Tax Extension Deadline: File Your 2021 Return Today to Avoid Penalties

If you chose to extend your tax return's due date, the tax extension deadline is here!

picture of an hour glass sitting on wood blocks with letters spelling "tax"
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The tax extension deadline has arrived. Even though the original federal tax return filing deadline for most people was on April 18 this year, the due date for filing an extended return for the 2021 tax year is October 17, 2022 – that's today! So, if you requested an extension to file your federal return, but you haven't filed yet, you probably need to take care of that by midnight tonight to avoid IRS penalties.

There are exceptions to the October 17 tax extension deadline, though. If you're living abroad or serving in a combat zone, you might be able to delay the due date for a little longer. There are also other tax moves that certain people saving for retirement need to make before the day is over. And, of course, don't forget about your state tax return.

Also remember that, in most cases, you still had to pay your 2021 taxes by April 18. If you didn't pay the estimated total tax you owed on time, the IRS can hit you with interest and penalties. So, pay up now if you owe the IRS.

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Taxpayers Living Abroad

Although their path to a filing extension is a bit different, U.S. citizens living outside the country may also be facing an October 17 tax extension deadline. But they can request an additional, discretionary two-month extension to December 15, 2022. To get the additional two months, you must send the IRS a letter by the end of the day today explaining the reasons why you need the extra time. The IRS will let you know if the request is denied. If you don't hear back from them, you're good to go.

Plus, if you were outside the U.S. before April 18, you could have requested an extension beyond October 17 if you needed time to meet certain tests to qualify for an exclusion or deduction for foreign earned income or housing. This extension is generally for 30 days beyond the date that you expect to qualify for the exclusion or deduction. To request this tax extension, you had to file Form 2350 with the IRS by the due date for filing your return. Generally, if both your tax home and your abode are outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico on the regular due date of your return (April 18), the due date for filing your return for purposes of this extension is June 15. If you're granted this tax extension, you can't also get the discretionary two-month additional extension mentioned above.

Service in a Combat Zone

The April 18 due date 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 a combat zone 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 tax extension deadline is pushed back beyond the first 180 days by the number of days you had left to take action with the IRS when you entered the combat zone. For example, you had 3½ months (January 1 to April 18) to file your tax return this year. Any days left in this period when you entered the combat zone (or the entire 3½ months if you entered it before the beginning of the year) are added to the 180 days.

The combat zone 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.

Retirement Account Due Dates

If you're trying to save money for retirement, you might have another due date to worry about today. First, self-employed people who requested a tax filing extension before April 18 must set up or make 2021 contributions to a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA by the end of the day.

Retirement savers who contributed too much to a traditional or Roth IRA for 2021 also have until the end of today to fix their mistake. If you asked to extend the due date for your tax return, today is the last day to withdraw any excess 2021 IRA contributions (plus any earnings). If you make it in time, you can avoid the IRS's 6% excessive-contribution penalty.


And speaking of penalties…if you don't file your tax return by today's tax extension deadline, expect the IRS to tack on a penalty. The late-filing penalty is 5% of the tax due for each month (or part of a month) your return is late. If your return is more than 60 days late, the minimum penalty is $435 (for tax returns required to be filed in 2022) or the balance of the tax due on your return, whichever is smaller. The maximum penalty is 25%.

If you have a good explanation for missing the tax extension deadline, you might be able to avoid the penalty. What's a good reason? Think fire, natural disaster, serious illness and the like. A lack of funds, in and of itself, is not a sufficient reason for failing to file on time. If you want to request a penalty waiver, attach a statement to your return when you do file it fully explaining your reason for being late.

If you're due a refund, then there's not much reason to worry. The IRS won't penalize you for filing a late return if you're due a refund. (They're more than happy to keep your money.)

State Tax 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 for the tax extension deadline where you live.

Rocky Mengle

Rocky Mengle was a Senior Tax Editor for Kiplinger from October 2018 to January 2023 with more than 20 years of experience covering federal and state tax developments. Before coming to Kiplinger, Rocky worked for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, and Kleinrock Publishing, where he provided breaking news and guidance for CPAs, tax attorneys, and other tax professionals. He has also been quoted as an expert by USA Today, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Reuters, Accounting Today, and other media outlets. Rocky holds a law degree from the University of Connecticut and a B.A. in History from Salisbury University.