One hundred eighty-six thousand people used credit cards for 1999 federal taxes, according to the Internal Revenue Service - 250% more than for the 1998 tab.

More than $536 million of last year's taxes was charged. Comparable figures for 1998 taxes were not available.

The IRS made credit card payments an option in late 1998. Last year the program was expanded to include quarterly estimated tax payments.

Individuals can pay federal taxes with MasterCard, Discover, or American Express cards, but not with Visa cards. Visa U.S.A. has refused to participated as long as tax filers have to pay a "convenience fee" - the equivalent of the processing fee normally paid by a merchant. Visa bars merchants, including the government, from imposing such fees on Visa cardholders.

American Express Co. said it had the largest share of the tax charge pie, but it would not disclose numbers. Discover, which is part of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., would not give numbers either but said, "This tax season has been very successful."

MasterCard International said its cards were used for 42% of individual IRS tax payments - about 78,000 transactions - made by payment cards for the 1999 tax year. That was a 280% increase over the previous tax year, and MasterCard's dollar volume grew 245%.

"The second year of MasterCard's participation in the IRS Federal Tax Payment program was quite successful for MasterCard," said Fred Gore, the company's senior vice president of North America acceptance.

The IRS received nearly 30 million filings by computer, and 27 million filers had refunds deposited directly into their bank accounts.

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