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How on earth does one learn about this stuff?

It should take you only about 15 minutes to download Form 6251 and its separate instructions and, using the numbers from your 2004 return, get a rough idea of whether AMT will affect you. The form looks daunting, but I doubt lines 8 through 27 apply to you. The only complication you may have, IIRC, is AMT income over $112,500, which requires extra computation.

2005 will be the second year of high income for me, and thank god I took the advice of my coworker and started seeing her accountant, or I would have no clue on earth about AMT. Do I just trust him to figure out which way I have to pay? What type of things trigger AMT vs. just paying the regular way?

A combination of high income and high state and local tax deductions can trigger it. (Again, looking at only your situation.)

If I have to pay AMT, do I have to start making quarterly payments in addition to the tax that's withheld from my paychecks?

Probably not. Look at the "total tax" on your 2004 return. If your 2005 withholding will total at least that much (110% of it if your 2004 AGI was $150,000), you don't have to make 2005 estimated tax payments.

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

Make sure to remind your representatives in Congress when they start yammering about how we need tax simplification, especially if they were there in 2001. If they have voted for a tax bill that passed, they've contributed to the problem.

Phil

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