Meeting deadlines can be tough, especially when you have a lot on your plate. If you won’t have time to file your taxes by April, you don’t have to worry about the IRS coming after you. As long as you apply for a tax extension, you’ll have some extra time to submit your income tax return. Here’s our guide to Form 4868, the tax document you’ll need to file for an automatic extension.
What Is Form 4868?
Form 4868 is known as the Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. When you complete the form, the IRS will automatically grant you a six-month tax extension (some businesses only get a five-month extension). That means you’ll have until October to file your federal income tax return (the October deadline for your 2019 tax return is October 15, 2020).
Anyone can qualify for an automatic federal tax extension. The government won’t even ask why you need extra time to file. So if you’re planning to miss the April filing deadline because you’ll be traveling, you can ask Uncle Sam for additional time to get your taxes together.
But there’s a catch. If you want an automatic tax extension, you’ll have to plan for it in advance. Form 4868 is due every year on Tax Day. Once the April filing deadline passes, you won’t be able to file for an extension.
Even if the IRS receives your 4868 tax form by the tax deadline, you’re still expected to pay any taxes you owe by April 15, 2020. If you can’t make your tax payment on time, you may have to pay a penalty plus interest. But as long as you pay at least 90% of your tax bill by the April filing deadline, you’ll be able to avoid the late-payment penalty altogether.
How to Fill out Form 4868
Filing a tax extension is easier than you think it is. You can apply for an extension electronically through the IRS e-file program or use your tax preparation software (like Credit Karma or H&R Block). You also have the option of mailing in a paper copy of the form. The form’s instructions will tell you where to send it and your payment (if you’d prefer to mail a check or money order).
Form 4868 only has two sections. In Part I, you’ll fill in your name, your address and your Social Security number. If you’re married and you’re filing a joint tax return, you’ll need to include your spouse’s Social Security number as well. Whoever’s name will appear first on the income tax return must appear first on Form 4868.
Line 4 in Part II of Form 4868 asks for an estimate of your total tax liability. This is the same number that you’ll enter on line 15 of Form 1040. So you’ll need to pull out your W-2 forms and start working on your tax return in order to fill out Form 4868.
Line 5 on Form 4868 asks for an estimate of the amount of taxes you’ve already paid. This is the number you’ll enter on line 18 of Form 1040. Subtracting line 5 from line 4 will give you the amount of taxes you owe. You’ll enter that number on line 6.
On line 7, you’ll enter the amount that you’re ready to pay. You don’t have to pay off your entire balance when you file a tax extension. But it’s a good idea to pay as much as possible to avoid paying a late-payment penalty and interest.
Line 8 will ask you to check a box if you’ll be out of the country on Tax Day. The last line on the form (line 9) asks you to check a box if you’re planning to file Tax Form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ.
If you’re a U.S. citizen who’s living abroad during tax season, you’re automatically eligible for a two-month extension. Your tax return and any taxes that you owe aren’t due until June 17. If you need more time, you can file Form 4868 and get an extra four-month tax extension. Then you’ll have until October to file taxes.
An Alternative to Completing Form 4868
There’s more than one way to apply for an automatic tax extension. If you don’t feel like completing another tax form, we don’t blame you. Instead of filling out Form 4868, you can make an electronic payment that covers your total estimated income tax liability (or at least part of it).
To make an online payment, you can visit the IRS website and pay using your debit or credit card. Or you can have the IRS withdraw your payment directly from your bank account. Just remember to indicate that the payment is for a tax extension.
Note that if you’re expecting to get a tax refund, you don’t have to worry about filing an extension. If you don’t owe the federal government any money, the IRS won’t penalize you for filing your taxes after the April deadline. But if you want your refund check, you’ll have to turn in your tax return at some point within a three-year period.
You can apply for an automatic tax extension by completing Tax Form 4868. While you’ll still have to make a tax payment (or face a penalty) by Tax Day, you’ll have an additional five or six months to turn in your income tax return.
Keep in mind that Form 4868 applies to extensions for federal tax returns. If you need an extension for your state income tax return, you’ll need to contact your state tax authority to find out whether you need to submit an additional form.
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