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Photo-Illustration of a man standing with a 1040 Tax Form on top of a distorted clock
Nicolas Ortega for Money

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

In fact, if a few days of wiggle room is all you need, you're in luck. Although Tax Day is usually April 15, most folks' taxes are actually due Monday, April 18, this year because of Emancipation Day, a recognized holiday in Washington, D.C. Due to tornadoes, wildfires and other natural disasters, residents in a few states have additional time to file, as well.

But if that won’t cut it, you’ll need to request a tax extension from the IRS to get more time to get your 2021 taxes in order. Here’s how.

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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 tax extension will give you until Oct. 17 this year to get your paperwork together and file your return.

The extension process varies depending on if you overpaid taxes — 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 extension to file your tax return is relatively simple. You can do so online or by snail mail.

However, online methods are highly recommended, as the IRS has a massive paper backlog. (The National Taxpayer Advocate, the IRS’s internal watchdog, recently called paper the “IRS’s kryptonite” because the agency lacks the proper infrastructure to process physical forms in a timely fashion, leading to major delays for millions of people.)

For online tax extension requests, you can get started by using the IRS’s Free File tools. You’ll have two main options:

  • If you have an adjusted gross income (AGI) of $73,000 or less, you can use guided tax software to submit your request and avoid filling out any forms directly.
  • If you have an AGI above $73,000 — or 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 Department of Treasury. The exact IRS location you’ll need to mail it to depends on your state; you’ll find the corresponding address on the last page of the form.

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If you owe the IRS

Should you owe the IRS, you will still need to make a payment by April 18 or face penalties and interest. When you make a payment — or pay your tax bill entirely — the IRS automatically processes a tax extension for your return, meaning you won’t have to fill out any additional forms to request more time.

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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