How to File for a Tax Extension

You can extend your filing deadline but not your payment deadline

Tax deadlines have a way of creeping up on you, so filing for a tax extension might be something you need to do at some point in your life.

If you need more time to prepare your return—whether you are busy with school, travel, or a family emergency, or are simply disorganized—you can request a six-month filing extension by submitting the proper form to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Of course, there’s also a deadline for that, but the good news is that getting an extension is easier than you might think. Here’s what you need to know, from dates and forms to special rules.

Key Takeaways

  • You can file a tax extension either electronically or by mailing a paper form.
  • Tax extensions are generally six months in length.
  • Any overpayment will be refunded when you file your tax return.
  • An extension for your filing deadline does not extend your payment deadline.
  • Securing an extension will give you until Oct. 15, 2022, to file 2021 tax returns, as opposed to April 18, 2022.

Filing for a Tax Extension: Form 4868

If you need an extension of time to file your individual income tax return, you must file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

The deadline to file for an extension is the same as the date your tax return is normally due. In most years, that's April 15 or the next weekday if that date falls on a weekend.

Residents and business owners in Louisiana, Mississippi, and parts of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania received automatic extensions on their deadlines for 2020 return filings and 2021 estimated payments to the IRS until Feb. 15, 2022, because of Hurricane Ida. Taxpayers in parts of Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee received extensions after tornadoes in December 2021, as did residents of a Colorado county following wildfires later that month. Consult IRS disaster relief announcements to determine your eligibility.

Requesting an extension is free and relatively simple, and you can do it either electronically or on paper. Either way, you will need to provide identification information (your name, address, Social Security number, and your spouse’s Social Security number) and your individual income tax information (estimate of total tax liability for the year in question, total payments you’ve already made, the balance due, and the amount you are paying).

There are also checkboxes to indicate if you are either a U.S. citizen or resident who is out of the country or if you file Form 1040-NR, which is an income tax return that nonresident aliens may have to file if they engaged in business in the U.S. during the tax year or otherwise earned income from U.S. sources.

Like all other tax forms, Form 4868 is available on the IRS website. Visit the Forms, Instructions & Publications section for a list of frequently downloaded forms and publications, including Form 4868.

File a tax extension request online

IRS e-file is the IRS electronic filing program, which allows you to send tax forms, including Form 4868, directly to IRS computers. You can get an automatic extension to file your tax return by filing Form 4868 electronically through IRS e-file on your own, using free or commercial tax software, or with the help of a tax professional who uses e-file.

In any case, you will receive an email acknowledgment you can keep with your tax records.

If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is below a specified figure—$73,000 for 2021—you can use brand-name software at no cost from Free File—a free service that provides taxpayers with federal tax preparation and e-file options.

If your income is above the threshold, you can use the IRS Fillable Forms tool. There are also some tax software companies that offer free filing under certain conditions.

File a tax extension request by mail

It's also possible to file Form 4868 in paper form. You can download the form from the IRS website or request to have a paper form mailed to you by filling out an order form on the IRS website. Alternatively, you can call the IRS at 800-829-3676 to order a form. Your local library or post office may also have copies.

Notably, if you are a fiscal year (not calendar year) taxpayer, you can only file a paper Form 4868.

If you recognize ahead of time that you’ll need an extension, don’t wait until the last minute to submit Form 4868. The earlier you get it in, the more time you’ll have to fix any potential errors that may come up before the deadline passes and the extension door closes.

More Time to File, Not More Time to Pay (Usually)

It’s important to remember that the Form 4868 extension gives you more time to file, not more time to pay. You will still have to pay your taxes by that year's original due date, even if the IRS grants an extension to file later.

If you think you may owe taxes when it comes time to file your return, you should estimate how much you will owe and subtract any taxes that you have already paid (for example, through tax withholding on your paycheck). If your estimate is on the high side and you end up overpaying, you will get a refund when you eventually file your return. You'll also avoid potential penalties and interest accumulating, which is what can happen if you underestimate your taxes due.

When you file Form 4868, you’ll need to pay the estimated income tax you owe. Sometimes it's better to err on the high side—you’ll get a refund anyway, while underestimates increase the risk of paying interest on the money owed.


You can pay some or all of your estimated income tax online using a debit or credit card, or through an electronic funds transfer using Direct Pay. It's also possible to mail a check or money order to make your tax payment, even if you file electronically. Make the check or money order payable to the United States Treasury and include a completed Form 4868 as a voucher.

You do not need to file a paper Form 4868 if you submitted one electronically and are not mailing a payment.

State Tax Extensions

Each state has its own requirements for tax extensions. Though some states offer automatic six-month extensions to all taxpayers (Alabama, California, and Wisconsin, for example), others require you to fill out a form on or before your return’s original due date.

Some states do not impose a state income tax, so you would file neither a return nor an extension request in those states.

You can use commercial tax preparation software to generate the correct state-specific form, or find the form on your state tax authority’s website.

As with your federal tax return, the state extension serves only to give you more time to file your return, not to pay your taxes. If you can, calculate what you owe and submit a payment to avoid penalties and interest.

Special Rules

The IRS has two special circumstances under which you can extend the tax payment deadline.

Out of the country

You will be allowed an automatic two-month extension to file your return and pay any federal income tax due—without requesting an extension—if you are a U.S. citizen or resident alien and on the regular due date of your return are either:

  • Living outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico and your main place of business or post of duty is outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico
  • On duty outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico for military or naval service

Remember, you must attach a statement to your return that explains the situation that qualified you for the extension. It's also worth bearing in mind that interest will accumulate on any taxes not paid by the original due date if you owe money at the time of filing.

Combat zone extension

The deadline for filing tax returns and paying taxes is automatically extended if one of the following two situations applies:

  • You are serving in the armed forces in a combat zone or have qualifying service outside of a combat zone
  • You are serving in the armed forces on deployment outside the U.S. away from your permanent duty station while participating in a contingency operation

Should you fall into one of those two categories, your deadline for filing and paying taxes is extended for 180 days after either:

  • The last day you are in a combat zone or serving in a contingency operation
  • The last day of any continuous qualified hospitalization for a service injury from a combat zone or contingency operation

Added on to those 180 days is the number of days you had left to file when you entered service.

How Do I Know My Tax Extension Request Has Been Approved?

If you sent Form 4868 electronically to the IRS, you should receive an email within 24 hours confirming that it has been received. For mail applications, you won’t receive an email and will most likely need to call the IRS for confirmation that your request is in the right hands.

Silence is normally a good sign. The IRS won't contact you following the filing of a tax extension unless there is an issue with it. That doesn't happen too often, although there are occasions when a tax extension request may be denied.

Why Might a Tax Extension Request Be Rejected?

Nine times out of 10, if you file on time and fill out the form correctly, you should have no issue getting an extension.

In most cases, applications are rejected for minor problems that can easily be fixed. If it comes down to a misspelling or providing information that doesn't align with IRS records, the tax authority will usually give you a few days to sort out those errors and file the form again—this time accurately.

The IRS tends to take less kindly to unrealistic tax liability estimates. If it disagrees with your figures, your application for an extension may be denied and you could even be hit with a penalty.

How Do I File an Extension for My Taxes?

You can request more time to file your individual federal income tax returns by completing and submitting Form 4868. This form can be filed electronically or sent by post and, barring any issues, should automatically extend the deadline for filing by about six months.

Can I File a Tax Extension Electronically Free of Charge?

Yes, you can. If your adjusted gross income (AGI) falls below the annual threshold, you can use the IRS Free File program to electronically request an automatic tax-filing extension. Higher earners can use the IRS Free Fillable forms, assuming they are comfortable handling their taxes. If that's not the case, there are several tax-software companies that offer free filing under certain conditions.

Is It Easy to File a Tax Extension?

Yes, securing an extension is a fairly straightforward process. All you need to do is get Form 4868, fill it out, and then send it off to the IRS, either electronically or by post, before the deadline. The form itself isn't very long, although coming up with an estimate of your total tax liability in the tax year can sometimes be tricky.

Is There a Penalty for Filing for a Tax Extension?

No, filing for an extension does not incur a penalty. In most cases, what leads to penalties is not paying on time, not paying at all, or not paying enough. If you fail to pay everything you owe, the IRS will charge you interest on the amount outstanding until your bill is fully settled. If that happens to be less than 90% of the total, you might also be hit with a late payment penalty.

When Is the Deadline for Filing 2021 Taxes?

Unless the IRS is forced to push the deadline back again, 2021 federal taxes should be filed by April 18, 2022—the regular April 15 date falls on Emancipation Day in 2022. If you successfully request an extension by that date, you will have until Oct. 15, 2022 to submit your 2021 tax return.

The Bottom Line

Having extra time to gather, review, prepare, and submit your tax return can ease stress and allow you to be more thorough with your return. Requesting an extension is fairly simple, and you do not need to explain to the IRS why you want one.

Most requests are granted automatically, and the IRS will contact you only if yours is denied.

You can file your tax return anytime before the extension expires, and you do not need to attach a copy of Form 4868 to the return. Just remember to pay any federal tax you owe by that year's tax deadline and check with your state about its regulations for state income tax returns.

Article Sources
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