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How to file a tax extension in 2021

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

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

The IRS has extended its 2020 tax filing deadline until May 17, 2021. You have until that date to file and pay any federal taxes you owe.

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 IRS’s extended deadline of May 17, 2021. 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 2020 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.

Compare online tax filing services

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H&R Block
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File simply and securely with tax software from H&R Block.
FreeTaxUSA
$0
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File federal returns for free and pay $14.99 for state returns with this online tax preparation software.
Keeper Tax
$89
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Keeper Tax helps people with 1099 income automatically find tax write-offs among their purchases. At tax time, file federal and state directly for $89 or export to file elsewhere for $39.
Jackson Hewitt
$25
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File taxes online or in-person for a no-fee refund advance loan. But watch out for high filing fees
Intuit TurboTax
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File returns electronically and get taken step by step through the tax-filing process, so that you can receive the fastest refund possible for yourself, and/or your business.
Liberty Tax
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Choose from EZ, Basic, Deluxe, and Premium packages to support the simplest or the most complicated of returns; including business and investments.
TaxSlayer
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TaxSlayer offers free federal and state filing for simple returns and $0 federal return to service members filing with a military EIN.
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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 for 2020 are due by May 17, 2021. Filing for an extension will give most taxpayers until October 15 to file their returns. 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 May 17 if you want to avoid penalty fees and interest.

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.

Frequently asked questions

How much does it cost to file a tax extension?
It’s free — you won’t pay anything to file an extension.

What’s the final deadline to file a tax extension?
The IRS doesn’t accept tax extensions after May 17. If you wait until after this date to file your taxes, you’ll likely be hit with interest and penalty fees if you owe money.

Is there another tax extension opportunity after October 15?
October 15 is the last deadline to file your taxes if you filed an extension. If you miss this deadline, you can still file your tax return, but you’ll pay failure-to-file penalties.

How do I submit a payment with my extension?

If you’re mailing in your extension, you can include a check or money order along with Form 4868. If you’re paying electronically, you can make a payment through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System using your debit card, credit card or electronic funds through Direct Pay.

If you send too much money, the IRS will send you a refund once you file your return.

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