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How to file a tax extension

You’ll get six extra months to file your taxes, but no extra time to pay your bill.

Updated

Fact checked

If you need more time to file your taxes — either because you had a family emergency, couldn’t get your papers together in time or were just too busy — you have options when it comes to filing a tax extension. But contrary to popular belief, a tax extension doesn’t give you extra time to pay your taxes. It just gives you extra time to file. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it.

Tax filing and payment deadline extended due to COVID-19

Due to the impacts of the coronavirus, the Treasury Department has pushed back the federal tax filing and payment deadlines by 90 days. This means you have until July 15, 2020, to file and pay any federal taxes you owe.

As of March 19, 2020, a few states have followed suit and pushed back their state income tax deadlines:

How to file a tax extension

Submit your tax extension electronically or by mail. Regardless of which method you choose, you’ll need to fill out Form 4868 and submit it by the July 15 deadline. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Enter your name and address on line 1 of Form 4868.
  2. Enter your Social Security number on line 2.
  3. Enter your spouse’s Social Security number on line 3.
  4. Estimate your total tax liability for 2019 on line 4.
  5. Enter in the total amount of payments you’ve already made on line 5.
  6. Subtract line 5 from line 4 and write this number on line 6. This tells you your total balance due.
  7. Fill in the amount you’re paying on line 7.
  8. Check box 8 if you’re a US citizen or resident and are out of the country.
  9. Check box 9 if you file Form 1040-NR or 1040-NR-EZ and didn’t receive wages as an employee subject to US income tax withholding.

Where can I file my tax extension online?

You have several options when it comes to filing your tax extension electronically.

For the most direct route, you can use Free File on the IRS website. When you submit Form 4868 through this software, it goes directly to the IRS database.

Likewise, if you’re working with a tax professional or using an online tax software to file your return, you can submit an extension through them. Simply ask your tax professional if they can submit an extension for you using e-file. Or, see if your tax software supports Form 4868.

If you choose to file your extension electronically, make sure you have a copy of your adjusted gross income from last year. You’ll need to provide this information for verification purposes.

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Can I mail my tax extension?

If you prefer to go the snail mail route, you can print and fill out your tax extension form, and drop it in the mail. Make sure you have proof that you mailed it. This way the IRS can’t come back and claim they never received it.

Page four of Form 4868 lists several addresses to mail out your extension. The exact address depends on the state you live in and whether you’re including a payment with your form.

How does a tax extension work?

Tax extension forms are due by April 15. With an extension you’ll get six more months to file your tax return — usually October 15 for most taxpayers. But what it doesn’t do is give you an extension on your payment. If you owe money to the IRS, those taxes are still due on April 15 if you want to avoid penalty fees and interest.

The only exception is for taxes filed in 2020. Due to the impacts of the coronavirus, the IRS has given taxpayers a 90-day filing and payment extension. Taxpayers now have until July 15, 2020.

When is filing an extension a good idea?

The IRS recommends filing your taxes and making payments on time. But it may be worth filing an extension if any of these situations apply to you:

  • You ran out of time but want to make sure you take advantage of as many tax deductions and credits as possible.
  • You plan on itemizing your taxes but need more time to scrounge up receipts and documentation.
  • You’re still waiting on certain tax forms to come in the mail.

If you decide to file an extension, estimate your tax payment first to ensure you’re not hit with any late-payment penalty fees. If your tax situation hasn’t changed much from the previous year, you can estimate your tax liability based on last year’s return. Otherwise, use an online calculator to estimate your payment. Many tax software programs have calculators on their website — you don’t have to sign up to use them.

How do I know if my extension was accepted?

If you filed your tax extension electronically, you should receive confirmation that the IRS has received it. Make sure you keep this for your records. You can also call the IRS customer service number at 800-829-1040 to confirm receipt or approval.

What to watch out for when filing a tax extension

Tax extensions are pretty cut and dry, but there are a few potential drawbacks to watch out for:

  • Special rules for taxpayers who are out of the country. If you’re in the military or work outside of the US, you may automatically get two extra months to file your return and pay your tax bill. Members of the Armed Forces who are in a combat zone get an extension equal to 180 days past their last day in a combat zone.
  • It doesn’t extend your payment date. A tax extension doesn’t give you more time to pay your tax bill. It just gives you more time to file. If you owe money and don’t pay it by the tax deadline, you’ll incur late penalties. But the IRS may cut you a break if you’ve paid at least 90% of your tax liability before the deadline.
  • It doesn’t apply to state tax extensions. Filing out Form 4868 gives you an extension on your federal tax return only. State extensions vary depending on where you live. Some states such as Alabama, California and Wisconsin give automatic six-month extensions, but others require you to fill out a separate form.

What are my payment extension options?

If you can’t pay your taxes in full by the regular deadline, you can either set up a payment plan or look into tax relief options.

  • Monthly payment plan. The IRS offers an installment agreement for those who wish to pay their taxes back over time. You may be eligible for a short-term payment plan if you up to $100,000 or a long-term plan if you owe less than $50,000. You can set up a plan through the IRS website.
  • Tax relief options. The IRS may waive your penalties if it’s your first time missing the deadline, you have a financial hardship that prevents you from paying or you believe the IRS gave you incorrect written advice. In all of these situations, you need to fill out Form 843. If your request is denied, you may be eligible for an appeal.

Bottom line

If the tax deadline has crept up on you and you need extra time to file your taxes, an extension can bring some sweet relief. Either print and mail the extension form to the IRS or file it online using a tax preparation software or the IRS’ Free File option.

If you’re concerned about filing your tax return this year, knowing what to expect can help ease your nerves.

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