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Feeling the tax filing crunch? Get an extension

Hanging on for more time_Harold Lloyd classic movie scene

The time left until Tax Day is tick, tick, ticking away.

If you're feeling like silent movie legend Harold Lloyd (pictured above), hanging on by your fingernails as you try to get your tax filing act together, I have some good news and some bad news.

The bad news is that there's no way to stop the tax deadline clock.

The good news is you can get an extension to file your 1040.

By filing for an extension, the Internal Revenue Service will give you six more months, up to Oct. 15, to submit your return.

You still have to pay: It's not hard to get the added time. In fact, it's much easier to file for an extension than it is to fill out the new Form 1040 and any (or all) of its six related schedules.

But note that an extension to file is precisely what its name says. It's an extension to file a tax return.

It is not an extension to pay what you owe.

You still must pay any tax due you owe by April 15 (or April 17 if you live in Maine or Massachusetts) when you make your extension request. If you don't, the IRS' penalty and interest calculator will start running on the unpaid amount.

OK. Got it. Gotta pay, but do get more time to fill out the forms. That's at least something.

So how do you ask for an extension? There are three ways to do so.

1. File Form 4868 electronically.
Form 4868 is the official document that will get you the automatic filing extension. You can file it electronically, which is great since most of us now use tax software programs to fill out and e-file our returns.

Just check out your chosen tax software's options to e-file for an extension. It also will give you ways to e-pay, as noted above, any tax you think you'll owe when you do finish up your 1040.

Be sure to have a copy of your 2017 tax return handy. You'll be asked to provide information from that return for taxpayer verification.

If you are so far behind in filing that you've yet to get any tax software, don't despair. You can use Free File, the IRS-tax software companies' online tax filing option, to electronically get the extra filing time even if you don't qualify to use the free service because you made too much money.

Nine companies offer free electronic extension and payment.  

And if you use a tax preparer, simply give him or her a call and have your extension request and payment sent electronically by that office. This is one call they'll be happy to get.

2. E-pay your guesstimated tax due.
Sticking with computer payments, you can get your six-month form filing reprieve by simply paying what you expect you'll ultimately owe Uncle Sam.

Just go directly to one of the IRS-approved e-pay options. They are:

  • Direct Pay, which as the name says, directly transfers the amount from your bank account;
  • Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, or EFTPS, which is what I used earlier this week to get our extension; or
  • Credit or debit card.

More on each of these e-pay options can be found in my ways to pay taxes post and at IRS.gov's Paying Your Taxes page.

You'll receive a confirmation number when you pay online or, if you prefer, by phone. Note that number and keep it for your records.

If you're like me and like paper verification to back up your digital transactions, print out Form 4868 and enter your extension payment confirmation number on page 3 of that form.

The neat thing about this e-pay extension option, if you can call paying the IRS neat, is that you don't have to send in a 4868 form. Your extension will be automatically processed when you pay part or all of your estimated income tax electronically.

3. File a paper Form 4868.
Finally, if you're part of the dwindling group that still snail mails paper tax returns in April, you need to fill out Form 4868 and mail it to the IRS.

Form 4868 topClick image for full IRS Form 4868

As the form above shows, you'll have to enter:

  • Your name (and spouse's name if filing jointly) and address,
  • Your Social Security number (and spouse's nine ID digits if filing jointly),
  • An estimate of your total tax liability for 2018,
  • Total of what you have already paid for the 2018 tax year (including withholding and estimated payments), and the biggie
  • How much you're paying with your extension (if any).

Once that's filled out, send it via the United States Postal Service to the appropriate IRS processing center shown in the table below.

Form 4868 where to snail mail paper formClick for a larger image

Make sure you get to your local post office on time. Your envelope must be postmarked April 15 or the IRS will consider you a late filer and start the interest and penalty clock ticking. Sending it

If you feel more comfortable sending your tax material via a private delivery service (PDS), the IRS accepts returns from these carriers, too. The approved PDS companies are:

  • Federal Express (FedEx): FedEx First Overnight, FedEx Priority Overnight, FedEx Standard Overnight, FedEx 2 Day, FedEx International Next Flight Out, FedEx International Priority, FedEx International First and FedEx International Economy;
  • DHL Express: DHL Express 9:00, DHL Express 10:30, DHL Express 12:00, DHL Express Worldwide, DHL Express Envelope, DHL Import Express 10:30, DHL Import Express 12:00 and DHL Import Express Worldwide; and
  • United Parcel Service (UPS): UPS Next Day Air Early AM, UPS Next Day Air, UPS Next Day Air Saver, UPS 2nd Day Air, UPS 2nd Day Air A.M., UPS Worldwide Express Plus and UPS Worldwide Express.

If you do use a PDS, note that they can't deliver items to P.O. boxes, as shown in the USPS address table above. You must use the actual street address of the IRS campus to which your return should be sent.

Those addresses for PDS delivery are:

Austin
Internal Revenue Submission Processing Center
3651 S IH35,
Austin TX 78741

Cincinnati
Internal Revenue Submission Processing Center 
201 West Rivercenter Blvd.,
Covington, KY 41011

Fresno
Internal Revenue Submission Processing Center
5045 East Butler Avenue,
Fresno, CA 93727

Kansas City
Internal Revenue Submission Processing Center
333 W. Pershing,
Kansas City, MO 64108

Ogden
Internal Revenue Submission Processing Center
1973 Rulon White Blvd.
Ogden, UT 84201

Also, be sure to get written proof from the PDS of the mailing date for your records.

Better correct later than wrong in April: There you go. Those are your extension options. Take advantage of the extra time if you need it.

Even the IRS says so, noting that tax haste can make tax waste when filers in a rush to meet the April deadline make costly mistakes (like these 10 common filing errors) on their returns.

It's always better, for both you and the IRS, when you get an extension and then later file a correct, complete tax return instead of a faulty form just to meet the April deadline.

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