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How to file for a tax extension

Tax day is April 18th, but don’t panic

irs (ray tsang flickr)
irs (ray tsang flickr)

When, in 2020, the IRS pushed the due date for federal income taxes from April 15th to July 15th because of the upheaval brought about by COVID-19, a lot of taxpayers must have breathed a sigh of relief. Depending on where we lived, many of us were dealing with product shortages, layoffs, sudden isolation, and trying to figure out how to cope with the new normal.

Time marches on, however, and two years later, the tax deadline is back to mid-April (April 18th for most states, April 19th in Maine and Massachusetts). So if you won’t be able to file your taxes by then, what do you do?

One thing you don’t do is panic. You can still file for an extension — and it won’t take long.

If you’re an individual (and let’s assume you are), you can file for an extension easily online by filling out Form 4868 using the IRS’s Free File program. (Filing an extension is free no matter what your income level is.) Some things to keep in mind:

  • When you go to the page on the IRS site offering the Free File extensions, you’ll be faced with several possible choices of services. It might be worth it to take a glance at all of them since they handle forms differently, and you might feel more comfortable with one specific service. Whichever you choose, it will be free.
  • You may also need to file a state extension form. Some of the services in the IRS Free File program should handle that as well; if not, you can check with your state tax authority to find out.
  • Once you file an extension, you will have until October 17th to file.
  • You will still have to approximate how much you owe the government and pay the amount due.
  • If you know you will owe taxes and decide to pay them all or in part through Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), or a credit or debit card, you can indicate that the payment is for an extension and you won’t even have to file a separate form.
  • If you’d rather mail a hard copy form, you can find a PDF to print out here. You’re on time as long as it is postmarked by April 18th (April 19th if you’re from Maine or Massachusetts).

Good luck!

Update January 19th, 2022, 3:20PM ET: This article was originally published on July 14th, 2020, and has been updated to change dates and other information for tax year 2021.