Between gathering financial statements and organizing business receipts, tax preparation involves significant legwork. It might be worth filing an IRS extension form to give yourself more time when you need it. We’ll cover everything you need to know about how to get a tax extension using IRS Form 4868 below.
IRS Form 4868 explained
When you need extra time to file your tax return, you can make this request using IRS Form 4868. Also titled the “Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File,” it gives you six months of extra preparation time. Your returns will be due on October 15, rather than the normal deadline of April 15.
It’s free, easy to find online, and offers automatic results. The most straightforward option for filing an extension is through IRS Free File, but you’ll also find the form available with most tax preparation software. One thing to note is that even though you might not have precise calculations just yet, the form will ask you for estimates.
Who can use Form 4868?
If you normally use IRS Form 1040 to file your federal tax return, you’ll be able to use Form 4868. This applies to individual taxpayers, rather than the businesses or corporations that require forms apart from the 1040.
Some taxpayers are eligible for automatic extensions even without filing Form 4868. For example, U.S. citizens living overseas automatically receive a two-month extension to June 15. If citizens living abroad need additional time beyond the two months, they can use Form 4868.
You can also get an extension without filing Form 4868 if you’ve paid a portion of your anticipated tax liability. When you submit payment through the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), IRS Direct Pay, or online with a credit or debit card, the IRS will automatically extend your filing deadline.
How to fill out Form 4868
Filling out the IRS extension form is very straightforward, whether filing online or on paper. You’ll first be asked for your identifying details including:
Social Security number
Spouse’s name and Social Security number (if filing a joint return)
You’ll then be asked for an estimate of what you think you’ll owe to the IRS, along with how much you’ve already paid in estimated tax. You’ll also need to state how much of your estimated owed taxes you’d like to pay along with your extension request form.
How to file an extension with the IRS?
If you’re wondering how to file an extension with the IRS online, your first destination should be the Free File website. You’ll find the form here under the “Fillable Forms” section, making it easy to fill in all the details outlined above and submit your forms electronically. When you’ve gathered all the relevant details and are ready to file your federal return, you can also turn to this online service provided you meet eligibility criteria. For example, your income must fall below the current threshold ($72,000 in 2020).
Some tax software allows you to file tax extensions online as well. You’ll be prompted for details on the first screen if you need an extension, and the software will e-file it on your behalf.
IRS extension form requirements
While you’ll be granted an automatic six-month extension, you do need to get this extension request in before the usual tax filing deadline. This is normally April 15, although it was extended to May 17 in 2021 due to the Covid pandemic.
Provided you fill in all the required details and submit your form before the deadline, you should automatically receive the extension. The IRS will contact you if your request is denied, which usually only happens if you miss the filing deadline.
One final thing to note is that this form is only used to request a filing extension – it doesn’t mean that you can submit late payments without penalty. The form will ask you for your estimated tax liability so that you can make a payment along with your extension request. Any tax owed that’s unpaid past the filing deadline will still be subject to penalties and late fees. To avoid penalties like backup withholding, it's best to make any payments up front.
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