As the tax season descends, it becomes a better idea than ever to read the fine print. Unfortunately, a reader of mine didn't, and she would like to alert others in case they're in the same boat.

On Dec. 7, my reader opened four accounts at Columbia Federal Savings and Loan to take advantage of a special promotion. In return, she received a raft of prizes: two TV sets, two sets of luggage, a Cabbage Patch doll and a Coleco game kit. "Pretty neat," she thought, as she trucked all the loot home.

But in January, a slip from Columbia Federal arrived in the mail. The S & L had reported the value of all the prizes to the Internal Revenue Service as income. As a result, my reader owed a whole bunch more in taxes than she had thought she would.

However, a little research shows that my reader has only herself to blame.

"We placed this information in our ad, in the brochures we handed out and people had to sign a separate card stating the value of the bonus plus interest earned on the account will be reported to the IRS at the end of the year," said Michael Millard, a Columbia Federal senior vice president. "We are required by the federal government to report any gift we give as interest on the account."

Maybe my reader forgot that she had signed the card. Maybe she didn't read it as carefully as she should have. Whichever, the rest of us should be aware that, in the eyes of the IRS, any promotional gift from any business is the equivalent of cold cash.