How to File for an IRS Tax Extension Electronically or With Form 4868

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tax season lateMy best friend is chronically late for everything: dinner, work, parties, you name it. Unfortunately, this behavior can have dire consequences when tax season rolls around. Several years ago she was in a panic because it was April 14th, just before the tax filing deadline, and she had yet to file her taxes. She rushed through the paperwork and drove to the post office to drop them off in the mail slot at 11:58pm.

What she didn’t know is that the IRS allows you to apply for a six-month extension on filing your tax return. So, if you don’t have it all together by tax day in April, don’t panic. You can extend all the way to October.

Filing a Tax Extension

While it’s nice to consider that you may be able to file an extension, you must first fully understand what it entails and ensure that you are eligible before making the attempt.

Who Can File for an Extension?

Anyone can apply for an extension, and best of all, the IRS doesn’t ask why. You can inform the IRS if you are living outside of the country, but otherwise, it’s only interested in getting an estimate of the taxes you owe. If you are married filing jointly, you must supply your spouse’s Social Security number as well as your own when you apply for the extension. The IRS only contacts you if your request is denied – otherwise you can assume it was accepted.

Will Filing an Extension Get Me a Reprieve on Paying My Taxes?

Unfortunately, an IRS tax extension only applies to the tax paperwork, not payments. If you owe money, it is still due on the original due date. You must at least pay an estimated amount of your total tax liability.

tax form

How Can I Get an Extension?

You have three basic options: You can either file electronically or by mail, which is a formal request for an extension, or you can send the IRS the amount you think you owe them.

Keep in mind that the IRS is very slow to process paperwork, but very quick about processing payments – they’ll quickly notice if you fail to pay them.

1. File Electronically
If your income is $60,000 or less, you can use a tax software provider through the IRS Free File website – filing an extension is free using this system. If your income is greater than $60,000, you can submit Form 4868 electronically using IRS Free Fillable Forms. You can also use an accountant or reliable tax preparation software program – just keep in mind, there’s no reason to pay a lot of money to file this simple form.

2. File by Mail
You can also mail in the request form (Form 4868: Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return). Make sure you completely fill out the form – if it is rejected, you may be liable for significant penalties. You need to include a check or money order or pay online if you have any tax due.

Here is a step-by-step guide to filling out Form 4868:

  1. Fill in lines 1 through 3, supplying your name, address, and Social Security number.
  2. Estimate your total tax liability for the previous tax year. You can do this using the estimator tool on the H&R Block website. Or, if you have most of the documents you need, you can use a program such as TaxACT to do a preliminary run-through.
  3. Enter your estimated tax liability on line 4.
  4. Fill in lines 5 through 9, indicating how much tax you’ve already paid via withholding and what you still owe the government, and check the appropriate box if you are out of the country.
  5. Attach a check or money order with the form for the amount indicated on line 7. You can also pay by credit card, debit card, or bank withdrawal online.
  6. Make a copy of the form for your records.
  7. Mail the form postmarked by the tax deadline to the appropriate address depending on your state, and send by certified mail or another method that confirms delivery and allows tracking.

3. Pay Your Tax Bill
You can also simply pay the amount that you think you’ll owe, and send in the actual return later. The IRS accepts credit and debit cards, as well as electronic transfers directly from your bank account. If you send the IRS the appropriate estimated amount of money, it will grant you an automatic extension.

Special Situations

If you’re faced with paying the gift tax this year, you can request an extension by filing Form 709 and paying that tax, without extending the deadline on the rest of your tax return. Form 8892 extends your time to file Form 709.

If you’re going to be late with other returns, such as estate- or trust-related returns, corporate- or business-related returns, or information returns, check Form 7004 to see if you can request an automatic five- or six-month extension on filing those forms. As with a regular tax return, you need to send in the amount you estimate you owe at the time you file for an extension.

Final Word

Remember, you won’t get a break on having to pay your tax bill by filing an extension. If you simply don’t have the money, you should contact the IRS about setting up an IRS tax payment plan. In most cases, you will be automatically approved and be able to pay on a monthly basis. It’s not worth it to find out what happens if you don’t pay your taxes. You should only file an extension if you need the time to get your return together, or are waiting for some of your documents to be finalized.

Are you considering filing for an IRS tax extension?

  • David/Yourfinances101

    Good stuff!

    I knew you could file an extension–I didn’t know there were so many sub-options.

  • Laura

    this is a great simple post. i was helping people out last year with their taxes and it was really difficult to find information on how to file for an extension, so thanks.

  • Ben

    I’ve also heard if you file an extension, you are less likely to be audited, since by the time the 6 months is up, the IRS has already picked the majority of returns to audit.

  • Kira Botkin

    Well, that might be true, but given that the IRS can audit three years back (so in tax time, actually four years) quite easily, 6 months isn’t comparatively a long time. Audits are generally done all year long with no specific relation to the tax filing time frame. I doubt it would raise the chances, at any rate.