When life gets in the way of filing your tax return by the April deadline, one thing can get you some relief: a tax extension. That can buy you an extra six months. You can get it the old-fashioned way — filling out IRS Form 4868 and mailing it in — or online. Here’s how to do it online.
Use your tax software to get a tax extension
If you use or plan to use tax software, see if it supports Form 4868. Most do. You can simply follow the program’s instructions and see how to file a tax extension online that way.
Head to the IRS’ Free File site
If you don’t plan to use tax software or haven’t decided which software to use, consider the IRS’ Free File site. The IRS partners with a nonprofit organization called the Free File Alliance to provide people who make less than $64,000 of adjusted gross income access to free tax-prep software from 12 software companies. 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 deadline to avoid a late-filing penalty from the IRS.
Remember to still pay your taxes by the April deadline
Even if you can’t file your return by the April deadline, you should pay as much of your estimated tax as possible at that time. That’s because 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 deadline and you pay the rest with your return. The IRS also might let you off the hook if you can show “reasonable cause” for why you didn’t pay on time, though you’ll need to attach a written explanation to your return.
A note about overseas taxpayers and military members
Some folks don’t necessarily need to worry about filing the tax extension form at all. If you’re a U.S. citizen or resident who lived and worked outside of the country on the April 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). And some members of the military also get extra time automatically, depending on where they are and what they’re doing.
Tina Orem is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated April 17, 2017.