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How to File a Tax Extension

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I still haven’t filed my taxes. I know, I’m running out of time. I don’t really have an excuse other than trying to do too many things at once. I should have time to finish my taxes this weekend, but for those of you looking to file for a free extension, you can still do that.

The IRS allows tax payers to apply for an automatic 6 month extension to file their taxes. There is one big caveat though – if you owe money on your tax return, at least 90% of the balance is due on April 15th, regardless of whether or not you have filed your taxes or not.

How to File a Tax Extension

How to File a Tax Extension

Don’t stress – filing a tax extension is easy!

Filing a tax extension is easy and FREE. All you need to do is fill out Tax Form 4868, and mail it in to the IRS. You can also send it in to the IRS from a tax software program like TurboTax or H&R Block @Home. Here are some resources to help you file for a tax extension electronically, or by mail.

E-File your tax extension for free:

File your tax extension manually:

  • Download Tax Form 4868 from the IRS website. You can also pick one up at an IRS office or call 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).
  • Fill it out and send it in via mail.
  • Send in the amount you owe on your taxes, or at least an estimate. You will need to send in 90% of your actual total to avoid late fees or penalties.

Automatic tax extension deadline – but you have to request it. You must file a request for an automatic extension by April 15th. Once you have your extension you have 6 months to file your taxes. After October 15th, your taxes are considered late and you may be subject to penalties.

What happens if you don’t file your taxes? If you don’t file your taxes, you may be subject to penalties, fees, or even jail time if it is determined that your intent was to defraud the government. Find out more about what happens if you don’t file your taxes.

Longer Extension for Military Members and Overseas Citizens

Some military members may qualify for an extension longer than 6 months, especially if they served in tax free zones in the current or previous year. Here is more information about military member tax deadline extensions. American civilians working overseas may also be able to file for a longer extension. Here is more information from the IRS.

An extension can be a good idea if you have a particularly complex tax situation, or if you are a procrastinator like me. :)

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Photo Credit: Steve Woods.


Published or updated October 4, 2012.
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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 recon

Quick question, as I am new to this.. How could I pay the 90% I owe by April 15th if I haven’t done my taxes yet? Aren’t I filing an extension because I haven’t done them yet? How am I supposed to know if I owe money?

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2 Ryan

recon: You are supposed to do an estimate of how much you owe. There are many tax software programs you can use that will allow you to fill in your information all the way to the point of filing, without actually filing and paying.

If you do that, you should get a good estimate of how much you owe. And you only have to pay 90% of what you owe, so there is wiggle room.

Try visiting TurboTax online and starting your tax return there. You won’t have to pay if you don’t file.

Good luck!

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3 Miranda

That’s the beauty of bureaucracy. You’ll just have to make your best estimate. Anyway, my refund is on the way. :)

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4 Jeff

Hi everyone,

If you’re interested in a fool-proof way to get an extension, and want to get IRS confirmation that your extension was approved, you can now e-file tax extensions online. FileLater is a really good online solution, and you can save 20% of the cost with the coupon code tweet20 at checkout.

Note from Ryan: Filing for an extension is a free service provided by the IRS; you do not need to pay anyone to file extension paperwork for you. However, there may be benefits to using a paid tax extension service if you require:

  • additional information regarding applying for state tax filing extension
  • verification your tax extension form was filled out correctly
  • or a confirmation that your tax extension was received and approved by the IRS.

FileLater is an IRS authorized E-File provider, which means they have been certified by the IRS to handle secure taxpayer information and that they meet certain IRS requirements. You can read more about FileLater in this Washington Post review.

Evaluate your situation and needs before purchasing any software.

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5 kate

Ryan, thanks so much for taking the time to explain how to do this! It’s one of those little things that a lot of us don’t know how to do (honestly, how many of us really understand all this tax stuff anyway), but are too afraid to ask. Thanks to you, we don’t have to let this one small thing become a huge problem. That’s the Power of Small for you!

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6 fredct

Another quick response to recon:

To be safe, its probably best to give the full 100%, or even above. Then, when you file for real, you’ll get it back. You’d hate to estimate to hit the 90% mark, have forgotten a few bucks somewhere, and then be subject to penalties/interest because you’re at 89%.

Better to estimate to hit 100%, if not 105 or 110%.

Besides, what better way to get you off your behind to do your taxes than knowing that the IRS is holding onto your money until you do.

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7 Danielle

Hey great info! Can anyone help with my questions? I’m planning to close on a home a week after April 15th. I want to file for the $8,000 first time home buyers credit. To my understanding, there are 3 ways I can do it after April 15th: (1) file for an amendment, (2) file for an extension, (3) decrease witholdings and file in 09. I think that the quickest and easiest way may be to file for an extension. If I’m granted an extension, can I still efile when I’m ready to file? How long does it take to get a refund if I file later than April 15th? which of the 3 do you think is quickest and easiest?

thanks!

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8 VJ

Danielle,
Did you find an answer to your question? I am sailing in the same boat…

Thanks,
-VJ

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9 Curious Cat Investing Blog

I get an extension almost every year. Each year I mean to get it done early, but then… :-(

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10 Fred

DebtGoal,

I wasn’t sure either way on that one, so I looked it up. Unfortunately, its not true. Straight from the IRS (emphasis mine):

Contributions must be made by due date. Contributions can be made to your traditional IRA for a year at any time during the year or by the due date for filing your return for that year, not including extensions.

It says the same thing for both traditional & Roth IRAs in Publication 590.
Traditional is Chapter 1:
http://www.irs.gov/publications/p590/ch01.html
Roth is Chapter 2:
http://www.irs.gov/publications/p590/ch02.html

Sorry!

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11 Raj

Tax extensions are also great for another reason: if someone wants to make a retirement account contribution, like to a Roth IRA, then it is better to do it for the 2008 year and not the 2009 year. With an extension, you can delay making the 2008 contribution until you have a better financial field position.

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12 Jeff Rose

@ DebtGoal

Be careful there. Tax filing extensions do not go towards individual IRA contributions (traditional or roth). That just applies to business retirement plans (Simple and Sep IRA’s). If you are considering funding to your personal IRA, don’t think that the extension will work. April 15th is the deadline.

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13 Abigail

I guess you’re assuming people know this already but just in case: If you are due a refund (ie, generally get one and things haven’t changed) there’s no penalty for late file.

The IRS doesn’t care. It’s getting a 0% loan from you for all the time you wait to file. So if you are expecting money back, you don’t have to worry about late fees. (Although you do have to file within three years, or your claim to the money disappears.)

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14 Abigail

PS. Jeff’s right Debt Goal: April 15th is the deadline for all IRA contributions. Technically that’s already extended. You’re contributing for 2008 up til 4/15/09. That’s as long as you get.

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15 DDFD at DivorcedDadFrugalDad

It has often been said, “Tomorrow is the greatest labor saving device known to man.”

Time to finish the taxes . . .

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16 Jim

Fred

I just got a message from HR B… that I could file an extension and have six months to fund a 2008 IRA. Can you give the publication, page and/or paragraph of your quote from the IRS? I may want to tell my “professional” tax advisor that he is WRONG!

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17 Fred

Jim, that information is already above in my 04.03.09 post at 7:06 pm (long story short it’s Publication 590, in both Ch 1 & 2 (for Trad & Roth contributions, respectively) – see more above).

One of my fiance’s co-workers also works for H&R Block. Its amazing how much gets to me 2nd hand that is flat out wrong, and I have to provide the correction for.

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18 Erik

An extension does give you time to contribute to a SEP IRA or a one-person 401K, both of which require that you are self-employed.

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19 Fred

You have to file an extension, yes, you just don’t have to pay anything in the process of doing so.

If you don’t file an extension, you will owe late filing penalties, regardless of whether you owed or not.

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20 marla

I just tried filing for an extension with the free file fillable forms that is connected to the irs site. I simply would not let me submit the form. I don’t know if it’s because I don’t owe anything – I will probably get a refund but haven’t worked it out yet.
I don’t think you will be charged any late filing penalties for filing late when you don’t owe. The IRS is not going to waste time on that, it’s an advantage for them! I have red on other sites that if you don’t owe taxes, you still need to file an extension, but really….don’t sweat it if its a little late.

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21 kendra

Do you have to file an extention if you are getting a refund?

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22 Aglia

Will I have to pay Late Filing Fee if I file an extension? I know I will be responsible for late payment penalty and interest, but I can’t find the answer regarding late filing fee. Please let me know, thanks.

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23 Ryan

Aglia, You will not have to pay a fee to file a late extension, unless you are paying for a software program or paying an accountant. Otherwise the only additional payments are any possible penalties.

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24 el aliga

even though it’s a weekend, is Aug 15, 2009 the deadline for IRS Extension Files ?? is aug 17, 2009 the actual deadline??

Oddly, I could not get an IRS memo, but 2 tax sites say Aug 17, 09 is..

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25 fredct

Typically, when a deadline falls on a weekend or holiday, the actual deadline is the next business day. I know that’s true of April 15, etc.

However, I have no personal experience with tax extension deadlines, so I’m just assuming that it likewise applies. If you’re unsure, feel free to call them.

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26 Vern Flanery

Does anyone know if I can file more then one extension? as you know us contractors were hit very hard this year and I am not able to pay yet. I owe about 10k. I havent even been able to pay my mortgage on time this year. Things are starting to turn around but I just need more time. Not only are my Irs taxes due in oct but my property tax is also due. SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME!!

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27 fredct

Filing an extension & delaying payment are two separate things. In fact, filing an extension doesn’t remove your requirement to pay. When you file the extension of time to file, you are still required to pay what’s you expect to be due. And if you’re wrong, you’re still penalized if you’re too short (so you should typically overestimate).

A filing extension just means that you can’t get all the paperwork together yet, so you need more time, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay.

What you’re looking for is a ‘payment plan’ or an ‘installment agreement’. Here’s one page on the matter:
http://www.irs.gov/businesses/small/article/0,,id=108347,00.html

And don’t hesitate to call the IRS and talk to them about it. If you come to them, they’ll work with you. If they need to track you down, that’s when they get nasty. Assuming your taxes were normally due April 15th, then you’re already 6 months behind, so I’d get on the phone to them now and start working things out. If you’re more comfortable, you can also contact your local taxpayer advocate: http://www.irs.gov/advocate/

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28 Cam

I am still interested to know if you can file more than one extension, that question has not been answered. Thanks.

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29 fredct

Typically not, unless you have a very very good reason. One such reason is being outside of the US. After the first automatic 6-month extension, extension requests are handled on a case-by-case basis (I believe).

However, I have a difficult time imagining what could really require an extension beyond 6 months, other than some major event in your life (eg. I believe Katrina refugees were given automatic additional extensions). If you haven’t received a form or anything, you should still have the information to determine how much money you received. So you could still file, and amend later if needed. If you can’t pay, you are still required to file and then just work out a payment agreement.

This is what Publication 17 (the main publication for individual US tax returns) says about it:
“No further extension. An extension of more than 6 months will generally not be granted. However, if you are outside the United States and meet certain tests, you may be granted a longer extension. For more information, see Further extensions under When To File and Pay in Publication 54. ”
(Pub 54 is directed at people abroad)

But there’s a better way than asking on a message board and hoping I’m right. And that’s asking the IRS. They’re available 7am to 10 pm local time at 800-829-1040 (for businesses: 1-800-829-4933)
http://www.irs.gov/contact/index.html

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30 duke

My ex was supposed to do and file my taxes last year. She told me she filed and extension and would get done asap. Well she just now informed me she did not file the taxes and gave me all the paperwork back and said good luck.. What do i do now. Self employed DJ.

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31 fredct

The first thing you do is contact the IRS ASAP. If you go to them, they will work with you, if they have to come after you, you will see a much less friendly side.

If it makes you feel better, you can go to your local taxpayer advocate:
http://www.irs.gov/advocate/article/0,,id=97402,00.html

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32 LeAnna

Are there any websites that will help you file 2008 taxes for free once the deadline has passed? I sent in an extension request and paid fully the taxes that I thought I would owe but I would like to file my 2008 taxes before filing my 2009 taxes to make sure everything is in order.

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33 Ryan

I don’t know if there are any sites that will let you file past year’s taxes for free. You may want to check with all the major sites. If that doesn’t work, you may consider contacting a local tax preparer to do last year’s taxes and this year’s at the same time. You may be able to get a better deal that way.

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34 fredct

I very much doubt that you’ll get it for free, but I could be wrong. Looking around at the major providers, they all seem to offer 2008 returns still (although you have to dig sometimes), but none of them do it for free probably because they figure there aren’t enough people to upsell and make it worth their while.

But, since you’re a year late, I think you should be less concerned with saving $20-$30, and more concerned with just getting it done. It’ll be worth your while. If you’re not a major do-it-yourself type person, then Ryan’s idea to just hand them both to a local tax preparer may be well worth it.

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35 Crystal Loomis

My question is my husband owes back taxes and we have contacted the irs on three different occasions and they were to be sending us paperwork to put in an offer to settle out and we havent received anything in the mail yet, and they said that they could take up to 60 days to give us a response if they accepted our offer. What do we do since it would be maybe into May 2010 before they would give us and answer?

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36 Ryan

Crystal, You did the right thing by contacting the IRS, but I’m not sure where to go from here. I would contact a tax professional with this question.

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37 fredct

Crystal, I might suggest you talk to your local taxpayer advocate. I don’t know they can help you specifically, but they should at least to be able to help you with who to go to, if not more:
http://www.irs.gov/advocate/

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38 Jmiller

I have a question, I filed my 2008 taxes this year. How long does it take to get the refund back?

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39 Ryan

Jmiller, it will depend on many factors. There is no way for me to give you an estimate, however, you may be able to contact the IRS.

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40 Janet

Question? I have a sister who has been incarcerated since Dec. serving 15 mos. She typically does not owe any $ and has always received a refund. She requested that I send her the extension form 4868 so that she doesn’t get a late filing penalty fee? Is this what she needs to do given her situation? Thanks!

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41 Ryan

Janet, it is probably a good idea to file an extension just to be safe, but I honestly don’t know. I recommend calling a tax professional about this. They should be able to give you a good answer on this topic.

You can also contact H&R Block, which is offering 24-hours of free tax advice on Thursday, March 25.

More than 50 tax experts will answer personalized tax questions via the H&R Block Tax Talk Line from 12:01 a.m. CT through 11:59 p.m. CT. Taxpayers can call 1-866-HRBLOCK or e-mail taxtalk@hrblock.com for free advice during this time.

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42 fredct

I basically agree with Ryan.

If she doesn’t owe any money, then I don’t think she has any fees or penalties to worry about, but you’re probably better safe than sorry by filing an extension.

Short of talking with a tax professional, you may want to try just talking to the IRS and asking their advice. They have a very helpful tax questions line… I just can’t promise you may not be on hold for a while first:
http://www.irs.gov/help/article/0,,id=96730,00.html

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43 Janet

Thank you both so much. I will probably contact both; H&R on Thursday, if I can get thru, and also the IRS just to make sure I understand and do the right thing for her. Thanks again!

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44 Crystal

I mailed in a request for extension, but didn’t get a confirmation. Should I have gotten a letter of confirmation in the mail? Or is there a way to find out if my extension was approved? Thanks.

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45 Ryan

Crystal, they don’t typically mail a letter of confirmation but you can try contacting the IRS via the phone.

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46 Glenn Gover

Question- I filed for extension to file for 2008. I will get a refund.
Is April 15 2011 the cut off date to file for that refund or does the original extension filed give me an additional 6 months to claim it?

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47 fredct

According to the following site, the deadline is still April 15:
“This is measured from the original deadline of the tax return, plus three years. For example, your 2010 tax return is due on April 15th, 2011. Add three years to this filing deadline, and you have until April 15th, 2014, to file your 2010 tax return and still get a tax refund. If you file your 2010 return after April 15th, 2014, then your refund “expires.” It goes away forever because the statute of limitations for claiming a refund has closed.”
http://taxes.about.com/od/backtaxes/qt/statute_limits.htm

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