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- A tax extension gives filers an extra six months to file tax returns.
- While an extension gives you more time to file, it doesn’t extend the date to pay your tax liability if you owe money.
- It’s free to file for a tax extension, but you could face penalties if you fail to pay some or all of what you owe the IRS.
- See Personal Finance Insider’s picks for the best tax software »
Anyone can file a tax extension. Whether you’ve been out of town, facing an emergency, or just don’t have your paperwork in order, you might need more time to file your taxes. While your reasoning doesn’t matter, an extension gives you six extra months to file your income taxes. But before you request an extension, make sure you know the rules first.
What is a tax extension?
A tax extension gives you until Oct. 16 to file a tax return. A tax extension gives you an extension to file, but doesn’t give you an extension if you owe money to the IRS.
“Most people think that if they owe the IRS, this waives a few extra months for payment when that is not the case,” says Nakiea S. Cook, an accountant and the owner of NC Accounting & Consulting Solutions. “In fact, you can compute the amount you owe and send payment with your tax extension form.”
If you owe money, you’ll need to make a payment by the filing deadline — which is April 18 for the 2023 filing season — in order to avoid penalties and interest. However, if you cannot pay the full balance due, it is still recommended that you file your tax return in order to avoid a failure to file penalty. You can apply for an installment agreement with the IRS online or by completing Form 9465. The failure to pay penalty is reduced when you have an approved payment plan with the IRS.
What does it cost to file a tax extension?
It’s free to file a tax extension in any way that’s best for you: electronically or mailed. But not filing an extension and not filing your taxes by April 18 could be costly, which we’ll cover later.
Regardless of how much you owe, a tax extension is not a payment extension. In order to avoid a penalty, you’ll need to have paid at least 90% of the tax for the current year or 100% of the tax shown for the prior year, whichever is less. For married couples filing jointly with adjusted gross income of $150,000 or higher, the withholding must be at least 110% of the total tax owed for the prior year ($75,000 if filing separately).
Generally, you can avoid the penalty if you owe less than $1,000. Special rules apply for certain individuals like farmers, fishermen and certain household employers.
How to file a tax extension
If you’re paying electronically, you don’t need to fill out any extra paperwork. The IRS automatically processes an extension when you pay all or part of your estimated income tax, either online or by phone.
Otherwise, you can file an extension by completing Form 4868. You can use the IRS e-file or file out a paper form and mail it in.
On the form, you’ll provide some personal information including like your address, Social Security number, and estimated tax liability. If you’re filing with your spouse, you’ll need their Social Security number as well. Nonresidents will need an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN). If you don’t have one, you can apply for one through the IRS.
If you know you owe money, you can pay a portion of your estimated total tax liability. Use the tax withholding calculator to find out how much you’re expected to pay.
“If you owe the IRS, you can submit a payment,” Cook says. “If you don’t have the means to make payment, still file [your tax return] as the penalty for not filing is severe.”
You can electronically file Form 4868 and opt to mail a check instead of making a payment online, you’ll need to attach a completed paper form of what you filed electronically.
“Form 4868 can be filed electronically or mailed, [although] electronic is preferred,” Cook says.
This applies only to federal tax extensions. You’ll need to check with your individual state tax authority to see if you need to request a separate extension or if your federal form extends to your state returns. You can’t file a tax extension after April 18.
What happens if miss the deadline to file a tax extension?
If you don’t file your taxes by the deadline, the IRS will charge you interest on the unpaid balance and a late payment penalty, ranging from 5% to 25% of the amount owed each month it goes unpaid.
The failure to file penalty is 5% and the failure to pay penalty is 0.5% of the unpaid taxes for each month or partial month, up to a maximum of 25%. If both the failure to file and failure to pay penalties apply in the same month, the failure to file penalty is reduced by the amount of the failure to pay penalty for that month. For returns over 60 days late the minimum penalty is $435 or 100% of the tax required to be paid on the return, whichever is less.
For example, if you miss the April 18 deadline for filing your 2022 return without filing an extension, your late fee is 5%. If you owe $1,000, that’s a $500 penalty (4.5% failure to file penalty and 0.5% failure to pay penalty). That’s not even including interest. You’ll get charged interest on the unpaid amount until the entire bill is paid, Cook says.
The bottom line
If you can’t make the April 18 tax deadline, you should file a tax extension. While this doesn’t extend your tax liability, it does extend your filing by six months. Regardless of why you need to file an extension, it’s free. Take advantage of this if you don’t think you’ll be able to meet the IRS’s original deadline.