How to File for a Tax Extension

Quick Answer

Request an automatic six-month extension on filing your federal income taxes using IRS Free File, submitting Form 4868 or making an electronic extension payment. You still have to pay any taxes you owe on the original April 15 deadline, and you won’t get a refund until your taxes are filed.

Happy couple communicating with their tax preparer during a meeting in the office.

Filing your federal income taxes on time offers a world of benefits. You'll avoid penalties, get your refund sooner and close out the tax year with less prolonged anxiety. Still, life happens. When you're missing critical paperwork or don't have time to do the detailed accounting necessary to file your taxes by April 15, you can request a six-month extension with the IRS.

An extension request is easy to file and almost always approved. Here's how to file for a tax extension with the IRS and (temporarily) stop the clock ticking on your tax deadline.

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What Is a Tax Extension?

A tax extension gives you six extra months to complete and file your federal tax return. If you can't finish your tax return by the tax filing deadline, you can request an automatic extension with the IRS.

No Extension on Payment Due

With or without an extension, your tax payment is due on April 15. If you file for an extension, you'll need to estimate your taxes owed and make any payment needed by the original filing deadline. If your estimated payment doesn't cover at least 90% of the tax you ultimately owe, you may have to pay a late payment penalty plus interest.

No Refund Until You File

If you're expecting a refund, you won't be penalized for delaying your return—and won't owe any taxes at filing time. However, you won't receive your refund until you file your tax return.

When Are Taxes Due With an Extension?

In 2024, the original deadline to file a federal tax return is April 15, 2024, or April 17 if you live in Maine or Massachusetts. The filing deadline with an extension is October 15, 2024. To get the six-month extension, you must file your request for an extension no later than the original filing deadline of April 15.

Is There a Penalty for Filing a Tax Extension?

There's no penalty for filing an extension. Generally speaking, your request is automatically accepted as long as you've filed it by the original filing deadline.

Other penalties may apply if you fail to file for an extension or pay your taxes on time.

  • Failing to file a tax return carries a penalty of 5% of the taxes owed for every month (or partial month) your tax return remains unfiled, up to a maximum of 25%. If your return is more than 60 days late, the minimum penalty is $485 or the balance of your taxes due, whichever is smaller. The late filing penalty applies when you file your return after the due date, including extensions.
  • Failing to pay taxes owed carries a late payment penalty of 0.5%, charged for each month (or partial month) your tax payment is late, up to a maximum penalty of 25%. You can avoid a late payment penalty if your combined withholding, quarterly estimated tax payments and payments submitted with Form 4868 equal at least 90% of your taxes owed and the remaining balance is paid when you file your tax return.

How to File for a Tax Extension

Choose one of these three easy options for requesting an extension from the IRS.

1. Use IRS Free File

You can file an electronic extension request using tax software from IRS Free File. IRS Free File provides no-cost access to tax preparation software for taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $79,000 or less, but using IRS Free File to request an extension is free to anyone, regardless of your income.

2. File Form 4868

Download a fillable version of Form 4868. Complete the form and e-file it online using tax preparation software or with the help of your tax professional. You can also print and mail your completed form, along with payment if needed, to the address shown on the form. File Form 4868 by the regular due date for taxes: April 15 (or April 17 if you live in Maine or Massachusetts) for this tax year.

3. Make an Electronic Extension Payment

When you make an online payment with the IRS and select "extension," you don't need to file a separate extension request. Complete your payment and save the confirmation information for your files. This option works when you sign in to your IRS Individual Online Account and choose one of the following payment types:

  • Direct pay from your bank account
  • Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS)
  • Digital wallet (such as PayPal or Venmo)
  • Credit or debit card

When Filing for an Extension Isn't Necessary

In a few cases, filing an extension might not be necessary because the government automatically allows you to submit your taxes later than April 15. If you have been affected by a FEMA-declared disaster, your deadline to file may be automatically extended. Check the IRS disaster relief page to see if your area has been affected.

If you are living and working outside the United States and Puerto Rico on the original due date of your tax return, you may be eligible to delay your tax filing and payment until June 17, 2024. This extension also applies to military or naval service members who are on duty outside the U.S.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to filing your tax return, sooner is generally better than later. The sooner you file, the sooner you get your tax refund—or settle your final tax bill. But if you need extra time to get your paperwork in order and complete your return, filing for an extension is an easy process that buys you some extra time. Just make sure you request your extension by April 15, along with paying any estimated taxes you owe, to avoid late-filing and late-payment penalties.

Remember, too, that you don't have to take the full six months to send in your return. If you can get it done sooner, you can close the books on this tax year that much earlier. Next year's taxes will be here before you know it.