If you’re one of the millions of people feeling the crunch of that April 15 tax deadline, you may want to consider filing for an extension instead of filing your taxes. You’ll get an extra six months of time to get your paperwork together, which can provide some much-needed breathing room. In this article, we’ll tell you how to request extensions for both your federal and your state income tax returns.
And guess what? It’s all very easy to do, and it only takes a few minutes. That’s a pretty good option compared to missing your tax deadline.
When to file an extension
If you’re reading this before April 15, 2019, and you still haven’t filed your taxes, you should probably file for an extension (unless you have all the paperwork done and you just haven’t mailed it in, in which case we humbly suggest you stop reading this article and go do that).
Anyone can file for an extension. In fact, the IRS encourages it for anyone who feels they need more time to get their paperwork together. Having an extra six months to get the details right is good for everyone involved, as fewer mistakes on the filer’s part leads to less time wasted at IRS HQ.
If this year’s deadline has already passed, well… it’s too late to file for an extension. But you may want to consider filing an extension for next year if you felt like this year was a scramble, or you just let the deadline slip (in which case we humbly suggest you stop reading this article and contact an accountant immediately to get things straight).
“But doesn’t requesting an extension flag you for an audit?” you ask. Well, no. Not at all. As we mentioned above, the IRS actively encourages people to seek an extension if they need more time to file. And that’s not some sort of booby trap. There are literally no downsides to filing an extension… unless you continue to procrastinate for six months and find yourself in another panic come October.
Extensions can be filed for both state and federal income tax returns, and if you’re doing one you should probably do both. Keep things simple, right?
You can defer filing, but not payment
Requesting an extension on your income tax return gives you more time to file, but it doesn’t give you any more time to send money to the government. Instead, when you file for your extension, you’re expected to pay your estimated income tax. The easiest way to estimate this is to look at what you paid last year, and pay that much again (assuming no major changes in income, marital status, or number of children).
If you are making significantly more or less, or you got married or divorced, or you had children or added other dependents to your family, it’s safest to overestimate what you’d owe to the IRS when you pay your estimated tax. In this scenario, it’s better to get a refund when you file your paperwork than it is to underpay and get dinged with additional penalty fees.
How to file for an extension
Okay, now that you know the details around extensions, let’s get down to the important part: how to actually do it. As promised, this is super easy. You’ll just need to print and mail Form 4868 by April 15. That’s it. As long as your extension is postmarked by April 15, you’re golden—at least for your federal return.
State extensions are generally just as easy, but each state has its own requirements and procedures for that. In New York, you can file for the extension online. In other states, you may be required to mail in your request, as with the federal return.
It may be possible to file for an extension on your local taxes as well, but don’t count on it. Again, this will vary on a case-by-case basis, so do a little research and find out what your municipality offers. Or get in touch with a tax pro and have them do the dirty work for you!