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How on earth does one learn about this stuff? ... I took the advice of my coworker and started seeing her accountant

Well, you won't learn about it by handing everything off to an accountant.

The tax code is way too complicated for the average American.

Only if you want it to be. Granted, there are a few troubling bits (AMT being one of them) - but I daresay that most literate Americans could do their taxes just fine if they kept good records and read IRS publications and forms carefully. Now IRS prose isn't the most exciting stuff in the world, but it's accurate and generally understandable. For a broad overview of taxes, you can't do much better than IRS Pub 17, Your Federal Income Tax.

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