With only a few more hours to go before the April 15 deadline for filing income tax returns, the Internal Revenue Service is finding its task easier and taxpayers are happier with the agency than usual.

Taxpayers are happier because refunds are being made a bit more quickly than last year. The IRS also has done a better job of distributing booklets and forms. Moreover, the New York Times reports that the agency has markedly improved its accuracy in giving advice to taxpayers to telephone for help. Test calls show that the accuracy rate is running at 81.8 per cent, up from 76.5 per cent in 1990.For its part, the IRS is pleased because more of the elderly are using simpler forms and because of the boom in the filing of electronic tax returns. Electronic filings are up 80 per cent this year to a total of 6.8 million, which is about 10 per cent of the returns filed so far.

The electronic returns are much less likely to contain errors than returns filed on paper and are quicker to process. More than 95 per cent of the taxpayers filing electronic returns opt to have their refund deposited directly into their bank accounts, speeding the process by a week.

But, unhappily, this part of the good news contains the seeds of potential problems.

One of them is that the number of electronic filings must be tripled by next year if the IRS is to meet its targets for reducing costs. Another is the potential for fraud. Because refunds are sent so quickly in response to electronic returns, taxpayers could be tempted to submit multiple filings and indulge in other abuses that would be more quickly detected through the more cumbersome method of processing paper returns.

This situation suggests the need for more audits. The prospect of more audits, though, is bound to make electronic filing at least somewhat less popular than it might otherwise be. Sometimes the more things change, the more they remain the same.