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


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It seems like everyone has at least one friend or family member who’s chronically late for everything: dinner, work, parties, you name it. This kind of behavior can be annoying on a personal level, but it can have dire consequences when tax season rolls around.

If you’re the one who’s always running late, the April 15 tax filing deadline may seem to come from nowhere. But don’t let a looming deadline force you to rush through the paperwork and race to the United States Post Office at 11:58pm. Just request an extension.

The Internal Revenue Service allows taxpayers to apply for a six-month extension of the tax filing deadline. So, if you don’t have it all together by tax day in April, don’t panic, especially if you’re expecting a refund.

However, if you think you owe the IRS money, the extension doesn’t cover that. The IRS still expects filers to pay on the regular due date, even if they don’t file a return. If you’re in that situation, file the extension and send in what you think you’ll owe to minimize late payment penalties.

Who Can File for an Extension?

Anyone can apply for an automatic extension of time, and best of all, the IRS doesn’t ask why. You can inform the IRS if you’re living outside of the country, but otherwise, it’s only interested in getting an estimate of the taxes you owe.

If you’re 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 they deny your request. Otherwise, you can assume it was accepted.

Does an Extension Give Me More Time to Pay?

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

How Can I Get an Extension?

You have three basic options. You can file electronically, by mail, or you can simply 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 on time.

1. File Electronically

If your income is below $72,000, you can use a tax software provider through IRS Free File. Filing an extension is free using this system. If your income is greater than $72,000, you can e-file IRS Form 4868 using IRS Free Fillable Forms. You can also use an accountant or reliable tax preparation software program like H&R Block. Just keep in mind that there’s no reason to pay a lot of money to file this simple form.

2. File by Mail

You can also mail in Form 4868. Make sure you completely fill out the application for automatic extension. If the IRS rejects it, you may be liable for penalties. You need to include a check or money order or pay online if you have tax due.

3. Pay Your Tax Bill

You can also pay the amount that you think you owe and send in the actual federal tax return later.

When you pay using IRS Direct Pay, the IRS can deduct your federal tax payment directly from your bank account, and you won’t have to pay a processing fee. You can also pay your taxes by debit card or credit card, but the payment processor will charge a fee.

If you send the IRS the appropriate estimated amount of money by the April 15 deadline, the agency will grant you an automatic six-month extension, pushing your income tax return filing deadline back to Oct. 15.

Keep in mind, requesting a federal income tax extension doesn’t always automatically extend your state tax return. Each state has its own requirements and tax forms for requesting an extension. Check with your state’s department of revenue or a CPA or tax preparer to find out how to extend your state tax return.

Special Situations

If you need to pay the gift tax this year, you can request an extension by filing Form 709 and paying that tax without extending the deadline for the rest of your tax return. However, if you need extra time for Form 709 too, file Form 8892 to request a filing extension.

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 – review Form 7004 and talk to your CPA to see if you can request an automatic five- or six-month extension for 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’ll be automatically approved and can 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.


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Janet Berry-Johnson is a Certified Public Accountant. Before leaving the accounting world to focus on freelance writing, she specialized in income tax consulting and compliance for individuals and small businesses. She lives in Omaha, Nebraska with her husband and son and their rescue dog, Dexter.