Every year, countless taxpayers wait until the last minute to file their tax returns, and inevitably, some need more time than the regular deadline gives them to prepare their taxes. The deadline this year is April 15, and that leaves millions of people scurrying in the final days to scrounge up all the information they need to file an accurate and complete tax return.
But even if you expect to need every last minute to get your taxes prepared, there's one thing you can do right now to give yourself some breathing room. By requesting a tax extension now, you can get yourself some extra time to complete your return and get rid of the pressure hanging over you during the last few weeks of tax season. If it turns out you don't need the extension, then there's no harm done from requesting it -- but if you do, then you'll be glad you lined it up sooner rather than later. Below, we'll go into more detail about how to get a tax extension by using IRS Form 4868.
Form 4868: Your friend in filing
Your tax return might end up being dozens of pages long, especially when you consider all the new schedules and attachments that you'll need to include for your 2018 taxes. However, if you want an extension, Form 4868 is just a single page, and it's a short page at that.
Form 4868 is the Internal Revenue Service's application for an automatic extension of time to file your individual income tax return. It's the only thing you need in order to get six extra months of time to prepare and get your return to the IRS. That extends your new deadline to file all the way to Oct. 15. Moreover, as long as you get Form 4868 filed on time, there's no worrying involved. You're guaranteed to get the extension.
The one way that filing an extension can get complicated
There's just one aspect of filing for an extension that requires some thought. Although an extension gives you more time to file, it doesn't give you more time to pay the taxes you owe.
You can see on Form 4868 that there's a space for you to put your expected total tax liability, as well as any money you've paid or had withheld from paychecks toward your federal income taxes. If your withholding and payments don't cover your expected taxes, then you should pay the difference by April 15 in order to avoid any penalties for failing to pay your taxes in a timely manner.
However, you don't need to obsess about getting the tax numbers on Form 4868 exactly right. The important thing is that if you'll owe tax, try to pay at least as much as you'll eventually owe. If you overpay, you'll end up getting it back in a refund when you file. If you underpay, then you'll have to pay the rest with your return -- along with any interest and penalties.
What's the best way to file for an extension?
There are several ways you can get an extension. You can print out Form 4868, fill it out, and send it to the IRS by mail. You can also file Form 4868 electronically, which is quicker, more efficient, and more reliable in getting to the IRS. If you use the IRS Free File program or third-party tax preparation software to prepare your returns, you'll typically also have a way to request an extension that involves little or no extra expense.
There's also a little-known third way to get an extension. If you make a tax payment electronically using IRS-approved payment options and indicate that it's connected with an extension request, then it will automatically process an extension of time to file even without Form 4868.
However, even if you're not ready to pay your taxes, you can still file Form 4868 early. As long as you get the tax payment in by April 15, you'll be good to go.
Most people wait until the last minute to request an extension, but you don't have to do that. By filing Form 4868 now, you won't have to worry about mid-April pressure and can take your time to prepare your returns correctly.
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