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How to Get a Tax Extension for Filing Your Return to the IRS

What to do (and not do) if you need extra time to file your 1040


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You say your dog ate your W-2 form? Your computer printer died while printing out your 1040? You broke down sobbing while reading the instructions for claiming charitable contributions?

Well, cheer up. If you haven’t filed your tax return by midnight on April 15, you can file for an automatic extension — but you still must pay the taxes you owe.

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The Internal Revenue Service will automatically grant you an extension to file your tax return by Oct. 15. All you need to do is submit Form 4868.

You can file electronically via IRS e-file from your home computer or have your tax preparer do it for you. Want to file by paper form? Go right ahead. Just make sure it’s postmarked by April 15.

Special conditions

If you live outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico, you’re allowed two extra months to file your return and pay any amount due without requesting an extension. (Your deadline would be June 15). The same is true for those in military or naval service outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

If you live in a declared disaster area, you get an automatic extension. Many people living in areas devastated by recent storms and tornadoes, for example, will be allowed to file their taxes as late as Oct. 15. The IRS keeps a running list of areas granted an extension of the federal filing deadline.

You can also get an extension by paying all or part of your estimated income tax due and indicate that the payment is for an extension using Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) or a credit or debit card. This way, you won’t have to file a separate extension form and you will receive a confirmation number for your records.

The IRS still wants you to pay your income tax by April 15. Even if you request an extension, you’ll need to estimate the taxes you owe and pay at least 90 percent of those taxes by the April 15 deadline to avoid penalties.

Can’t pay? Still file for a tax extension

Even if you can’t pay the tax, file for an extension. The combined penalty for failure to file taxes and failure to pay taxes is 5 percent of the amount you owe. The penalty for late payment is 0.5 percent of the amount you owe per month, plus interest on the amount you owe. (The current interest rate for late payments is 8 percent.)

If you’re unable to pay taxes because of financial hardship, you can ask the IRS for an installment payment plan. In most cases, you can arrange one with the online payment application tool.

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