| Yes and good information
about how to fix mistakes
|| Yes, but only two pages
|| Yes, and it leads reader
to relevant chapters for further information
| Overview of taxes
| Plan for 2000 taxes
| Information on organization
|| Yes, a whole chapter
|| Yes, with an individual tax
|| Yes, a whole chapter, plus
a self-interview in the back
| List of common missed deductions
| Provides forms
|| Yes, but has fewest forms.
|| Yes. Ernst & Young was
the only book kind enough to switch from newsprint to clean
white pages for the forms.
|| Yes, has the most and includes
worksheets, Sadly, it's the only one that does NOT include forms
to file an extension or amend a return.
| Insomnia factor (on a scale
of 1 to 10)
| Number of pages
| Suggested retail price
| What we paid on Amazon.com
(shipping is extra)