What Is Tax Day?

In the United States, tax season generally runs between January 1 and April 15 each year for filing and paying taxes for the previous year. Tax season for 2021 taxes begins Jan. 1, 2022, and ends April 15, 2022.

Tax Day refers to the final deadline date when individual federal tax returns and tax payments are due. Most states that levy income taxes set the same deadline for their residents to file their state income taxes.

Key Takeaways

  • Tax Day is the federal individual tax filing and payment deadline and is generally on April 15 or the following business day.
  • The IRS will extend tax deadlines if April 15 falls on a weekend or holiday, or in other special circumstances.
  • Taxpayers who can’t meet the deadline can file for a six-month extension for filing but still must pay an estimate of any taxes they owe by the deadline.

Due to Hurricane Ida, some residents and business owners in Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have been granted extensions on their deadlines for filings and payments to the IRS. Most relate to upcoming due dates for quarterly filings and payments. For details, go to the IRS "Tax Relief in Disaster Situations" page and click on "2021."

Who Files on Tax Day?

Just about everyone who earns income files a return on Tax Day.

That includes everyone who has an employer who deducts taxes from their paychecks. It also includes self-employed people and small business owners who must file quarterly to pay estimated taxes and then file annual returns to square up their accounts.

Retirees file income taxes on Tax Day to account for the income they received from Social Security and any pensions, investment income, and retirement account withdrawals.

In short, anyone with income above $12,400 for individuals under age 65 or $14,050 for those 65 and older in 2021 has to file.

Tax Day is the due date for federal individual income tax returns and tax payments. For most taxpayers—in most years—federal income tax returns must be submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by April 15. This date applies to individuals who file taxes based on a calendar year. If you use a fiscal year, then you must file your taxes by the 15th day of the fourth month after the last day of your fiscal year. For example, if your fiscal tax year ends on June 30, then your federal tax return is due by October 15.

Deadlines for state taxes may be different from federal income tax deadlines. If you are required to file a state income tax return, check with your state tax agency to confirm the due dates.

If you need more time to prepare your tax return, you may ask for an extension. This can give you an extra six months to file your taxes, but your tax payment is still due on Tax Day.

To request an extension:

  • File an extension form with the IRS Free File tool and include your estimated payment
  • Pay all or a portion of your estimated tax bill and indicate that your payment is for an extension

Your extension request must be filed on or before your original tax payment due date.

Special Considerations

When a tax filing due date falls on a weekend or a legal holiday, the deadline is moved up to the next business day. The only national legal holiday that would affect Tax Day is Emancipation Day, a holiday in Washington, D.C., that recognizes the abolition of slavery in the U.S. and is celebrated on April 16.

Your tax filing deadline may also be pushed back if Tax Day falls on a legal holiday in your state or in the state where you are required to file. In Maine, Massachusetts, and North Dakota, for example, Tax Day may be delayed because of Patriots’ Day (Patriot’s Day in Maine), a statewide legal holiday that falls on the third Monday in April. Patriots’ Day is also a legal holiday in Connecticut and Wisconsin but is celebrated there every April 19.

In 2019, taxpayers in Maine and Massachusetts gained an extra two days to file their taxes, thanks to Patriot’s (or Patriots’) Day. The holiday fell on April 15 that year, and Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C., fell on April 16, pushing the deadline to April 17 in those states and the District of Columbia. (Patriots’ Day was not yet recognized as a holiday in North Dakota.)

The IRS may also extend tax filing deadlines as part of a relief effort for rough economic times or a natural disaster. In 2021, for example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared a severe winter storm in Texas a major disaster. The IRS responded by giving residents of Texas until June 15, 2021, to file their federal individual income taxes.

In 2020, the IRS postponed the deadline for tax filings and tax payments to July 15, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Economic hardships due to the pandemic continued into 2021, and the IRS once again extended the filing and payment deadline. Taxpayers had until May 17, 2021, to file and pay federal individual income taxes. However, the IRS did not extend the deadline for quarterly estimated payments, which were still due on April 15, 2021.

How to File Your Federal Income Taxes

Many individuals work with a tax professional or use tax preparation software to file their income taxes. Another option is the Free File Program offered by the IRS. If your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $72,000 or less, Free File offers tax preparation services through a partner site at no cost. If your AGI is above $72,000, you can use IRS Free File to prepare your own taxes online for free.

If you’re expecting a refund, then you’ll want to file electronically if possible. Individuals who do so typically receive their refund within three weeks of when the IRS received it. You can also choose to mail a paper return to the IRS, but it may take six to eight weeks to process.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused considerable delays in processing paper returns.

What Happens if You Miss the Deadline?

If you miss the tax filing deadline, the IRS recommends filing your late return as soon as possible to avoid a failure-to-file penalty. The IRS won’t charge a failure-to-file penalty when a refund is due. However, there is a three-year statute of limitations on refunds. If you file more than three years after your deadline, then you won’t get your money.

Individuals who miss the payment deadline may be subject to a failure-to-pay penalty along with interest charges on the amount due. An exception may be if you’re experiencing hardship and file a special extension.

Try to file your taxes as early as possible to avoid missing the deadline. Start gathering your documents as soon as you receive them, and be sure to make an appointment if you’re working with a tax professional. Even if the IRS extends the due date, it might be in your best interest to file early, especially if you’re expecting a refund.