In the United States, tax season generally falls between Jan. 1 and April 15 each year. Taxpayers use this time to collect financial documents from the previous year to prepare and submit their tax returns. Tax Day refers to the day when individual federal tax returns and tax payments are due.

Key Takeaways

  • Tax Day refers to the federal individual tax filing and payment deadline and is generally on April 15.
  • The IRS will extend tax deadlines if April 15 falls on a weekend or a holiday or in other special circumstances.
  • If you can’t meet the deadline, you can file for an extension of an additional six months, but you still must pay your taxes by the original deadline, meaning you’ll have to estimate what you think you’ll owe.

What Is Tax Day?

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, you must file your taxes by the 15th day after the last day of your fiscal year. For example, if your fiscal tax year ends on June 30, your federal tax return is due by Oct. 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.

In 2021 the IRS extended the deadline for 2020 federal income tax filings to May 17, 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The IRS also extended the filing date for residents of Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana to June 15, 2021, as part of a relief effort for winter storms in February.

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, which is 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 Patriot’s Day, a statewide legal holiday that falls on the third Monday in April. Patriot’s Day is also a legal holiday in Connecticut and Wisconsin, but it is celebrated there on April 19. In 2019 taxpayers in Maine and Massachusetts gained an extra two days to file their taxes, thanks to Patriot’s Day. That year Patriot’s Day fell on April 15, and Emancipation Day fell on April 16, pushing the deadline to April 17 in those states (Patriot’s 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. For example, in 2021 the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared severe winter storms in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas as major disasters. The IRS responded by giving residents of these states 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 have until May 17, 2021, to file and pay federal individual income taxes. This relief is automatically available to all individual taxpayers—you do not have to file a form or contact the IRS to extend your filing and payment deadline. However, the IRS did not extend the deadline for quarterly estimated payments, which are still due on April 15, 2021.

A chart compiled by the accountant and business consulting firm Wipfli reports that, as of March 22, 38 states and the District of Columbia had extended their tax filing deadlines until May 17 or later due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Be sure to double check with your individual state as to what it has done.

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, you’ll want to file electronically if at all 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. An individual known to Investopedia filed their 2019 taxes on paper in mid-July 2020, but didn’t get their refund until mid-February 2021.

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, 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.