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    How to Cope With Tax-Time Stress

    Experts explain ways to avoid the emotional storms of tax season.

    Stress-Relieving Tips

    Herewith, a few tips for stressed-out taxpayers:

    • To avoid last-minute stress, file early and break up the job into little pieces, Mellan suggests. Do your taxes while listening to music or whatever else makes you feel relaxed.

    • For filers with math anxiety, Mellan recommends hiring a preparer or investing in tax software. Tax software typically collects information through an "interview" and the computer does all the calculations.

    • Fractious couples should strategize on ways to avoid chronic money fights, Mellan says. For example, try communicating financial information through notes or other modes that won't carry an accusatory tone.

    • McCall suggests channeling tax-time stress into a resolution to track your finances more carefully. Better money management is the best way to avoid unpleasant surprises each year, she says.

    • Finally, if you're feeling overwhelmed, you can turn to your buddies at the IRS. Options include filing an extension or setting up an installment plan for tax payment. For more details, visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov.

    Accountants Tally Up the Stress

    For David Dugan, tax season used to mean late nights in the office followed by a McDonald's run. As deadlines approached, a twitch would develop in one eye. "I used to eat my way through tax season," says Dugan, owner of a small accounting firm in Los Alamitos, Calif. "That's how I handled my stress."

    Then, about four years ago, Dugan tried a different approach. He started going to the gym at the end of his long days. And he started going to work early, before the office got busy. Soon, he found himself sleeping better and feeling less stressed during the day. Last year he modified his eating habits and lost 40 pounds. He even ran a 10K race during February, well into the tax season.

    "Fitness and proper eating is a better way of handling stress than eating and alcohol," he says.

    Avoiding Burnout

    The stress of tax season contributes to a high burnout rate, especially among accountants working at high-powered Big Four firms. Dugan's personal fitness coach, Heather Moreno, was once a CPA herself. She joined a branch of the high-powered accounting firm KPMG in 1990 and stayed six years -- long enough to watch all of her colleagues who started that year drop out of the firm, she says.

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