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There are some things you just can't help but push off (and off, and off) — and taxes are one of them.
If you're in the eleventh hour without having even downloaded a 1040 yet, it might behoove you to file for a six-month extension, which gives you until October 15 to file your taxes. Here’s how to do it:
Complete IRS Form 4868. That’s the application asking for an automatic extension to file an individual tax return. Fill this out (thankfully, the IRS includes detailed instructions on the form) because you may have to file this form by April 15. It can also help you determine if you might owe money to the IRS.
Estimate how much you might owe in taxes. If you don’t think you’ll owe any taxes this year, then you can simply move onto filing Form 4868 with the IRS. But if you think you’ll owe money, you’ll still have to pay your estimated taxes by April 15.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking: “But I thought this whole ‘filing an extension’ thing meant that I wouldn’t have to pay my tax bill for another six months.” Wrong. You’re just giving yourself more time to get all your paperwork in order and file your 1040; the government still wants your money on time.
If you don’t pay by April 15, you’ll end up owing interest on your unpaid tax balance, and you could get hit with additional IRS penalties. But if you pay at least 90% of what you owe, you may not be subject to penalties (although you’ll still have to pay any interest accrued).
If you’re not sure what your tax liability is, try out a calculator like this one.
File Form 4868 and pay your estimated taxes. You can either mail in Form 4868 along with a check for what you owe, or file for the extension and pay electronically using one of the IRS’ electronic filing options.
Note that if you pay your estimated taxes electronically, then you don’t actually have to upload Form 4868; your extension will be automatically processed along with your payment.
Now that you’ve got your extension squared away and given yourself some breathing room, it’s time to actually get down to filling out that 1040 (and it’s probably best not to wait until October 15 to make that happen).
This article was updated on March 26, 2019.
This publication is not intended as legal or tax advice. Taxpayers should seek advice based on their particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor.