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Easy...taxes. The words never have fit together, and for many, they never will. But quick...taxes? Those words are starting to fit. Doing it by mail is out, and e-filing is in.

"The by-mail's gone for several reasons," said Debbie Hurst, the owner of Bottom Line Bookkeeping. "If you're getting a refund, you're going to get it quicker if you e-file, 2 to 3 weeks. If you are owing, you can e-file today and not pay until April 15."

And the IRS wants you to file online. It's quick for you, cheap for them, and by 2007, they'd like 80 percent of returns e-filed. So far, people are happily complying. Comparing last week on the calendar to the same time last year, 2.5 million more people have e-filed this year.

It seems as though filing by phone is going the way of mailing forms. TeleFile's down significantly. What is growing is doing your taxes online on your own. While people are still using professionals, they're also finding Free File programs. There are 20 currently partnered with the IRS to put filing at your fingertips.

So will convenience ever put professionals out of business?

"Has it drawn business away? Yes, to a point," said Hurst. "That was one of the biggest arguments when they came out with the e-filing and the IRS decided to do it for free. A lot of preparers were up in arms about the fact that they were going to lose business. Well, we don't charge for e-filing. We charge for preparation."

And it's the double checking, the expertise, and the deduction tips that the pros hope keep people coming back to them, whether they file early or...

"I have been at the post office helping people do their taxes at the last minute, and it's just amazing how they put it off," said Hurst.

It's not easy or quick if you wait until the end.

And if you do wait until the last second, you may miss out on some savings around the house. Professionals say many people don't know about deductions for mortgage interest, home refinancing, real estate and property taxes, and even vacation homes.

Tax company Quicken estimates nearly $1 billion has been overpaid in taxes this year.


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