The IRS allows taxpayers to request a six-month extension of the deadline for filing federal tax returns. You’ll need to fill out and file IRS Form 4868. You can submit a paper form by mail or submit the form online through most popular tax software packages or through the IRS Free File website.
You will have to estimate your taxes due and you are required to pay the estimated tax bill by the original due date. Form 4868 requests an extension of the deadline for filing your tax return, not an extension of the deadline for making your tax payment.
The IRS has extended the filing and payment deadline for the 2019 tax year to July 15, 2020, as part of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If you still need more time, you can file Form 4868 and receive an extension until October 15, 2020. You will still need to make your estimated tax payment by July 15.
What Happens if You File Late?
The IRS wants you to file your tax returns on time and imposes penalties for late filing. If you file late, even by a day, the IRS will impose a penalty of 5% of your taxes due for every month you are late. The penalty cannot exceed 25% of your tax bill. A portion of a month is charged as a full month.
If you file more than 60 days late, your penalty will be either 100% of the tax due or a set dollar amount, whichever is smaller. The fixed fines for late filing range from $100 to $435 depending on when the return was due.
If you file on time but pay late, the penalty is 0.5% of your unpaid tax bill for every month you are late, up to 25% of your tax bill. You will pay interest on the unpaid sum.
All penalties are calculated as a percentage of taxes due, so there is no penalty for filing late if you don’t owe any tax. If you wish to collect a refund you must file within 3 years of the original due date or the IRS will no longer have to pay your refund.
Full information on penalties, refer to the IRS summary of common individual penalties.
How to Get an Extension of the Filing Deadline
There are two ways to get an extension of the tax filing deadline:
- The first way is the easiest: if you pay all or part of your estimated tax bill through the IRS electronic payment system before the tax filing deadline, the IRS will automatically give you an extension of the filing deadline.
- The second way is to fill out IRS form 4868. This is a simple form that requires only your name and address, Social Security Numbers for you and your spouse, an estimate of your tax liability, the amount you will pay and the balance due. You will check extra boxes if you live outside the US or if you did not receive wages subject to withholding.
There are three ways to submit the 4868 form:
- By mail. If you’re old-fashioned, you can print the form, fill it out and mail it to the IRS. It’s best to mail it from a post office: the form contains your Social Security Number and if it’s stolen you could face identity theft.
- Through your tax software. Most popular tax software packages give you the option of filing form 4868 through your tax software.
- Through the IRS Free File website. You can go to the IRS Free File website and submit the form there. You can only file your tax return on the site if your adjusted gross income is below $69,000, but any taxpayer of any income level can request an extension through the Free File site.
In any of these cases, you will have to be sure that the form reaches the IRS by the deadline: April 15 in a normal year, July 15 in 2020.
You Still Have to Pay
If you file form 4868 your deadline for filing your tax return will be extended. You will still have to pay your estimated taxes by the filing deadline. If you still owe money after your estimated tax payment you will face a penalty and pay interest on the sum you owe.
The IRS may waive the penalty if you pay your entire estimated amount, your estimate was 90% or more of the total sum you owe, and you pay the balance on or before the extended deadline.
You’ll also need to remember to file your return on or before the extended deadline or you’ll face penalties.
Some taxpayers receive automatic filing deadline extensions:
- If you are living and working outside the US at the time of the deadline you will get an automatic two-month extension of the filing and payment deadline.
- Active-duty military personnel may also receive automatic extensions, especially if they are deployed in hazardous or combat zones.
- If you have been affected by a natural disaster you may receive an extension. Check this list of disasters that qualify for an automatic tax deadline extension to see if the disaster is qualified and how much of an extension you’ll get.
If you’re not sure whether you qualify for an extension or not, confirm your status or file form 4868 or you could find yourself paying penalties.
If you need more time to file your tax return, think about your options early. Don’t wait until the last minute. Remember that an extension of the filing deadline is not an extension of the payment deadline. You will still have to pay your estimated tax bill by the deadline. If your estimate is more than 10% less than your actual bill you may face penalties on the difference.
State tax returns require separate extension requests, so don’t forget to file those forms as well, if you also need more time to file your state tax returns.