Filing an extension to file your federal income tax return is one of the easiest tax tasks you can face. It’s a simple matter of filling out and submitting a single form, and it gives you a little breathing room.
Maybe you’ve been busy and forgot about a looming deadline, or maybe you’re still tracking down the documents you need to prepare your return. You know you may not have them before April 15, or at least you don’t want to risk not having them. And that’s fine. Simply file IRS Form 4868 instead.
What is an extension and what does it do?
You are asking the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to give you six more months to file your tax return when you apply for an extension. The due date for your annual personal statement is normally April 15, unless this date falls on a weekend or holiday. Your tax return would be due the next business day in that case.
Filing an extension gives you until October 15. Simply file IRS Form 4868 in lieu of your tax return, on or before the original April filing deadline. The extension is automatic. You won’t have to wait and hope for an approval nod from the IRS.
That is the end of the extension process when the IRS receives your request form. You still have to file your taxes, but you have more than six months to do so.
Residents and business owners in Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, New York and New Jersey were granted extensions to their IRS filing and payment deadlines due to Hurricane Ida. Due to the December 2021 tornado, taxpayers in parts of Kentucky were also granted extensions. You can check IRS disaster relief announcements to determine your eligibility.
If you owe money to the IRS
Unfortunately, your payment is still due before the initial filing deadline if you owe the IRS. Filing an extension typically doesn’t give you additional time to address taxes due, and the IRS charges interest and sometimes penalties for tax payments made after the due date.
An extension gives you more time to file, but it does not give you more time to pay.
Generally, it’s a good idea to go ahead and prepare your tax return, even if you haven’t filed it yet, to get a rough idea of what you owe, if anything. It’s best to submit a payment for the amount you’ve estimated you’ll owe when you submit your extension form.
You are entitled to a refund if you miscalculate your estimate and end up overpaying. It’s better to be safe than penalized and I’m sorry. You will have reduced your penalties and interest to just the portion of the tax debt that you were missing if you end up owing more than you calculated.
How to request the extension
Download Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, from the IRS website. If you have calculated that you probably owe taxes, write a check for that amount and mail the extension form with your check.
The form comes with a list of addresses that tell you where to send the form and your payment. It depends on the state you live in. Send the extension form by certified mail, return receipt requested so you have a record of the date you sent it and when the IRS received it.
You can also file an extension online with the IRS, and you don’t need to also mail in a paper Form 4868 if you use IRS Direct Pay to make your payment. Simply mark it as an extension payment on the Direct Pay website. The IRS will accept this as notice that you want an extension.
Other options for requesting an extension
It is possible to request an extension and pay federal taxes with a credit or debit card. Several IRS-approved credit and debit card services can be found on the IRS website. These are third party services and charge fees for the courtesy of processing tax payments.
You will also not have to file the extension form in that case. Simply pay at least $1 of the tax you think you owe, using a debit or credit card. Your payment acts as an automatic extension, just as if you had made the payment through IRS Direct Pay. Just keep in mind that your payment type is Form 4868.
Many tax preparation software programs will also file an extension for you free of charge. Go to TurboTax or another tax preparation website and tell them you want to file an extension. Then do your taxes with the easy directions on the website when the time comes.
You might even qualify for the Free File program if your income was $72,000 or less in tax year 2020. The limit may increase slightly in 2021, because it’s based on inflation. Free File is a nonprofit coalition established between the IRS and various tax preparation software providers. These providers prepare returns for some taxpayers for free.
Free File can file an extension for you, even if you don’t qualify for free tax preparation assistance.
If you need help paying
Often, you can set up an installment agreement with the IRS to pay your tax debt over time if you can’t pay right away and in full. You can see if you qualify and apply online to set up a payment plan. The IRS will notify you directly if your payment plan has been approved, after receiving your request.