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The IRS' official tax guide: Publication 17

In case you haven't check the countdown clock over in the ol' blog's right column, the filing deadline for your 2015 tax return is just a month away.

If you haven't done your taxes yet -- and I admit I'm right there in that procrastinating group -- this might be a good weekend to at least get started. And the Internal Revenue Service has a suggested resource to help with that task: Publication 17.

Tax guide 2015_IRS Pub 17

Officially titled "Your Federal Income Tax," this 286-page booklet basically is, as its stylized Washington, D.C., skyline cover says, the IRS' tax guide for individuals as they fill out their annual tax returns.

Chock full o' tax info: Now I'm not saying you should abandon the ol' blog, but Pub. 17 does cover a wide range of tax topics. And for that, and other reasons discussed below, 17 is this week's By the Numbers figure.

It starts with basic filing info and proceeds to the various types of income you must report; tax deductions and credits you might be able to claim; computation of your personal tax bill; your taxpayer rights; and finally how to get added help.

I know it's always been one of my favorite tax publications, in part because in addition to necessary tax info, it's also full of fun tidbits.

One that always makes me smile is Pub. 17's nonjudgmental assessment of morally questionable earnings: "If you receive a bribe, include it in your income."

Then there's the unique tax analysis of certain marital situations, such as  "If you did not live with your spouse at any time during the year and you file a separate return, your filing status, for this purpose, is single."

That determination of single filing status in connection with calculating IRA deductions clearly shows just how differently the IRS views the vows we married folks took 'til death (or a good divorce lawyer) do us part.

Online option: The IRS has issued Publication 17 annually since the 1940s. Over the years, it has changed to reflect not only the evolving and growing tax code, but also streamlining efforts at the IRS and technological advances.

Many prior publications that I used to refer to have been rolled into Pub. 17.

And while you still can order a paper copy, the IRS prefers we use the online version, which first appeared at in 1996.

I do sometimes miss literally thumbing through the IRS' annual tax guide (yeah, I know; I need a life, especially in high tax season). But the online version of Pub. 17 does have some advantages.

It has, according to the IRS, thousands of interactive links. I'll trust the agency on that count. If you want to double check the IRS' Pub. 17 link tally, have at it. Then you can join me in a self-help group for the tax obsessed.

Or you can avoid the total tax geek tag and just check out the specific sections of Pub. 17 that apply to your filing situation.

Whichever you choose, happy tax reading!

And if you finish up Pub. 17 and want more tax topics to fill your Saturday and Sunday, check out the ol' blog's 2016 Daily Tax Tips weekly roundups.


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edward stengel

It's too bad the IRS doesn't publish Publication 17 in paperback anymore. It's over 200 pages long, and that's a lot to skim through on the internet. I much prefer having a book in front of me to scrolling up and down and trying to keep track of where I was every time I go from one place to another and then have to go back to where I was. It's all part of our new electronic society.

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