Advertiser Disclosure

Tax Extensions 2019-2020: How and When to Get One

Simply file IRS Form 4868 — but remember that getting an extension doesn't give you more time to actually pay your taxes.
Dec. 6, 2019
Income Taxes, Personal Taxes, Taxes
How to file a tax extension online
At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

When life gets in the way of filing your tax return by the April deadline, one thing can give people some relief: tax extensions.

You can get a tax extension for your tax return by filling out IRS Form 4868 and mailing it in, or you can do it online. Here are some do’s and don’ts.

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, says Lee Reams Sr., an enrolled agent in Newport Beach, California.

“Lots of times the IRS will come back and say, ‘We never got it,’” he warns.

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 the IRS’ Free File website. The IRS partners with a nonprofit organization called the Free File Alliance to provide people who make less than $69,000 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 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 deadline, you need to estimate your tax bill and pay as much of that as possible at that time, Reams says.
  • 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.

>>MORE: See 8 ways you can make an IRS payment

… 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 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 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).
  • Some members of the military also get extra time automatically, depending on where they are and what they’re doing.

>>MORE: This list of IRS customer service phone numbers could get you help faster

About the author