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

The new extension procedure is simpler

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Once upon a time, you could request a second extension of time to file your personal income tax return with the Internal Revenue Service. Not anymore. Your request for an automatic extension of time will grant you an extra six months to file your taxes, but that's your one and only chance to ask for a bit of a reprieve.

It's not as bad as it sounds. The amount of extra time you get works out just the same as it did in the old days, and you only have to ask once now rather than twice. You don't have to remember to go back and tap the IRS on the shoulder a second time. 

The Old Procedure 

Under the old extension procedure, you could request an automatic four-month extension followed by a two-month second extension. Form 2688 was used to request the second extension, but that's obsolete now and is no longer used.

Now you need only file Form 4868 to get the additional six months all at once. 

Americans Living Out of the Country 

Americans living in other countries can sometimes request additional time beyond the six-month extension to October 15, but they must still file an additional form. They must file for the first extension, then file Form 2350. This is used to request additional time to file Form 1040 so you can qualify for the foreign earned income exclusion. The IRS explains this special procedure and the circumstances under which it can be useful. 

What Happens When You File an Extension?

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

The deadline for filing your 2017 personal tax return is April 17, 2018. April 15 is a Sunday, and Monday, April 16 is Emancipation Day which is recognized as a holiday in Washington D.C. So in 2018, you get two extra days right there.

When you file Form 4868, the IRS will automatically extend your filing deadline by six months...less those two extra days you got in the first place. It's that simple. Your new deadline to file a tax return will be October 15, 2018. You don't get to pick up that Sunday and the holiday too at the other end of the line.

But—and this is a big but—tax payments for the 2017 tax year are still due by April 17, 2018. An extension doesn't give you additional time to pay. The IRS will charge interest and sometimes even penalties on tax payments made after April 17. 

Here's How to File 

First, create a rough draft of your tax return. You're not going to file it. You just want an idea whether you expect a refund or you might owe taxes.

Now download Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return from the IRS website. Fill it out. If you owe taxes, write a check for the approximate amount of money you think you'll owe.

If you use tax preparation software, these programs will almost invariably file Form 1868 for you, often at no charge. 

If you owe taxes, mail the extension form with your check. Here's a list of mailing  addresses for sending Form 4868 to the IRS. If you don't owe taxes, just mail the form. You can also go to the IRS Direct Pay website and submit payment there. 

If you don't electronically file the form with tax preparation software, your extension must be postmarked on or before the April 17, 2018 deadline. Remember—this date only applies to 2017 tax returns. April 15 is normally the deadline in other years.

It's a good idea to send the extension form by certified mail with return receipt requested. This provides proof that you did indeed mail your extension request and when you did so, as well as proof that the IRS received the form.

If you file your extension online, make sure that you do so before midnight on the deadline day. It takes from five to 20 minutes or so to file the extension online, so give yourself enough time to finish before midnight.