There are two kinds of tax books people need this year: those that help them fill out their 1986 tax forms and those that help them understand the new tax law. Since many people have already filled out their 1986 forms, we'll first look at two books that will help taxpayers live with tax reform this year. The New York Times Complete Guide to the New Tax Law, by Gary L. Klott. New York: Times Books. $6.95.
When the last major tax-overhaul law was passed in 1981, The New York Times came out with a book on it. Since then, it has stayed on my bookshelf and been referred to often, while most of the others that covered that tax law found their way to the wastebasket.
This new edition will probably be used often, too. Of all the books published by accounting firms, ``former IRS agents,'' and financial advisers, this is probably the best written and the clearest summary of the new tax law. When explaining unfamiliar parts of tax reform, Klott gives clear examples or tactics.
There are plenty of charts and tables, including some that show how tax reform will change tax the burden in each state.
The Price Waterhouse Guide to the New Tax Law. New York: Bantam Books. $3.95.
For the product of an accounting firm, this book is surprisingly friendly. That's one of its problems: Its chatty style and smart-alec chapter titles (``Braving a New World'' or ``It's Foreign to Me'') can get tiresome. If you can get through the chitchat, you'll find some useful advice from experts who devote all their time to interpreting and applying the tax law. The explanations are clear, and there are plenty of examples to show how the law is applied in certain cases.
The Arthur Young Tax Guide 1987. New York: Ballantine Books. $10.95.
For help in filling out your 1986 tax forms, this one is still our favorite. This is the third edition of this book, and it contains the complete - surprisingly clear - IRS tax guide, along with hundreds of blue boxes where the accounting firm has added examples, explanations, and hints for saving taxes.
J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax. New York: Prentice-Hall Press. $8.95.
This one's for tax buffs who like lots of arcane tax detail. You may get bleary-eyed trying to read the fine print and thick prose, but you'll find more answers here than in any other tax guide. It's also the king of comprehensive indexes.
Sprouse's Income Tax Handbook, by Mary L. Sprouse. New York: Penguin Books. $9.95.
Of the books that cover last year's tax law, this one is probably the best written. The examples are clear and the explanations as complete as you'll find anywhere. The index isn't as finely detailed as Lasser's, but it's certainly complete enough for any civilian.
H&R Block Income Tax Guide & Workbook. New York: Macmillan. $6.95.
This used to be the common taxpayer's tax guide. It's still complete and has lots of detail and a good index, but other tax book writers have learned to translate the tax laws even better. By now, Block's presentation seems dated, the writing too ``legal.''