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Published: Apr 17, 2023 5 min read
Illustration of a IRS worker, looking over tax forms, who's face is the yellow light in a traffic light
Pete Ryan for Money

Need more time to file your taxes? Good news: It's surprisingly easy to ask the IRS for a later due date.

This year taxes are due Tuesday (that’s April 18) for most folks. Normally, Tax Day falls on April 15, but because of the weekend and Emancipation Day, a holiday observed in Washington, D.C., there’s still time to file and pay. Due to tornadoes, flooding and other natural disasters, some affected residents in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Georgia, New York and other states have additional time to file, as well.

But if you can’t meet the deadline, you’ll need to request a free tax extension from the IRS while you get your 2022 taxes in order. Here’s how.

Requesting a tax extension from the IRS

Before we dive deeper, you should know this from the outset: A tax extension will only push back the deadline for you to file your tax return by six months. That extension will not change the due date for any money you need to pay the IRS.

In other words, a 2023 tax extension will give you until Oct. 16 to get your paperwork together and submit your federal income tax return. (Your state may have different deadlines.)

The extension process varies depending on whether you overpaid taxes throughout the year — and expect a tax refund — or underpaid taxes — and owe the IRS money.

If you expect a tax refund

The majority of taxpayers receive refunds from the IRS, so it’s likely you’ll need to file your extension following these guidelines. Requesting an automatic extension to file your tax return is relatively simple. You won’t have to explain why you can’t file or wait to hear if the request is accepted. You just file the extension form online or by snail mail.

However, online methods are highly recommended, as the IRS is notoriously slower to handle physical paperwork.

For online tax extension requests, you can get started by using the IRS’s Free File tools.

  • Regardless of income, you can use guided tax software through the IRS’s free file partners to submit your request and avoid filling out any forms directly.
  • If you prefer to fill out the request yourself, you can use the IRS’s Free Fillable Forms tool to manually complete and submit Form 4868, aka the extension request form.

If you’re unable to submit your extension request online, you can print Form 4868 and fill it out by hand. Then mail the completed form directly to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The exact IRS location you’ll need to mail it to depends on your state; you’ll find the corresponding address on Page 4 under “Where To File a Paper Form 4868.”

If you owe the IRS

Should you owe the IRS, you will still need to make a payment by Tuesday or face penalties and interest. When you make a partial payment — or pay your tax bill entirely — you can indicate that your payment is for an extension, and the IRS will automatically process it without the need to fill out any additional forms.

However, let’s say you’re not sure if you’re going to be able to submit your payment by Tax Day. In this case, you would need to request an extension.

The process is the same as outlined above: You can use the IRS's Free File tools or mail in Form 4868. If you’re not using tax prep software and actually have to fill out the paperwork, prepare to do a little math. On lines No. 4 through No. 7, you’ll need to estimate how much you owe and the amount you’re going to pay. (Note: That doesn't mean you have to include payment with this form. It’s only an estimate.)

Finally, the IRS provides short-term and long-term payment plans for those who are struggling to pay their tax bills by the deadline. Enrolling in a plan can help you mitigate significant tax penalties.

Tax extension FAQs

How do I know if my extension was approved?

Technically, the extension process outlined above is for an "automatic extension." It's a bit of a misnomer considering you have to file a form to get it. Assuming you filled out the form correctly, though, your extension should be approved. The IRS may not always get back to you to confirm. In some cases, the agency may only reach out to deny your extension and explain why.

Will a tax extension give me more time to pay my tax bill?

No. As mentioned above, completing Form 4868 only gives you six additional months to file your tax return. If you owe the IRS, you will need to make your payment by Tax Day. The upside: Making a payment will automatically give you a six-month extension to file your return. So if you owe, it's probably best to start with a payment.

Will the IRS charge me if I don't file my tax return on time?

If you're required to file your taxes and don't do so by the deadline (either by Tax Day or the extension deadline), the IRS may charge you an "information return" penalty between $50 and $280 depending on how late you filed. Additionally, the IRS may charge you a "failure to file" penalty if you filed late and missed your payment deadline.

Does the IRS tax extension affect my state income tax deadline?

The IRS tax extension form is for federal income taxes only and won't push your state's deadline back. Nine states collect no income taxes, so you won't have to worry about any extensions. Several additional states automatically give you a six-month postponement from the federal deadline — no action required. The remaining states, however, do require you file a state-level extension. Double check with your state's tax or revenue department for specific extension instructions.

Do I need to fill out a tax extension if I work abroad?

If you're living and working in another country, the IRS automatically gives you a two-month extension for filing your return. In those cases, you'd only need to submit Form 4868 if you need more time beyond those two extra months.

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