First, I issue my apology and mea culpa. Thanks to an e-mail last week from a reader, I quickly realized that I had mistakenly quoted an incorrect source concerning how much income a family of four could have and still not pay any income tax. But when I examined the instructions for Form 1040 to investigate the matter myself, my nightmare was just beginning.

First, I issue my apology and mea culpa. Thanks to an e-mail last week from a reader, I quickly realized that I had mistakenly quoted an incorrect source concerning how much income a family of four could have and still not pay any income tax. But when I examined the instructions for Form 1040 to investigate the matter myself, my nightmare was just beginning.

I thought finding the correct amount of adjusted gross income a family of four could have and not pay any federal income tax should be relatively simple. What was I thinking? Whatever it was, I was obviously not thinking rationally relative to our tax code.

Perhaps I was misled by the cheery, sincere-sounding letter from IRS Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman on page 2 where he starts with ... the IRS wants to make filing and paying your taxes as quick and easy as possible. Was he writing these words with a straight face?

Let’s rule out those who would not have to file a return because they make so little. This question comes up on page 7 and refers us to Charts A, B or C on pages 8 and 9. The simple answer from Chart A for our family of four is a cut-off of $18,700. But this only applies if both spouses are under age 65 because we favor those over age 65. (Tax Tip No. 1: Don’t have children until you are in your 60s). If both are over 65, they get an extra $2,200 without filing.

But wait! If you are a dependent of someone else, Chart B applies and forces you to file if you are subject to the kiddie tax or if you are too enterprising as a youngster or if you are older than 65, are blind and earn more than $8,500. However if the enterprising dependent under age 65 mows lawns as a self-employed person and nets $401, then Chart C tells us to forgeddabout Chart B because Social Security is already broke and needs the 12.4 percent ($50) and Medicare needs the 2.9 percent or $12.

But wait! If the dependent under age 65 mows the church building lawn and receives $108.28 or more as an employee, and if the church is exempt from Social Security and Medicare taxes, he or she must file a tax return. (Tax Tip No. 2: If you mow the church lawn, make sure to be self-employed but do not take more than $399.)

Next it takes about five pages to figure out your dependents. (I always just asked myself, are they sleeping at my house or am I paying their bills?) The important question here is whether you have regular dependent children or whether you have child tax credit children. You might think your kids are pretty special, but the tax credit kids really count for something. To find out how and why, you have to skip on down somewhere else in the almost 200 pages of instructions. (Tax Tip No. 3: If you get a choice, have tax-credit children instead of regular ones.)

By now I am really into it. Near the bottom of page 1 of the 1040, I see we favor educators, reservists, performing artists, fee-basis government officials, health savings and IRA contributors, people who move around, early withdrawers of savings, alimony payers, students who borrow money, students who pay tuition and fees and domestic energy producers (how did they get left in here?) There are several things involving those self-employed folks but they seem to be contradictory-that can’t be right.

Wouldn’t you know it? My deadline is here and I still can’t figure out how much you can earn or make as a family of four and not pay taxes. One thing is for sure; it is a lot less than that $56,000 I mistakenly mentioned last week.