It's Relatively Simple to Get a Six Month Extension to File Your Federal Income Tax Return
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It's Relatively Simple to Get a Six Month Extension to File Your Federal Income Tax Return

most taxpayers are eligible to push back their individual federal income tax return due dates by six months if the extra time is needed in order to prepare and file them

April 8, 2021

Needing more time to prepare and file your federal income taxes is more common than you may think. If you need more time from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) before the tax deadline, you can get an extension. Requesting an extension doesn't trigger an audit and typically takes only a few minutes. It doesn't give you more time to pay, but it gives you some extra time to get everything in order.

form 4868

To request an extension by mail, file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, with the IRS. Ordinarily, it must be postmarked on or before April 15 of each year, or sometimes a few days later if April 15 falls on a weekend. However, the federal income tax return deadline for individuals has been extended to May 17, 2021 for the 2020 tax year due to the COVID pandemic.

Tax Software

It's extremely easy to request an extension of time to file by using your tax preparation software. In most cases, requesting an extension is as simple as clicking a few buttons. Each tax software program is different and some will allow you to request an extension electronically whereas others will only help you with the form. In either case, don't wait until the last minute. An extension must be postmarked on-time or, if submitted electronically, must be accepted (not just transmitted) by the due date.

Tax Professionals

If you have someone preparing your taxes, have the tax preparer request an extension for you. In most cases, an extension request is free as part of whichever package you purchase. The good thing is that you don't have to do much of anything other than tell your preparer you want an extension. The downside is that you need to make sure the tax preparer actually requests the extension.

Tax preparers are human and make mistakes, so make sure the extension is submitted and accepted. If your tax preparer completes the form, you can always ask to mail it yourself. Or if the tax preparer is taking care of everything, you can always ask for some kind of documentation showing the extension was requested in case something happens. When transmitted electronically, there's usually some kind of confirmation showing the request was transmitted that can be printed for your personal records.

IRS Free File

The IRS offers Free File tax preparation and filing software to give taxpayers a free option for their federal tax returns. Free state return options are available. If you are using Free File to prepare your taxes, options for filing a free extension request are available in the software and typically take only minutes. Even better, you avoid the fees charged by companies for preparing your taxes.

Use electronic payment for an automatic extension

An extension of time to file will automatically process when taxpayers pay all or part of their taxes electronically by the due date. There is no need to file a paper or electronic Form 4868 when making a payment with IRS Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) or by debit or credit card. Select "Form 4868" as the payment type. Keep the confirmation as proof of payment.

Out of the Country

If you're out of the country and a U.S. citizen or resident, you may qualify for special tax treatment if you meet the bona fide residence or physical presence tests. If you don't expect to meet either of those tests by the due date of your return, request an extension to a date after you expect to meet the tests by filing Form 2350, Application for Extension of Time To File U.S. Income Tax Return.

More time to file is not more time to pay

Requesting an extension to file provides taxpayers an additional six months to prepare and file taxes. However, it does not provide additional time to pay taxes owed. Taxpayers should estimate and pay any owed taxes by the due date to avoid a potential late-filing penalty. To avoid penalties and interest, pay the full amount owed by the original due date.