With just over a week to go until Tax Day (it’s April 17 this year), you have a few options available if you haven’t yet filed your tax return. You can:
- Call and hope to get a last-minute tax appointment;
- Download tax prep software and figure you’ll squeeze in the time to file while binge-watching Stranger Things;
- Rock back and forth quietly under your desk while promising to be more prepared next year; or
- You can join the nearly 10 million taxpayers who are expected to file for an extension.
Of those choices, you’re probably best off filing 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, filing for an extension isn’t an audit trigger.
The IRS understands that there are a number of legitimate reasons why taxpayers may need more time to file. Whatever your reason for not being ready to file is yours. The great thing about filing for an extension early on is that you don’t need to tell anyone – 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:
- File for an extension online for free using FreeFile on IRS.gov (you can use FreeFile to e-file an extension for free even if you don’t otherwise qualify to use the software);
- File for an extension electronically using fillable forms (you’ll find the instructions here);
- Ask your tax preparer to file an extension for you;
- Use a service like File Later to file for an extension;
- File using tax prep software; or
- Complete and mail a federal form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (downloads as a pdf).
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 17. 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 2018, this means that, with an extension, you’ll have until October 15, 2018, to file a return (this is six months from the normal April 15 filing date).
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 2017;
- Total of what you have already paid for the 2017 tax year (including withholding and estimated payments); and
- The amount you’re paying along with the extension, if anything.
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 in order to avoid interest and penalty later. The interest rate is the federal short-term rate plus 3%, compounded daily and the late-payment penalty is normally 0.5% per month. (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 require an extra day or so for processing so check those details out well before April 17.
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 main 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 17.
- 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 the U.S. Virgin Islands and the islands of St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas to June 29, 2018. For more details or to see if you’re eligible, check the IRS website.
While it’s always a relief to have your tax return over and done with by April 17, it’s not the end of the world if that doesn’t happen. It’s always better to file a complete, correct return on 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 Stranger Things.