How to Ask the IRS for More Time to File Your Tax Return

In most cases, it's a simple matter of filing just one form

Tax forms, calculator, and a pen used to decide that more time is needed to file tax return
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Table of Contents

Despite the due date normally falling on April 15, you don't have to file your tax return with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by mid-April each year. The IRS is willing to move this deadline back for you by six months. All you have to do is ask.

Taxes are usually due by April 15, but deadlines in 2021 have been pushed back to June 15 for those affected by the winter storms in Texas and Oklahoma. Louisiana was added to the list in early-March 2021. Businesses and individuals who qualify can delay filing returns and paying any taxes due until that date. They don't have to ask for an extension. Residents in all other states—but not corporations—have also been given an automatic extension until May 17, 2021, to file in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

You could request a second extension of time to file your income tax return with the IRS up until 2005. This isn't the case anymore, but the amount of extra time you get works out to be the same that it used to be. The difference is that you only have to ask once these days rather than twice.

The Old Procedure vs. the New Procedure 

Under the old extension procedure in place through 2004, you could request an automatic four-month extension, followed by a second two-month extension. Form 2688 was used to request the second extension, but that's no longer used.

That procedure is much simpler now. Your initial request for an automatic extension of time will grant you an extra six months to file your taxes—the same length of extension that used to require two separate requests. Keep in mind that your first extension request is your only chance to ask for a bit of a reprieve in 2021 and going forward.

What Happens When You File an Extension?

Filing an extension is one of the simpler tax challenges you'll ever encounter, but you should understand what it does and doesn't do.

You can file Form 4868 to get the additional six months all at once. Your new deadline to file a tax return will be October 15, 2021. However, tax payments for the 2020 tax year are still due no later than May 17, 2021, as provided by the deadline extension, or by June 15, 2021 if you live in Texas, Oklahoma or Louisiana. An extension of time to file in October doesn't give you additional time to pay. The IRS will charge interest, and sometimes even penalties, on tax payments made after the applicable due date. If you're reading this after the May 17th, 2021 deadline, then the sooner you pay your any taxes due, the better. It's worth the frustration of paying taxes and any penalties now because it will save you from greater frustration when they compound and you have to pay more later.

How to File

The first step in asking for an extension is to create a rough draft of your tax return. It's important to prepare a rough draft to see whether you will receive a tax refund or owe taxes, even if you don't plan on filing your return by the original due date.

If you don't think you'll be able to settle your tax liability by May 17, 2021 (or by June 15 for those affected by winter storms in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma), consider applying for a payment plan, an offer in compromise, or another similar payment option.

If you use tax preparation software, these programs will likely offer to e-file Form 4868 for you, usually at no charge. Provide the necessary information, and make sure that you do so before midnight on the deadline day. It can take from five to 20 minutes to file the extension online, so give yourself enough time to finish before midnight.

The IRS offers a list of mailing addresses for sending Form 4868 if you want to submit it the old-fashioned way. Your extension must be postmarked on or before the May 17 deadline (or June 15 for eligible taxpayers) if you mail it rather than electronically file the form with tax preparation software.

It's a good idea to send the extension form by certified mail with a return receipt requested if you decide to mail it. This receipt proves that you did indeed send in your extension request, when you did so, and that the IRS received the form.

How to Pay

Mail a check with the extension form if you owe taxes. Otherwise, mail only the form. You can also go to the IRS Direct Pay website to pay if you filed Form 4868 online. Some software providers are set up to allow you to pay by direct debit from your bank account when you file the extension form through them.

Americans Living out of the Country 

Americans who live in other countries can sometimes request additional time to file beyond the six-month extension to October 15, but they must file an additional form. Request the first extension on Form 4868, then file Form 2350. This second form requests additional time to file Form 1040 so you can qualify for special tax treatment. Americans abroad must also pay any taxes owed by April 15.

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