With a week to go until Tax Day, if you haven’t yet filed your tax return, all is not lost. You can:

  • Call and hope to get a last-minute tax appointment with a tax preparer;
  • Download tax prep software and figure you’ll squeeze in the time to file while binge-watching The Good Place;
  • Rock back and forth quietly under your desk while promising to be more prepared next year; or
  • You can join the millions of taxpayers (like me) who are expected to file for an extension.

Of those choices, you’re probably best off filing for an extension (and even if you do get that appointment, your tax preparer will likely also advise that you file for an extension). 

It just takes a few minutes, there are no special hoops to jump through, and there’s no fee payable to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). And contrary to popular belief – and what some are suggesting this time of year – filing for an extension isn’t an audit trigger. In fact, according to the IRS website:

The IRS recommends that taxpayers file for an extension if they need one. 

Mistakes can happen at any time, but especially when taxpayers feel rushed or are trying to sort through new tax forms (more on the new form 1040 here) or new rules that may be unfamiliar (like Section 199A). 

The IRS understands that there are legitimate reasons why taxpayers may need more time to file. The great thing about filing for an extension early on is that you don’t need to tell anyone – not your mother, not your best friend and not even the IRS – why you’re making the request since the extension is granted automatically if you follow the rules.

To file for an extension, you can:

How easy is it? Here’s the entire form:

The regular “timely filing” rules apply – so be sure and get your extension postmarked or e-file accepted by the end of the day on April 15. Assuming you’re on time, you will have six more months to get your return to the IRS and not be subject to the late-filing penalty. For 2019, this means that, with an extension, you’ll have until October 15, 2019, to file a return.

To file an extension, you’ll need:

  • Your name (and spouse’s name if you’re filing jointly) and address;
  • Your Social Security number (and spouse’s Social Security number if you’re filing jointly);
  • An estimate of your total tax liability for 2018;
  • Total of what you have already paid for the 2018 tax year (including withholding and estimated payments); and
  • The amount you’re paying with the extension, if any.

Remember that an extension is an extension of the time to file and not an extension of time to pay. If you expect to owe at tax time and you’re filing for an extension, you should make a payment with your extension request to avoid additional interest and penalty. (More on those penalties here.)

If you need to make a payment with your extension, you can send in a check or money order with your form 4868, pay online, or pay by phone. You can also pay by making a direct transfer from your bank account using Direct Pay, using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS, registration required), or by debit or credit card (third-party charges may apply). Some services need an extra day or so for processing so check those details out well before April 15.

Some taxpayers get an automatic extension of time to file without having to file. Those include:

  • If you’re a U.S. citizen or resident and you live outside of the U.S. or Puerto Rico, and your primary place of business or post of duty is outside of the U.S. or Puerto Rico or if you are active-duty military and live outside of the U.S., you qualify for a two-month extension without having to file form 4868. That moves your due date to June 15 to file and pay. However, interest is still due on any tax payment made after April 15.
  • Members of the military and others serving in combat zones or hazardous zone areas generally have until at least 180 days after they leave the zone to file returns and pay any taxes due.
  • Taxpayers affected by natural disasters may have extra time. In particular, the IRS extended tax deadlines for affected individuals and businesses in parts of Alabama following the March storms. For more details, check the disaster relief page on the IRS website.

While it’s always a relief to have your tax return over and done with by April 15, it’s not the end of the world if that doesn’t happen. It’s always better to file a complete, correct return on an extension than a rushed, flawed return by Tax Day. So go ahead, file for an extension. And then go back to whatever it was that you really wanted to do, like finishing up The Good Place.

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Kelly Erb is a tax attorney, tax writer and podcaster.

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