Tax Extensions 2021: How and When to Get One

File IRS Form 4868 — but remember that getting an extension doesn't give you more time to actually pay your taxes.

Tina OremJanuary 14, 2021
How to file a tax extension online

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

The federal income tax filing deadline is April 15, 2021. If you need more time, you can get a tax extension by filing IRS Form 4868. This gets you until Oct. 15, 2021, to file your tax return.

Here are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to tax extensions.

Find the stamps

There’s nothing wrong with doing things the old-fashioned way and applying for a tax extension by snail mail (it’s less than a page long), but just get proof that you mailed it.

Use your tax software to get a tax extension ...

If you don’t want to fill out the paper Form 4868 for your extension, see if your tax software supports Form 4868 for tax extensions. Most do. You can simply follow the program’s instructions and see how to file a tax extension online that way.

... or head to the IRS’s Free File site

If you don’t plan to use tax software or haven’t decided which software to use, consider IRS Free File. The IRS partners with a nonprofit organization called the Free File Alliance to provide people who make less than $72,000 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.

Note that the Free File site may not offer extensions all year, and that’s probably for good reason: You should request an extension on or before the April 15 deadline to avoid a late-filing penalty from the IRS.

Remember to still pay your taxes by the April deadline ...

Getting an extension does not give you more time to pay — it only gives you more time to file your return. So even if you can’t file your return by the April 15 deadline, 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 — even if you get an extension.

  • You might be able to catch a break on the late-payment penalty if you’ve paid at least 90% of your actual tax liability by the April 15 deadline and you pay the rest with your return.

... and to file your return by the October deadline

Requesting an extension and making an estimated payment in April are just half the work. You still have to file your final return. If you don't file by the Oct. 15 extension deadline, the penalties could get worse.

Tax extensions for overseas taxpayers and military members

Some folks don’t necessarily need to worry about applying for tax extensions at all.

  • If you’re a U.S. citizen or resident who lived and worked outside of the country on the July 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.

We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet’s official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.