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 OremMarch 17, 2021
How to file a tax extension online
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The federal income tax filing deadline is May 17, 2021. If you need more time, you can get an automatic income 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.

How do I file a tax extension?

You can get a tax extension electronically or via mail. You should request an extension on or before the May 17 deadline to avoid a late-filing penalty from the IRS.

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 electronically that way. The IRS will send you an electronic acknowledgment when you submit the form.

Is it easy to use?

Pricing: $60 to $120, plus state costs.

Free version? Yes.

Is it easy to use?

Pricing: $44.95 to $79.95, plus state costs.

Free version? Yes.

Promotion: Get 25% off federal and state filing costs.

Is it easy to use?

Pricing: $49.99 to $109.99, plus state costs.

Free version? Yes.

You can also apply for a tax extension by filling out Form 4868 on paper and sending it via snail mail (it’s less than a page long), but just get proof that you mailed it.

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.

How long is a tax extension?

A tax extension gives you until Oct. 15, 2021, to file your tax return.

However, getting an extension does not give you more time to pay — it only gives you more time to file your return. If you can’t file your return by the May 17 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 May 17 deadline and you pay the rest with your return.

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 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.

Remember to file by the October deadline

Requesting an extension and making an estimated payment 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.