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Editor's note: The last day to request an income tax extension for the 2022 tax year was April 18, 2023, and the deadline to submit a tax return for 2022 extension filers was Oct. 16, 2023.
If you didn't quite have it together by the time tax day arrived and needed to file an extension, you're not alone. The IRS estimates that 19 million taxpayers asked for extensions to file their income tax returns last year, and millions likely did again this year.
Knowing that you have extra time to file your paperwork could feel like a big relief, but remember that an extension buys you additional time to file, not more time to pay. Make sure to still estimate your taxes owed and submit an estimated payment as soon as possible to prevent late-payment fees and interest from racking up.
What is a tax extension?
A tax extension is a request for additional time to file your federal income tax return with the IRS. Tax extensions can help you avoid incurring a late-filing penalty.
You can submit Form 4868 to the IRS online or by or mail by the tax-filing deadline. In 2023, a tax extension request that was submitted by April 18, 2023, moved the tax filing deadline to Oct. 16, 2023.
To reduce additional penalties and interest, make sure to also submit a payment for your estimated taxes owed when filing for an extension.
How tax extensions work
A common misconception about tax extensions is that they give you more time to pay your tax bill. In reality, extensions push out your filing deadline, not your tax bill due date. If you need more time to deal with a tax bill, the IRS offers payment plans that can help you to pay off your balance in increments over time.
Filing an extension can be helpful for people who may be missing important tax documents or who need extra time to get their paperwork together. Regardless of your extension request, the IRS still expects you to submit an estimated tax payment by tax day if you owe taxes.
If you owe: If you can’t file your return by the tax-filing deadline, in addition to requesting an extension, you need to estimate your tax bill and pay as much of that as possible at that time. Anything you owe after the deadline is subject to interest and a late-payment penalty, but you might be able to catch a break on the late-payment penalty if you’ve ended up paying at least 90% of your actual tax liability by the deadline and you pay the rest with your return. You can estimate your liability by using the Estimated Tax Worksheet on Form 1040-ES or using tax software.
If you're expecting a refund: The IRS does not impose a failure-to-file penalty on tax returns that are filed late if there is a refund due. However, filing a tax extension anyway if you need some extra time could be a good idea. For example, if you miscalculated and end up with a tax bill, a tax extension will get you out of the late-filing penalty.
How to file a tax extension
Submit Form 4868 to the IRS either electronically or via mail by the tax filing deadline. If you pay the IRS an estimate of your taxes owed by tax day using either your debit/credit card, IRS Direct Pay, or the EFTPS system, noting that your payment is for an extension, you can skip the paperwork altogether.
Here are a few other common ways to file a tax extension:
IRS Free File: The IRS partners with a nonprofit organization called the Free File Alliance to provide people who make less than $73,000 of adjusted gross income access to free, name-brand tax-prep software. Anybody — even people above the income threshold — can go there to file an extension online.
Tax software: If you're planning to use tax software, most providers support filing Form 4868 for tax extensions. You can simply follow the program’s instructions and see how to file a tax extension electronically that way. The IRS will send you an electronic acknowledgment when you submit the form.
Tax preparer: If you plan to work with a tax pro or a tax preparer, ask to see if they can file for an extension on your behalf.
By mail: You can apply for a tax extension on paper by filling out Form 4868 and sending it to the IRS via snail mail. Make sure to get proof that you mailed it, though.
» MORE: How to make an IRS payment
When do I need to file a tax extension by?
Tax day was the last day to submit a request for an income tax extension. This gets you six more months to file your tax return. You cannot request more than one tax extension per return.
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Tax extensions for overseas taxpayers and military members
Some people don’t necessarily need to worry about applying for tax extensions at all. Because they automatically get more time if they meet certain criteria.
If you’re a U.S. citizen or resident who lived and worked outside of the country on the tax-filing deadline, you may automatically get two extra months to file your return and pay any amount due without having to request a tax extension.
People affected by certain natural disasters may automatically get more time, too (the time varies; check the list of qualifying disasters).
Some members of the military also get extra time automatically, depending on where they are and what they’re doing.
Which states have federal tax deadline extensions?
Several states have had their federal tax deadlines extended as a result of FEMA-declared natural disasters. The extension applies to federal filing and payment due dates for individual income, business, and quarterly tax filings
As a rule of thumb, only people living and businesses established in the counties recognized by the IRS as affected by the disaster are eligible for this relief. If you weren't able to meet your tax-filing obligation on time because your preparer lives in the affected county or if the paperwork you needed to complete your return was located in the disaster area, you may also be eligible. See the IRS disaster relief page for more details.
Extended tax-filing deadline
All California counties, except Lassen, Modoc and Shasta.
Nov. 16, 2023.
Alachua, Baker, Bay, Bradford, Calhoun, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Columbia, DeSoto, Dixie, Duval, Flagler, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hamilton, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Lafayette, Lake, Lee, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Manatee, Marion, Nassau, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Volusia and Wakulla counties.
Feb. 15, 2024.*
Appling, Atkinson, Bacon, Berrien, Brantley, Brooks, Bulloch, Camden, Candler, Charlton, Clinch, Coffee, Colquitt, Cook, Echols, Emanuel, Glynn, Jeff Davis, Jenkins, Lanier, Lowndes, Pierce, Screven, Tattnall, Thomas, Tift, Ware, and Wayne counties.
Feb. 15, 2024.*
Maui and Hawaii counties.
Feb. 15, 2024.*
Feb. 15, 2024.*
Feb. 15, 2024.*
*Only for taxpayers who already have a valid 2023 income tax extension and for certain quarterly and business tax payments. See the IRS website for more details and applicable dates.
When is the tax extension deadline?
Requesting an extension and making an estimated payment is only half the work. You still have to file your final return. In 2023, the tax extension deadline was October 16. If you missed this due date, the penalties could get worse.