If you think tax season is tough on you, consider Aaron G. Bloom.

The 34-year-old Baltimore accountant says the strain of 16-hour days, seven days a week, during tax season took a heavy toll on his marriage, which ended in divorce two years ago. His wife may have found it unbearable, but he's resigned to his fate.

"It's tax season, and you accept that you just don't have a life," said Mr. Bloom, the tax manager for Sacks, McGibney, Trotta & Koppelman P.A.

In the annual ritual of procrastination and nail-biting leading up to the income tax filing deadline, the group that perhaps suffers the most are the accountants. In a recent survey of 200 of its members, the Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants found that from February through mid-April, accountants work 11 1/2 hours a day, seven days a week, sustaining themselves on the cuisine of McDonald's and Roy Rogers.

They are so busy that 77 percent of them have not filed their own tax returns three weeks before the deadline.

At Mr. Bloom's firm, the traditional day off after the deadline has been changed to a floating holiday, because of all the other work that has piled up as the accountants concentrated on income taxes.

Adding to the usual strains, this year's deadline of midnight Monday falls just after the weekend of Passover and Easter. "Most of the staff doesn't want to be here during the weekend or on Monday," Mr. Bloom said.

Even the two-day extension from the normal April 15 deadline has its down side. "It just extends the hell, so to speak," he said.

Many accountants rely on caffeine to help sustain them through the long hours -- the CPA association survey found that accountants downed an average of three and half cups of coffee a day during tax season.

Steven G. Albert's stimulant of choice used to be a daily six-pack of Diet Coke. But all those bubbles had frightening results for the director of tax services at Glass, Jacobson & Associates, an Owings Mills firm.

"The carbonation started giving me pains," Mr. Albert said. "I didn't know whether it was the carbonation or a heart attack."

switched to coffee two years ago, which he couples with an occasional dousing of his head with cold water to get him through the days, which stretch from 8:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.

"From February through April, I age a year," said the 40-year-old accountant.

His wife and two children cope with the period by spending a week in Florida, leaving him to fight with the tax demons. Even when they are home, his family rarely sees him. "I see them in the morning, and that's it," he said.

Other accountants deal with the stress by setting time aside for religious or family commitments.

Bernard Leibtag does not work from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday in keeping with his Orthodox beliefs. But the tax director of Kamanitz, Uhlfelder & Permison of Pikesville will often be back in the office at 8 p.m. Saturday and will work part of Sunday.

Another way he tries to make time for his wife and three children is making a quick trip home for supper. "I end up not doing that as much as I would like," he said. "But we always have one day together."

Pamela King Smith, the president of King, King & Associates of Baltimore, also juggles business and family commitments, but she regularly leaves her job at 5 p.m. to pick up her two jTC daughters in day care. "I get backed up a little because I can't stay late," she said. But she tries to catch up on Saturday, when her husband takes care of the children.

"It's more harried and hectic than other parts of the year," she said. "But you kind of get used to it."


* Because April 15 falls on a Saturday this year, the filing deadline has been extended to midnight Monday -- returns must be postmarked by that time.

* Federal and state tax assistance will be available from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. today and Monday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow at the Fallon Federal Building, 31 Hopkins Plaza, in Baltimore. Assistance will also be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and tomorrow and from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday at 301 W. Preston St.

* State and federal personnel will be at the main post offices in Baltimore and Annapolis from 6 p.m. to midnight on Monday for assistance.

* The federal tax assistance telephone line is 962-2590 in the Baltimore area or (800) 829-1040 in other parts of Maryland. The lines are open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today and Monday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow.

* The state tax assistance line is 225-1995 in the Baltimore area and (800) 638-2937 elsewhere in the state. Assistance is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Saturday and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday.

* For a four-month extension, federal form 4868 and state form 502E must be filed by midnight Monday. Any additional estimated taxes must be paid with the filing, or the taxpayer will be subject to penalties and interest.

* To amend a tax return, federal form 1040X and state form 502X must be filed. Officials suggest that the filings not be sent until a refund from the previous filing is received, or 8 to 10 weeks pass from the filing of a nonrefund return. Taxpayers have up to three years to amend tax returns.

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