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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Despite the due date 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.

Up until 2005, you could request a second extension of time to file your income tax return with the IRS. That isn't the case anymore, but that's not as bad as it sounds. The amount of extra time you get works out to be just the same as it was back in the old days, but now you only have to ask once 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 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 obsolete now and is no longer used.

That procedure is much more simple 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, under the current procedure, that first extension request is your only chance to ask for a bit of a reprieve.

The deadline for filing your personal tax return for the 2020 tax year is April 15, 2021.

What Happens When You File an Extension?

Filing an extension is one of the simpler tax challenges you'll ever encounter. However, before you do it, you should understand what it does and doesn't do. You can file Form 4868 to get the additional six months all at once.

When you file Form 4868, your new deadline to file a tax return will be October 15, 2021. But—and this is a big "but"—tax payments for the 2020 tax year are still due by April 15, 2021. An extension of time to file doesn't give you additional time to pay. The IRS will charge interest and sometimes even charge penalties on tax payments made after April 15.

How to File

The first step in asking for an extension is to create a rough draft of your tax return. Even if you don't plan on filing your return on time, it's important to file a rough draft to see whether you will receive a tax refund or owe taxes this year.

If you don't think you'll be able to settle your tax liability by April 15, you should apply for a payment plan, offer in compromise, or another similar payment options.

If you use tax preparation software, these programs will likely offer to e-file Form 4868 for you, usually at no charge. Fill it out, 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 to the IRS if you want to submit it the old-fashioned way. If you don't electronically file the form with tax preparation software, your extension must be postmarked on or before the April 15 deadline.

It's a good idea to send the extension form by certified mail with a return receipt requested. This receipt 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.

How to Pay

If you owe taxes, mail a check with the extension form. If you don't owe taxes, mail only the form, you can also go to the IRS Direct Pay website and submit it there if you file 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.

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 with Form 4868, then file Form 2350. This form requests additional time to file Form 1040, so you can qualify for special tax treatment. As with Americans still in the U.S., Americans abroad must pay any taxes owed by April 15.

The Balance does not provide tax, investment, or financial services and advice. The information is being presented without consideration of the investment objectives, risk tolerance or financial circumstances of any specific investor and might not be suitable for all investors. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Investing involves risk including the possible loss of principal.

Article Sources

  1. Internal Revenue Service. "Form 2688: Application for Additional Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return." Accessed Jan. 8, 2021.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "Extension of Time to File Your Tax Return." Accessed Jan. 8, 2021.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Form 4868: Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return," Page 2. Accessed Jan. 8, 2021.