Happy New Year, folks - and happy tax filing, too.

Even before the calendar turned its pages to 1995, the Internal Revenue Service started mailing out nearly 100 million tax-form packages so eager taxpayers can get down to work on their 1994 returns as early as next week.Mercifully, the new forms will look a lot like last year's since Congress made few changes in the tax law. But that doesn't necessarily mean the task will be easy for taxpayers.

By the IRS' own admission, it will take an average of four hours and 41 minutes to prepare Form 1040, nearly an hour longer than the average for 1993. So much for tax simplification.

That's not the only unhappy news. The IRS is going to start charging a $43 fee from taxpayers who can't fork over all at once and want to pay in installments. Moreover, in addition to its regular audits, the IRS is going to single out some 150,000 other taxpayers for special audits in excruciating detail. The special audits, the first since 1988, are designed to help the agency improve its enforcement work.

Fortunately, not all of the news out of the IRS is so downbeat.

For one thing, taxpayers will get an extra two days to file. The normal deadline is April 15. But because that date in 1995 falls on a non-working Saturday, the deadline is being postponed to April 17.

For another, the agency is increasing its telephone information service in an effort to cut down on the number of taxpayers who get busy signals when trying to get a question answered. For assistance about filing, they can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.

Moreover, the IRS is expanding its efforts to let taxpayers file electronically, including an embryonic program that lets taxpayers transmit their returns directly from their home computers.

The best advice is to file as early as possible. About two-thirds of all taxpayers get refunds. It makes sense to reclaim your money as quickly as you can.