If you missed the deadline to ask the IRS for a tax extension (it was April 15, or April 17 if you live in Maine or Massachusetts), there still might be hope. Some people automatically get more time, which can be a lifesaver — if they avoid a few pitfalls.
Who gets more time
People out of the country
U.S. citizens or residents who lived and worked outside the country on the April deadline may automatically qualify for a two-month tax extension from the IRS. If you need even more time, filing IRS Form 4868 by June 17 could get you four more months to deal with your taxes. In some cases, the IRS might grant even more time (check out the instructions to Form 4868 for details).
People affected by certain natural disasters
The amount of extra time here varies, but the IRS keeps a list of qualifying disasters and their extension deadlines, notes Justin Prusiensky, a certified public accountant in Charlotte, North Carolina. However, although the IRS may be willing to wait for your tax return after a disaster occurs, your state may not be so patient, so find out what your state’s rules are. “It gets really tricky with federal disaster zones,” he says.
Some members of the military
The amount of extra time here depends on where the service member is and what he or she is doing. For example, soldiers in combat areas can get an extra 180 days from their last day in a combat zone to file their tax returns. Hospitalization due to combat injury can further extend the extension.
Stay on track
If you already filed for a tax extension, or are one of the lucky ones who automatically get one, there are some important things to remember, Prusiensky says.
Estimate what you owe and pay it now
Generally, getting an extension gives you more time to get your tax return to the IRS — it doesn’t buy you more time to pay your taxes. That means you’ll likely owe interest on taxes outstanding after the April deadline, even if you get an extension. The IRS may also assess a late-payment penalty, which normally is 0.5% per month of the outstanding tax not paid by the April deadline (the maximum is 25%).
“If you think you are going to owe something, throwing any kind of dollars at either the state or the IRS makes a big difference with the penalties and interest later on,” Prusiensky says. The IRS offers installment plans if you can’t pay your whole tax bill at once, he adds.
Remember your state tax return
“Depending on what state you live in, there may be a separate requirement for a separate state extension as well. And if you file in more than one state, you’re looking at quite a bit of paperwork on that part,” Prusiensky says.
Stay on top of it
Miss your extension deadline and you might face a steep late-filing penalty of 5% of the amount due for every month or partial month your return is late. The lesson: Dragging your feet might do nothing but raise your tax bill, so don’t dawdle.
“A lot of people procrastinate all the way to mid-October,” Prusiensky says. “People are still chasing down documents and things like that.”