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Tax Extension: What It Is and How to File One

File IRS Form 4868 — but remember that getting an extension gives you more time to file, but not more time to pay your taxes.
Tina Orem
Sabrina Parys
By Sabrina Parys and  Tina Orem 
Updated
Edited by Chris Hutchison

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If you don’t think you’ll have it together by tax day and think you’ll need to file an extension, you're not alone. The IRS estimates that nearly 19 million taxpayers asked for extensions to file their income tax returns in 2023, and millions likely will again this year

Internal Revenue Service. Publication 6149. Accessed Jan 31, 2024.
.

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.

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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 mail by the tax filing deadline. In 2024, a tax extension request that’s submitted by April 15 would move your filing deadline to Oct. 15. Don’t forget to double-check that your request is error-free to avoid it getting rejected.

How tax extensions work

A common misconception about tax extensions is that they give you more time to pay your tax bill. But in reality, an extension only gives you more time to file. If you need more time to deal with a tax bill, the IRS offers payment plans that can help you 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.

  • If you owe: If you can’t file your return by the tax filing deadline, in addition to requesting an extension, the IRS suggests you 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

    Internal Revenue Service. 2024 1040-ES. Accessed Jan 31, 2024.
    .

  • 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 online, noting that your payment is for an extension, you can skip the paperwork altogether

Internal Revenue Service. 2023 Form 4868. Accessed Jan 31, 2024.
.

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 have an adjusted gross income of $79,000 or less access to free, name-brand tax-prep software. Anybody — even people above the income threshold — can go to the IRS website to file an extension online

    Internal Revenue Service. Free File: Everyone Can File an Extension for Free. Accessed Jan 31, 2024.
    .

  • 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, and it must be postmarked by April 15.

When do I need to file a tax extension by?

Tax day is 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 living in state counties affected by certain natural disasters may automatically get more time, too.

  • 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

Internal Revenue Service. FAQs for Disaster Victims. Accessed Jan 31, 2024.
.

State

Affected counties

Extended tax filing deadline

Connecticut

New London County and the tribal nations of Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot.

June 17, 2024.

Maine

Androscoggin, Franklin, Hancock, Kennebec, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset, Waldo and Washington counties.

June 17, 2024.

Michigan

Eaton, Ingham, Ionia, Kent, Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland and Wayne counties.

June 17, 2024.

Rhode Island

Providence County.

June 17, 2024.

St. Croix

All.

Feb. 29, 2024.*

Tennessee

Cheatham, Davidson, Dickson, Gibson, Montgomery, Robertson, Stewart and Sumner and Weakley counties.

June 17, 2024.

West Virginia

Boone, Calhoun, Clay, Harrison and Kanawha counties.

June 17, 2024.

*Only for taxpayers who already have a valid tax extension for 2022 returns 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 2024, the tax extension deadline is Oct. 15. If you miss this due datepenalties will accrue.

Frequently asked questions

Nothing. You can file a tax extension for free by submitting Form 4868 to the IRS by the tax filing deadline. A tax extension gives you six additional months — until October — to file your federal tax return.

You can file for one automatic six-month tax extension to extend your federal tax return filing deadline to mid-October.

The IRS does not impose penalties on late tax returns with refunds due. For late returns with taxes owed, the IRS levies a failure-to-file penalty, which can go up to 25% of your unpaid tax bill.

You’ll want to check your state tax department’s website for information regarding state tax extensions — each state’s rules may vary. In some states you may have to request an extension, while in others it may be automatically granted. And in certain states, a federal tax extension also serves as a state extension.

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