tax deadline

Tax Extension: How to Get More Time to File Your Tax Return

If you can't wrap up your tax return by today's deadline, it's easy to buy yourself more time.

We're finally at the end of this year's long, drawn out tax filing season. The due date for filing your 2019 tax return was pushed back from April 15 to July 15, 2020, which means you only have a few hours left to beat the clock and file your return before the new deadline expires at midnight. But what if, for whatever reason, you just can't file your return today? Don't panic – it's easy to get an automatic filing extension to October 15. You don't even need to have a good excuse or explain why you need more time.

Be warned, though, that an extension to file doesn't extend the time to pay any tax due. If you don't pay the estimated total tax you owe by the end of the day, the IRS will charge you interest on the unpaid balance (even if you had a good reason for not paying on time). They can also tack on additional penalties for filing and paying late. Don't get caught in that trap!

File Form 4868 or Pay Your Tax Electronically

There are two ways to request an automatic three-month extension: File Form 4868 or make an electronic tax payment. Either way, you need to act by the end of the day.

You can file Form 4868 by mail or electronically. If you mail a paper version of the form to the IRS, it must be postmarked today at the latest. You have to use the U.S. Postal Service to mail the form, since it must be delivered to a P.O. box (private delivery services can't deliver items to IRS P.O. boxes). If you submit the form electronically – either on your own computer or through a tax professional – have a copy of your 2018 tax return handy, since you'll be asked to provide information from that return to verify your identity. If you want to save a few bucks, use the IRS Free File or Free File Fillable Forms to prepare and e-file the form at no cost. Both are available on the IRS website.

The other way to get an automatic extension is by making an electronic tax payment today. Simply pay all or part of your estimated income tax due using the IRS Direct Pay service (payment directly from a bank account), the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, or by using a credit or debit card (processing fees may apply). You'll also need to indicate that the payment is for an extension. Make sure you keep the confirmation number for your payment, too. Start at the IRS's "Paying Your Taxes" webpage to make an electronic federal tax payment.

Taxpayers Living Abroad

There are several special rules for U.S. citizens living outside the country...but they're a little bit different this year. First, you're normally allowed an automatic two-month extension to file your return and pay your taxes if you're a U.S. citizen or resident alien and, on the regular due date of your return, you're (1) living out of the country and your main place of business or duty post is also outside the U.S., or (2) serving in the military on duty outside the U.S. However, this initial extension, which would have been to June 15, 2020, was eliminated this year when the IRS pushed all federal tax due dates between April 1 and July 14 to July 15, 2020.

Taxpayers living abroad who can't file their return by the end of today can get an additional three months to file their return like everyone else. That will extend the filing date to October 15. You have to request this extension no later than midnight tonight by filing Form 4868. (Make sure you check the box on line 8 of the form.) This filing extension does not extend the time to pay your tax.

Taxpayers who are out of the country can also request an additional, discretionary two-month filing extension. This will take you to December 15, 2020. To get this extension, you must send the IRS a letter by October 15 explaining the reasons why you need the additional two months. The IRS will let you know if the request is denied. If you don't hear back from them, you’re good to go.

And there's more! If you're outside the U.S., you can also request an extension beyond October 15 if you need time to meet certain tests to qualify for an exclusion or deduction for foreign earned income or housing. This extension will generally be for 30 days beyond the date that you expect to qualify for the exclusion or deduction. To request this extension, file Form 2350 with the IRS today. If you're granted this extension, you can't also get the discretionary two-month additional extension mentioned above.

Serving in a Combat Zone

The deadline for filing your tax return and paying your tax is automatically extended if you serve in a combat zone. There's a two-step process for figuring the length of this type of extension. First, your deadline is extended for 180 days after (1) the last day you're in a combat zone or the last day the area qualifies as a combat zone, or (2) the last day of any continuous hospitalization for an injury from service in the combat zone. Use whichever of these two dates is the latest.

Second, your deadline also is extended beyond 180 days by the number of days you had left to take action with the IRS when you entered the combat zone. For example, this year you have 6½ months (January 1 to July 15) to file your tax return. Any days left in this period when you entered the combat zone (or the entire 6½ months if you entered it before the beginning of the year) are added to the 180 days.

This extension isn't just for military personnel, either. It can be claimed by merchant marines on ships under the Department of Defense's control, Red Cross personnel, war correspondents and civilians supporting the military.

State Return Extensions

Your state may have different rules and due dates for extended state income tax returns. So, be sure to check with your state's tax agency to see how return filing and payment extensions work where you live.

Most Popular

The Wrong Way to Achieve Wealth
personal finance

The Wrong Way to Achieve Wealth

For some down-to-earth, basic advice on money and life, I have a book to recommend: “Your Total Wealth: The Heart and Soul of Financial Literacy.”
April 17, 2021
The Perfect Storm for Retirees
retirement planning

The Perfect Storm for Retirees

Today’s retirees could face a perfect storm because they are living longer and spending more time in retirement, while at the same time losing access …
April 18, 2021
Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs
Coronavirus and Your Money

Child Tax Credit 2021: Who Gets $3,600? Will I Get Monthly Payments? And Other FAQs

People have lots of questions about the new $3,000 or $3,600 child tax credit and the advance payments that the IRS will send to most families in 2021…
April 14, 2021

Recommended

Taxes on Unemployment Benefits: A State-by-State Guide
state tax

Taxes on Unemployment Benefits: A State-by-State Guide

Don't be surprised by an unexpected state tax bill on your unemployment benefits. Know where unemployment compensation is taxable and where it isn't.
April 16, 2021
Taxes Aren't Due Yet, But You Might Want to File Now Anyway
tax deadline

Taxes Aren't Due Yet, But You Might Want to File Now Anyway

Even though this year's tax deadline has been extended, there are still plenty of good reasons to file your taxes now.
April 16, 2021
Tax Day 2021: When's the Last Day to File Taxes?
tax deadline

Tax Day 2021: When's the Last Day to File Taxes?

The IRS pushed Tax Day back again this year because of the pandemic. You now have an extra month to file your 2020 federal tax return.
April 15, 2021
Monthly Payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credit Will Begin in July
Coronavirus and Your Money

Monthly Payments of the 2021 Child Tax Credit Will Begin in July

After doubts about whether it was up to the task, the IRS says it's on schedule to start sending monthly child tax credit payments this summer.
April 13, 2021