A HAPPY SEASON FOR 3 PERCENT OF AMERICANS

A HAPPY SEASON FOR 3 PERCENT OF AMERICANS

The Internal Revenue Service says 83 percent of Americans pay their taxes voluntarily. While that may be true, it doesn't reflect the frame of mind with which most of us approach this milestone.

Surveys I did for my book ''Are You Normal?'' reveal 25 percent of us find preparing our taxes extremely stressful.Only 42 percent are confident they fill out their tax forms properly. A nervous 10 percent confess that they haven't the foggiest idea of what they're doing.

Nationwide, the average person spends two hours and 46 minutes of an average eight-hour work day earning money that goes to pay federal, state and local taxes, according to the Tax Foundation in Washington.

Drones in Connecticut and New York work longest to pay the tax man: three hours and 9 minutes. The lucky folks in Alaska put in only two hours and 17 minutes a day to cover their tax burden.

Sixty-nine percent believe the rich get away with murder on their taxes, and 71 percent feel the same about corporations, while 82 percent feel the middle class is hit hardest at tax time.

Although the Internal Revenue Service audits fewer than 2 percent of the returns it receives and won't disclose precisely how it targets them, the possibility of such an occurrence is traumatic.

More people (30 percent) would rather take their chances in a car crash - assuming no one's hurt - than be hit by an IRS audit (26 percent). And more (32 percent) would prefer to lose their wallet and credit cards and go through the ordeal of replacing them than go toe-to-toe with the tax man. Thirteen percent would even rather undergo root canal surgery than be subjected to IRS scrutiny.

If the worst happened and an audit came, not many of us would be prepared. Fewer than one-third of taxpayers have receipts to verify all deductions, and only 40 percent say they can document most of them. One-fifth say they can verify some of their tax deductions but 8 percent claim they can't account for any.

The government says it expects most people cheat a little on their taxes, but only 4 percent of Americans admit they go for the gusto. One-third say they occasionally exaggerate expenses or deductions, and 21 percent didn't report all the income earned. At the same time, 44 percent figure just about everyone else does.

Indeed, according to a Money Magazine survey, one of five people say that if they pay cash to someone for services rendered, they assume the recipient won't report the money to the IRS.

Fourteen percent say cheating is acceptable because the government's just going to waste the money anyway, while 62 percent insist it's never all right to shortchange the tax man. Twenty-eight percent of people say they've relocated to get a more favorable tax situation.

Four out of five would like to see the system revised so everyone pays the same percentage in taxes. Just 20 percent want the IRS to keep its current policies.

The IRS estimates it will take this year's taxpayer 35 hours to fill out the basic Form 1040 and Schedules A through D, up from 30.6 hours five years ago and 28.6 hours in 1989.

Thirty-eight percent of Americans claim the most irritating thing about doing their taxes is watching how the government spends those tax dollars. Another 36 percent are most incensed by having to collect the necessary documents. For 21 percent the biggest problem is comprehending IRS forms.

Finally - and amazingly - 3 percent of Americans claim to actually enjoy the tax season.