The Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981, ''designed to restore incentives to work, save and invest in creating new jobs and enterprises,'' has already been effective in one way. It's made plenty of work for tax advisers, lawyers, and accountants -- plus writers of tax-advice books.
Authors of the older tax manuals have had to do large-scale rewrites to take into account the many features of the 1981 law, involving the largest tax cut in American history. And a host of new books have been published to capitalize on the need of US taxpayers for more information as they start to puzzle through altered 1981 IRS forms.
The new tax law created a number of loopholes. Undoubtedly many taxpayers will seek to slip some income through these gaps.
Few or no tax books are designed to amuse; they are meant to be practical.
One of the best is an old standby, the H. & R. Block Income Tax Workbook (New York: Macmillan. 264 pp. $4.95 in paperback). This manual includes a list of new tax-saving ideas that come out of the Reagan tax reforms. It includes a helpful glossary of terms, a chapter on the most frequently overlooked deductions and credits, and line-by-line instructions to help steer readers through the forms. At the back there's a special pocket for receipts and records that will be needed at the end of the 1982 tax year. Publicity for the manual indicated that more than 500,000 copies have been printed -- giving some evidence of the anticipated need for tax assistance.
Another first-class manual is Sylvia Porter's 1982 Income Tax Book (New York: Avon Books. 174 pp. $3.95 in paperback). The well-known personal finance columnist uses a question-and-answer format to provide much of the information, plus a series of ''Tax Tips'' set off from the main text in boxes. The book also offers a line-by-line guide through the tax forms. Both this book and the H. & R. Block manual provide tax tables, blank forms, and good indexes.
A late arrival -- just out -- is Winning On Your Income Taxes, by Dennis Kamensky (San Francisco: Cragmont Publications, distributed by Grosset & Dunlap, New York. 192 pp. $9.95 in paperback). In a chapter entitled ''Preparing to Win'' the author notes: 'The United States income tax system is distinctly class-based and biased. The system is set up to allow the upper income groups to avoid taxes, but many of the same tax breaks for the rich can be used by the middle and even the lower income groups.'' One interesting recommendation from Mr. Kamensky, a San Francisco tax attorney, is that the tax forms be handwritten neatly, rather than typed, so additional information can be inserted in margins or between lines to explain things in further detail to the IRS. The book goes through the various tax forms line by line, but it's not as easy to read -- at least in my early, unbound copy -- as the above books.
Barry R. Steiner's tax manual, Pay Less Tax Legally (New York, Signet. 184 pp. $3.95 in paperback), starts by noting that the average American worker now spends two hours and 49 minutes of each eight-hour working day to earn the money that goes to pay federal, state, and local taxes. By comparison, the next largest budget item for the average American, housing costs, takes only one hour and 28 minutes. This former IRS agent has lengthened his book from 162 pages in 1981 to 184 pages this year. It lists tax changes and explains the forms line by line. Many pages are divided down the middle, with the law on the left and tips on the right. Apparently this book went to the press so early last fall that some 1981 tax forms were not yet available; so some 1980 forms are used.
Mr. Steiner also has collaborated with David W. Kennedy, a free-lance writer, to produce Perfectly Legal: 275 Methods for Paying Less Taxes (New York: John Wiley & Sons. 201 pp. $12.95 in hardcover). Its jacket bills it as the ''only'' tax book in easy-to-read question-and-answer format - but, in fact, it shares that distinction with Sylvia Porter's book. The questions are separated by more than ample white space over most of the 201 pages; this could have been a thinner book. It is not a line-by-line manual, but it includes selected pages from the forms that relate to its tax tips on some 26 topics, ranging from charitable giving to sources of income. The book also claims to be the first to publish in book form an abridged version of the ''Audit Technique Handbook'' used by IRS agents. This makes boring reading and is presented without analysis, but I suppose anyone facing an audit might find it useful. The jacket says there is a second appendix packed with complete IRS forms, but there wasn't in my copy.
Robert S. Holzman's Take It Off! (New York: Harper & Row. 344 pp. $13.50 in hardcover, $8.50 in paperback) has been expanded this year by ''nearly 300 additional tax deductions'' to almost 2,000 in all. They are listed alphabetically, so you must know where to look for a fresh tax break unless you're willing to plow through all 344 pages to: ''Zoning costs. See Abandonment loss.'' The book cites the court decision, Treasury regulation, or IRS explanation that governs each deduction.
Money In Your Pocket: Using the New Reagan Tax Laws, by Paul N. Strassels (Minneapolis: Control Data Publishing. 161 pp. $9.95 in hardcover), is not a tax-form workbook. It does offer some 145 pages of analysis of the provisions of the new tax law, and some tax advice on such questions as how to choose a tax consultant, break the overwithholding habit, reduce audit risks, and develop a year-round tax plan.
A more thorough advice book is Tax Saving: A Year-Round Guide, by Julian Block of The Research Institute of America (Radnor, Pa.: Chilton Book Co. 272 pp. $8.95 in paperback). This book offers a rather scholarly approach and a good index. It would likely be useful to the individual with a somewhat more complex tax task ahead of him than average.
Other tax books, probably of specialized interest, include:
The New York Times Guide To Making the New Tax Law Work For You, by Karen W. Arenson (New York: Times Books. 147 pp. $4.95 in paperback). The publisher has turned a series of well-written articles on the new tax law by an able financial writer into a book. But there's a difference between a newspaper series and a tax manual aimed directly at saving tax money.
How To Really Benefit From the New Tax Laws: Immediate Gains and Long Term Strategies, by William G. Post Jr. (Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 141 pp. $4.95 in paperback). This book aims at clarifying both the personal and business income tax provisions of the 1981 tax act. It could be of use in financial planning, but it isn't directly aimed at helping you fill out tax forms.Tax Shelters for the Not-so-rich, by David T. Dickson (Chicago: Contemporary Books. 182 pp. $5.95 in paperback). This has the disadvantage of being written before the new tax law was enacted, though a one-page addendum at the front takes note of some of the changes. The book does provide a relatively detailed and clear look at some nine major tax loopholes, however, such as annuities, Keogh plans, individual retirement accounts, and real estate investment trusts.
Two small pocket books of limited usefulness are The New Tax Law And You, by Jerome Tuccille (New York: Signet. 180 pp. $2.50 in paperback) and How You Can Get the Most From the New Tax Law, by Stuart A. Smith & Janet R. Spragens (New York: Bantam Books. 178 pp.$2.95 in paperback). Mr. Tuccille, vice-president at a brokerage house, is an enthusiast for the gold standard and supply-side economics. The second of these books comes nowhere near matching the leading tax manuals, but it could be tucked into a coat pocket for easy airport, bus, or train reading.
One final point: The tax deadline of April 15 is coming up. However, one tax adviser notes that this applies only to those who owe taxes; the government will be glad to hold onto your tax refund, interest-free, for some months if you have overpaid your taxes.