WASHINGTON - Individual taxpayers reported earning about $44.27 billion of tax-exempt interest in 1991 - 10.06% more than in 1990, according to the Internal Revenue Service's preliminary estimate of 1991 tax returns.

The new estimate, contained in the Statistics of Income Bulletin for spring 1993, released late last week, differs sharply from the preliminary figures for 1991 published by the IRS in January.

The earlier estimate, taken from a taxpayer usage study, showed that taxpayers reported $37.29 billion of tax-exempt interest in 1991, or 7.3% less than reported in 1990. However, IRS officials said at the time that the figures were rough and would be revised later in the year.

The new estimates for 1991 show increases in the amount of tax-exempt interest in most adjusted gross income levels.

According to the new estimates, taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $100,000 or more reported earning about $23.01 billion of tax-exempt interest in 1991, an 11.52% jump from 1990.

Taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 earned $9.94 billion of tax-exempt interest, a 7.04% increase from 1990.

A 12.73% increase in tax-exempt interest, to $10.70 billion, was reported by taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of less than $50,000.

The total amount of alternative minimum tax paid by taxpayers in 1991 jumped to $1.0 billion from $830 million in 1990, according to the new IRS estimate. But that figure is lower than the $1.26 billion cited in the taxpayer usage study published in January.

The alternative minimum tax requires certain taxpayers to recompute their income including certain items that normally would be deductible, such as tax-exempt interest from private-activity bonds.

Taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $100,000 or more paid $773 million of alternative minimum tax, $150 million more than the $623 million paid in 1990.

Those with incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 paid $153 million of alternative minimum tax in 1991, $69 million more than in 1990. Only $37 million of alternative minimum tax was paid in 1991 by taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of less than $50,000. That figure is $21 million less than the amount paid in 1990.

The IRS Statistics of Income bulletin does not rank the eight so-called preference items, including tax-exempt interest from private activity bonds, that must be taken into account in alternative minimum tax calculations.

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