For the past few weeks it has been almost impossible to pick up a newspaper or magazine without encountering an article designed to help those who make out their own income tax returns.

Every "taxpayer tip" included in these articles appears to have been taken from the official instructions. All the authors did was rewrite the government's instructions and make them longer.

After plodding through about a half million words of official and unofficial "help," it appears to me that the essentials boil down to this:

If you are filing a joint return but are not the head of the household, keep in mind that if you have been previously divorced but are now living with a blood relative who is not a full-time student but contributes to more than half of your upkeep, you are very fortunate. If your principal residence was constructed or was being constructed before March 26, 1975, subtract 1 per cent of line 15c from the amount you spent on lubricating oil for any purpose other than use in a highway motor vehicle, then add the amounts on lines 4 though 6c, except during February, which has 28. Subtract from the total 3 per cent of line 15c and then be sure to check whether your taxable income comes to more than your gross income, including tips, gratuities, uniforms, union dues, pensions, annuities, ground rents and income from tax-free bonds. If it does, you'd better turn the whole mess over to a tax adviser or leave the country.

I think it's pretty sad that Congress has passed tax legislation that is so complicated that most congressmen wouldn't dream of attempting to fill out their own tax returns. Ever since I was a little boy, every candidate for every office above dogcatcher has said he was for tax reform and tax simplification, and after every election the situation has gotten worse - regardless of which side won. There must be a way out of this insane situation, but nobody seems to know what it is or how to achieve it.