Tax Tips for Last-Minute Filers

Time is running out for most people to file taxes for 2023, but these tax tips could help you meet the deadline.

TAX TIME words in a notebook next to an alarm clock on a blue background.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tax Day is almost here for most people, so you'll want to file your federal income tax return soon to avoid IRS penalties. The last day to file taxes is April 15, 2024. (Several other tax deadlines fall on that day, too.) Here are a few tips for filing your taxes at the last minute  — without sacrificing the tax savings you're entitled to.

Tax tip #1:  File taxes for free

E-filing is the fastest way to get your tax return to the IRS. Many taxpayers can e-file for free. IRS Free File allows you to use certain tax preparation software at no cost if your adjusted gross income (AGI) wasn’t more than $79,000 for 2023. Some people can also file their state tax returns at no cost. You can use the IRS Free File online look-up tool to find free federal tax preparation software and determine which providers offer free state filing. 

Also, if your AGI was more than $79,000 in 2023 you can still use IRS fillable forms at no charge.

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  • You can file online when using IRS fillable forms. 
  • However, with these forms, you won’t find guided step-by-step instructions like you would with most tax preparation software. 
  • State tax filing is unavailable with fillable forms. 

For information about other free filing options, see Ways to File Your Taxes for Free.

Tax tip #2:  File for a tax extension

If you aren’t quite ready to file taxes yet, you can still avoid a failure-to-file penalty but only if you request or were already granted a tax extension. Eligible taxpayers in some states were granted automatic IRS tax deadline extensions due to severe storms and natural disasters.

Everyone else must request a tax extension by the April 15 deadline. If granted an extension, you'll have until Oct. 15, 2024 to file your return. However, you must still pay the IRS or set up a payment plan by April 15. (Payment deadlines may differ for those granted automatic extensions.)

Tax Tip #3:  Seek help from a tax professional 

Consider enlisting help from a professional tax preparer. This is a good option when you don’t know how to handle your tax situation and when you want to ensure you pay as little tax (or receive the biggest refund, if you’re due one) as possible. Professionals can also provide valuable tax tips and answer any last-minute tax filing questions you might have.

There are qualified professionals who can help you prepare your tax return, like enrolled agents (licensed by the IRS), CPAs and tax attorneys. Some tax software programs might also offer assistance from tax experts.

Tax Tip #4:  Maximize tax deductions and credits

Try not to rush so much that you forget to maximize tax deductions. You can potentially keep or put more money in your pocket by ensuring you take advantage of every tax deduction and tax credit that you qualify for. The best way to do this is to enlist the help of one of the professionals listed above. But you can also claim tax deductions and credits if you do your own taxes. However, keep in mind that many taxpayers miss out on often-overlooked tax deductions and credits because they don’t know they exist.

You might be able to lower your tax bill even further by making contributions to your Health Savings Account (HSA) or traditional IRA if you haven’t already reached the maximum limits. You have until the tax deadline on April 15 to make contributions to your 2023 IRA or HSA accounts and claim the deduction on your 2023 tax return.

What if you miss the tax deadline?

If you miss the tax deadline, you'll still want to file your federal return as soon as possible. The failure-to-file penalty is 5% of taxes owed for every month or partial month your return is late. So, the longer you wait to file, the more you'll pay in fees. This penalty is separate from the failure-to-pay penalty, so you should file as soon as possible, even if you can't pay your taxes in full. 

For more information see If You Miss the Tax Deadline, What Happens?

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Katelyn Washington
Tax Writer

Katelyn has more than 6 years’ experience working in tax and finance. While she specializes in tax content, Katelyn has also written for digital publications on topics including insurance, retirement and financial planning and has had financial advice commissioned by national print publications. She believes that knowledge is the key to success and enjoys helping others reach their goals by providing content that educates and informs.