Tax filing tips for the last weekend before Tax Day
Most states also offer free online tax filing and paying

Can't finish your taxes? File for an extension instead

Variety of clocks different times on wall_jon-tyson-dm9EHhIZm-k-unsplash1
Running out of time to finish (or start) your 2023 tax return? Then get more by filing for an extension. (Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash)

Put down that tax return. You know you aren't going to get it done by Monday, April 15.

Instead, file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

This Internal Revenue Service form is the tax procrastinator's best friend, whether you've put off filing because, well, taxes or you're still waiting for some tax statements that arrive annoyingly late every year. Yes, I'm looking at you Schedule K-1.

Whatever the reason, take advantage of the IRS' time leniency. But remember the tax agency is forgiving only when it comes to filing your tax return, not paying any tax due show on that filing.

Here's more on Form 4868, which is this week's By the Numbers figure.

Delayed filing OK; delayed paying NOT: When you just can't complete your return by Tax Day for whatever reason, the very short Form 4868 is the answer.

That's it below. In full. Yep, all of it. Just nine entries on the bottom quarter of the form's page 1.

Form 4868 filing extension 2023 returns
See more tax forms and more about them at Tax Forms 2024.

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 actually apply and wait for IRS approval. Simply sending in Form 4868 by Tax Day will automatically get you six extra months — for most taxpayers, this year that's the regular Oct. 15 delayed deadline — to file your tax return.

But Form 4868 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.

Any tax you owe, or a good estimate of it, must be submitted when you send in your Form 4868 by April 15. If you're off, even by a little, penalty and interest charges will be added until to finally pay in full.

How to file: You probably noticed the "Detach Here" notation at the top of Form 4868. That's because the form's general instructions are printed just above it. More detailed filing guidelines follow on pages 2 and 3.

But basically, you enter just enter —

  • 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 2023 (You're going to have do a down-and-dirty pre-filing calculation 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 finally, 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. Again, though, if you don't pay what you owe by the April due date, penalties and interest start accruing.

The final checkbox is for taxpayers who file Form 1040-NR and didn't receive wages as an employee subject to U.S. income tax withholding. The full Form 4868 instructions (again, included as part of the form itself) have more information for these filers.

Ways to ask for more time: Most taxpayers use tax software, on their own or through the tax pro they've hired. Those tax prep programs or your tax preparer offer the extension option, including electronic filing and paying of your due tax.

The IRS also offers a way to avoid the form itself entirely. You don't need to file Form 4868 if you make your due-tax payment using one of the tax agency's electronic payment options, either online or by phone. When you do this, the IRS will automatically process an extension of time for you to file.

If, however, you prefer to pay by check or money order, then send it and your completed paper Form 4868 via the U.S. Postal Service. As long as the envelope has an April 15 postmark, you're fine.

Just be sure you send your payment and form to the correct address. Page 4 of the combined Form 4868 form and instructions has the proper mailing address to use. It's 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

Pay what you can: A lot of people put off filing because they know they owe. But as noted (repeatedly), delaying isn't going to help here. Not to belabor the point (again), but you must pay your expected tax liability when you file Form 4868.

If you can't pay your full tax liability, pay as much as you can by Tax Day, April 15. 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.

And if it's a super large tax bill, contact the IRS as soon as possible to discuss a payment plan.

But the key move right now, with April 15 bearing down, is to file a Form 4868. It 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.

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