Extension to File Your Tax Return

Do you need more time to file your tax return? You can easily file a tax extension with the IRS and many states.

This post is provided for general information only. Please confirm the details and circumstances of your unique situation with your tax accountant or other appropriate advisor before taking action.

Federal Tax Extensions

How do you file a tax extension with the IRS?

If you’re an individual filing Form 1040, you can get an automatic extension to file your federal tax return. Automatic means the IRS will approve it without you needing to have a reason or give a reason.

You do have to request an IRS tax extension. The request is so the IRS knows why you’re not filing yet. There are two ways to request an automatic tax filing extension.

You may qualify for a truly automatic extension without having to file a tax extension if you are:

  • Part of a federally-declared disaster area.
  • A member of the military (different rules for combat zones and being stationed overseas in non-combat areas).
  • Living and working outside of the United States and Puerto Rico.

See Special Tax Extensions below for more details.

How long do you get when you request an IRS Tax extension?

IRS tax extensions are for six months. That gives you until October 15th to file your tax return instead of April 15th.

In some years, you may get another day or two due to weekends or holidays.

Do you get more time to pay your taxes?

The extension is only for the time you have to file your tax return. You don’t get an extension to pay your tax bill.

Your tax payment is still due on April 15th. To avoid interest and the late payment penalty, you’ll need to estimate what you owe and pay that amount on or before April 15th.

If you’re expecting a tax refund, you won’t have to make a tax payment because you won’t have any additional tax liability.

The problem, of course, is when you don’t know if you’ll get a tax refund or have a tax liability before you finish your income tax return. You may want to ask a tax professional or use tax software to calculate the most that you could owe.

For example, if the reason you need to file an extension is you need more time to figure out your deductions, you can use tax software to create a draft income tax return without those deductions. You can then pay the taxes shown on your draft return and get a tax refund once you figure out your deductions.

Who requests the extension if you’re married?

If you’re married filing jointly, use the information of the spouse who was listed first on your tax return last year. List that spouse first again when you file.

If you do it the other way around when you file a tax extension, it’s supposed to work, but you could end up spending hours on the phone with the IRS. The reason is that their computers track spouses by the first spouse listed, so they might not match your tax extension to your tax returns.

If you’re married filing separately, it goes by which tax return you need to file an extension for.

If I know I’m getting a tax refund, do I need to file an extension?

If you know for sure you’re getting a tax refund, it’s still a good idea to file an extension. Even though there generally won’t be any penalties in your situation, the IRS might still send you a notice or letter for not filing your tax return.

In addition, if you end up unexpectedly owing money, the penalties will be higher if you didn’t request an extension compared to if you did. That’s because you’ll owe both a late filing penalty and late payment penalty.

The reason you won’t owe penalties if you get a refund is that both late filing and late payment penalties are based on your unpaid taxes.

What if you never filed before? It says your information must exactly match your tax return.

You must use the exact same information (name and address) in your extension request as when you file your tax return. If you never filed before, the IRS will match your info on the tax extension to the tax return you file.

Again, triple-check everything and make sure you enter the information exactly the same on your tax extension, this year’s tax return, and last year’s tax return. If the IRS computers can’t match your info, you could end up spending hours on the phone.

Special Extensions of Time to File Your Tax Return

If you meet certain criteria, you may qualify for a truly automatic extension of time to file. You don’t need to file an extension request.

How long do you get to file if you’re living abroad or on military duty overseas?

U.S. citizens and residents who live overseas and military members on duty overseas have until June 15th to file their tax returns. The tax extension to June 15th is fully automatic. You don’t need to request it.

If you need more time, you can request an extension as described above. Your extension deadline is still October 15th.

Even though you get an automatic extension without request until June 15th, your official due date is still April 15th. The six-month tax extension still counts from April.

How long do you get to file if you are or were serving in a combat zone?

Military members have at least 180 days after they leave the combat zone to file their tax returns and pay any taxes owed. You may also get additional time to take other tax-related actions like contributing to an IRA.

See IRS Publication 3 for details.

What if you were affected by a disaster?

When there is a major disaster, the IRS will often grant extensions to taxpayers in the affected area. The IRS announces specific extensions to those taxpayers.

You can check the IRS disaster relief page for the current extensions.

Does it cost anything to request an extension of time to file your tax return?

You shouldn’t pay to extend the time to file your tax return. There are online companies that charge you to do this, but they’re only submitting the same form you can submit for free.

The extension form only asks for basic information like your name and Social Security Number. You don’t need to pay someone to fill it out.

If you file with a CPA, Enrolled Agent, or tax preparation company, you might find yourself in a few different situations.

  • If they’re asking you to extend because they can’t finish your tax return before April 15th, they should not charge you to extend.
  • If you can’t file on time because you need documents or didn’t come to your accountant soon enough, they might ask you to file an extension on your own.
  • If you expect to owe money, a tax accountant might charge you a fee to estimate what you will owe the IRS so you can make a payment before April 15th.

Are there penalties for requesting an extension of time to file?

There is no penalty for requesting an extension of time to file your tax return. When you request an extension and file by the extended deadline, your tax return is filed on time.

If you don’t request an extension or don’t meet the extended filing deadline, the failing to file penalty is 5% of the tax you owe per month up to 25%.

What is the penalty if you don’t pay by April 15th?

If you owe taxes after April 15th, the failing to pay penalty is 0.5% of the unpaid balance per month plus the current interest rate. The tax extension is only to file not to pay.

Penalties and interest start on April 15th rather than when you file your extended tax return.

What if you can’t pay and will need a payment plan?

You can only request a payment plan after you file your tax return. Standard penalties and interest will apply until you file and get approved for a payment plan.

How can I pay if I don’t know what I’ll owe until I file?

Even if it seems unfair, you still have to pay, even if you won’t know what your tax liability until you do your tax return. You have to come up with your best estimate. If you pay too much, you get a refund when you file.

Some people pay what they owed the last tax year plus a little extra. Other people can figure out the most they could possibly owe based on their income, pay that amount, and get some back when their accountant figures out their deductions and credits.

Can you make multiple payments when you request an extension?

You can make multiple, separate payments when you request an extension. Reasons you might want to do this include the following.

  • Using multiple bank accounts or credit cards to pay taxes.
  • Realizing you will owe more money after making a tax payment.
  • You and your spouse prefer paying taxes from separate accounts.

You would still select extension as the reason for making a tax payment. The Form 1040 option is only for after you’ve filed.

Is my accountant responsible for my penalties and interest if they’re the reason I have to extend?

Your accountant should clearly communicate when they expect to file your tax return and whether you need to request a tax extension. It’s common, especially later in tax season, for accountants to tell you they can’t fit you in unless you file a tax extension.

Tax professionals generally aren’t responsible for penalties and interest if they tell you they can’t file your tax return unless you request a tax extension.

If your accountant doesn’t file your tax return by the time they promised, check your agreement with them. In most cases, it’s a best practice for them to let you know in advance so you can make a payment by the tax deadline and avoid possible penalties.

Do you get more time to contribute to your IRA if you request more time to file your tax return?

Yes, you have until the extended deadline to contribute to your IRA as long as you requested an extension of time to file. The reason is you may need to complete your tax return to know if you meet the income limits for an IRA.

If you’re ready to file your taxes but haven’t maxed out your IRA, you can even extend your tax return deadline just to give yourself more time to contribute to your IRA. Remember, you don’t need a reason to extend.

If you extend to give yourself more time to contribute to an IRA, you might want to make a tax payment based on what you would owe without the additional IRA deduction. This avoids late payment penalties if you end up not being able to contribute as much to your IRA as you thought.

State Tax Extensions

Most states allow extensions for state income tax returns. The rules are usually similar to the IRS rules, but check your state for specific details.

For example, Michigan will grant you an extension to file if you request an extension from the IRS. You generally don’t need to request the state extension separately.

  • Like the IRS, the Michigan tax filing extension is for six months from your original due date.
  • Payments are still due on the original due date.
  • You may owe penalties of 5% per month or more plus interest if you owe money when you file your extended return.
  • If you didn’t request a federal extension, file Form 4 to request a Michigan extension and include a payment.

States vary on whether they require you to request a state extension separately and on what the rules for requesting an extension are. Check your state’s tax extension information to be sure.

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