New York--For taxpayers, 1990 was a vintage year. By which mean, the tax forms are going down smoothly and with rare dispatch.
Hardly any changes were made from 1989, so you have almost nothing new to learn. You can pretty much get out last year's return and make the same kinds of tax decisions.
Where changes do occur, they're generally not complicated. Here are the new rules for tax-year '90:
* Elevator clauses: The personal exemption goes to $2,050 this year, for you and each of your dependents. Remember: A child can't take the exemption on his or her return if he can also be claimed on yours.
The standard deduction goes to $5,450 for couples filing jointly; $4,750 for heads of household; and $3,250 for singles. These deductions increase if you're blind or 65 and older.
* Losing interest: This is the last year for writing off interest on personal loans. You can deduct 10 percent of the interest you paid on car loans, student loans, installment loans, personal loans, credit-card loans and so on. After that, it's sayonara.
* Driven nuts: The compulsive among you should burn those receipts that prove the cost of using your car for business. This year, the IRS' standard mileage allowance will probably serve you just as well. You can write off 26 cents a mile, regardless of how much you drive.
* Form-fitting: About 4.5 million people who used the long Form 1040 last year should be able to switch to the short Form 1040A. It has been expanded to cover more entries, especially those common to retirees. The 1040A now has lines for pension and annuity income, distributions from an Individual Retirement Account, taxable Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits, the tax credit for the elderly or disabled, and estimated tax payments.
* Taking credit: Lower-income parents often overlook a tax break designed for them especially. That's the earned-income credit, which reduces your tax bill dollar for dollar. You get the largest credit -- $953.40 this year -- if your adjusted gross income ranges from $6,810 to $10,730. The credit gets smaller for parents with both lower and higher incomes, and phases out entirely when your income reaches $20,264.
* Self-help: No one pays a higher Social Security tax then the self-employed. This year, it's 15.3 percent. But a couple of new deductions should help ease the pain.
You can now reduce your self-employment income by 7.65 percent before figuring the Social Security tax. This saves money for anyone earning $55,550 or less. You then deduct half of that tax on Form 1040, whether you itemize or not.
* Keogh krazy: The new rules on tax-deducting Social Security greatly complicate Keogh plans for the self-employed. The most you can put in your Keogh is 13.0435 percent of income before deducting the Keogh contribution (with a maximum contribution of $30,000). But you have to reduce your income by the Social Security contribution before applying the 13.043 percent. Lots of luck.
* The Great Saddam excuse: Anyone sent to the combat zone can put off paying taxes or filing a return. This covers military people, accredited journalists, Red Cross workers and others. Their taxes aren't due until 180 days after they leave the gulf or, for the war-injured, 180 days after getting out the hospital.
The extension applies to the spouses -- so a working wife with a husband in the gulf can put off paying her taxes, too. If you're due a refund, the government will pay interest on it at 9 percent starting April 15th. But check with your state tax office to be sure that the same rules apply to your state returns.