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Form 4868, the tax procrastinator's best friend

To do list by procrastinator_ Annie Spratt-Unsplash

Unless we're getting a big refund, most of us put off dealing with our taxes. That's happening again this filing season.

The Internal Revenue Service reports that through March 10, it had received 63.4 million returns. That's about the same number of returns it received at the same point last year.

If 2023 filings continue to follow the 2022 pattern, then the IRS is still waiting for more than 100 million returns.

Some people have good reasons for the delay. Their tax situations are complicated, taking time to sort through. Others are missing necessary filing documents.

But a lot of taxpayers just don't want to deal with their 1040 forms until they absolute must. Nearly a third of us put off filing our taxes, according to a recent ChamberOfCommerce.org survey. That finding — specifically, 31 percent — is this weekend's By the Numbers figure.

Slowest filing cities: Based on responses from taxpayers in more than 170 U.S. cities with a population of 150,000 or more, Atlanta residents are the slowest to finish up their tax returns.


But Florida is home to most of the tardy taxpayers. The Sunshine State had three cities in the top 10. Orlando came in second, Miami fourth, and Fort Lauderdale fifth. Salt Lake City, Utah, came in third to round out the top five.

The rest of the top 10 are Minneapolis, Minnesota; Denver, Colorado; Cincinnati, Ohio; Seattle, Washington; and Richmond, Virginia.

The perfect form for procrastinators: The IRS understands that some of us just can't get our tax acts together by April's Tax Day. That's Tuesday, April 18, this year, due to the 15th falling on Saturday, and the next business day, Monday, April 17, being the Emancipation Day holiday in Washington, D.C.

When you just can't complete your return by 4/15 or whatever day the tax filing deadline is, you can get more time by filing Form 4868. That's it below. Yep, all of it. Just nine lines.

Form 4868 extension to file
See more tax forms and more about them at 2022's Talking Tax Forms and Tax Forms 2023.

Although the form's name is Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, you don't have to apply in the dictionary sense of that word. Sending in Form 4868 will automatically get you six extra months — that's usually Oct. 15, but this year it's Monday, Oct. 16, due to the 15th being on Sunday — to file your tax return.

But Form 4868's is very clear about what you can, and cannot, delay. You get an extension to file your tax return, not an extension to pay any tax due. That tax amount, or a good estimate of it, must be submitted when you send in your Form 4868 by April 18.

How to file: You probably noticed the "Detach Here" notation at the top of Form 4868. That's because the form's equally succinct instructions are printed just above it.

You enter just a few pieces of information on Form 4868. They are —

  • Your name and, if filing jointly, your spouse's name, in the order in which they will appear on your tax return;
  • Your mailing address;
  • Your Social Security number (and spouse's nine ID digits if filing jointly);
  • An estimate of your total tax liability for 2022 (this means you're going to have do a down-and-dirty pre-filing to come up with a good number);
  • Total of what you have already paid in taxes last year, such as payroll withholding and any estimated tax payments you made); and the biggie
  • How much, if any, of the tax amount you entered earlier that you're paying with your filing extension request.

Again, the IRS is serious about you paying at least some due tax money along with your extension request. If you don't, or your payment amount ultimately comes up short, penalties and interest will start accruing.

The form finishes up with a couple of checkboxes.

The first is for taxpayers who are U.S. citizens or residents and who are out of the country. You also don't have to worry about filing for a couple more months. Your regular Tax Day isn't until June 15. But the 4868 will get you four extra months to file if you can't meet the summer due date.

The final checkbox for taxpayers who file Form 1040-NR and didn't receive wages as an employee subject to U.S. income tax withholding. The Form 4868 instructions have more information for these filers.

Ask for more time in time: You can send the IRS a completed paper Form 4868 by snail mail. As long as the envelope has an April 18 postmark, you're fine. Be sure to include your paper check or make other payment arrangements by the April due date.

Also be sure your envelope has the correct address for the U.S. Postal Service carrier. The final page of the combined form/instructions has the proper mailing addresses to use based on where you live and whether you're including a tax payment with your 4868 or don't have to pay anything. If you prefer to use a private delivery service, check IRS.gov/PDS.

Or you can file for an extension electronically. Your tax software, either the do-it-yourself program you use or the one used by your tax preparer, includes Form 4868. E-filing will offer you a variety of tax e-payment options.

Pay what you can: A lot of people put off filing because they know they owe. But delaying isn't going to help here. Again, you must pay your expected tax liability when you file Form 4868.

Pay as much as you can by Tax Day, April 18. Even a partial payment will reduce any interest and late-payment penalty amounts. Getting the extension and payment in on time will show the IRS that you know the tax deadline, and that you also know you owe.

It also will let Uncle Sam know you are making an effort to fulfill your filing, and paying, responsibilities.

Then take a breath. You've now got plenty of time to do your taxes right.

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