As the saying goes, there are only two things in life that are certain: Death and taxes. So if you know you have to file your taxes, you probably know they’re due April 15th.
But there are exceptions to every rule — even when it come to Uncle Sam. If you can’t file your taxes by Monday, you can receive a six month extension from the government. The tax extension deadline is also April 15, and it’s surprisingly easy to do.
About 12% of filers requested an extension last year, according to Lisa Greene-Lewis, CPA and TurboTax expert. One common reason people ask for more time is because they are missing necessary tax documents.
Note that this grace period is only an extension to file your taxes — you still have to pay any taxes that you may owe the government by the April 15 deadline.
“A lot of people think that an extension is an extension to pay what you owe, but it’s just an extension to file,” Greene-Lewis says. “Typically, people should only be filing an extension if they absolutely have to, like if they’re missing some information.”
If you can’t afford to pay your tax bill in full, in most cases the IRS will work with you to establish a payment plan.
Here’s how to file a tax extension: simply to fill out IRS Form 4868, which can be found here. While submitting Form 4868 takes care of filing an extension for your federal taxes, some states also require you to file an extension separately for your state taxes, so make sure you check what your state requires. Many DIY tax preparers like TurboTax also offer the option to file for an extension using their software.
Filing for an extension is more or less an automatic process, and you can do it online. You have to answer a few questions, but there is no application, and you don’t have to provide a reason for why you need an extension. You will be granted one as long as you fill out the form and submit it properly. Receiving an extension means you have until Oct. 15th to file your 2018 taxes.
Make sure to file for an extension by the April 15th deadline to avoid a hefty late-filing penalty, which is 5% per month of any unpaid taxes, up to a maximum of 25% of unpaid taxes. If you remember to file, but don’t pay what you owe on time, you will be hit with a failure to pay penalty of 0.5% of unpaid taxes per month until you are up to date.
“Try to file [on time], because you may be eligible for a big tax refund,” says Greene-Lewis. “You’re just getting it out of the way, you won’t have to deal with it anymore.”
Plus, she says, if you plan to use your refund to pay down debt — the most common thing Americans do with their tax refund— it’s better to get the money earlier and pay less interest over time.