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What is a Filing Extension?

By Bethany Keene
Updated Jan 21, 2024
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A filing extension is an time allowance from the Internal Revenue Service that permits individuals to file their tax returns up to six months after the due date. Federal tax returns are due on April 15th every year; a filing extension will push that due date back to October 15th. It is necessary to file an application for an extension, but the approval is automatic.

To apply for a filing extension, it is necessary to fill out IRS form 4868: Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File. The form may be found and printed online for free. It may then be electronically filed, or e-filed, which is many people's preferred method. This is because many people complete their tax returns online, through a software program approved by the IRS. The other option is to simply fill out the form by hand, in black or blue ink, and mail it to the IRS.

The form must be postmarked by April 15th; automatic approval for a filing extension is then granted. There is one important thing to keep in mind when applying for a filing extension, however. The deadline for the tax return is extended to October 15th, but the deadline for any taxes owed does not change. If one already knows that taxes will be owed, it is necessary to estimate that amount and send it to the IRS. It is important to estimate carefully, because 90 percent of the taxes owed must be paid.

If this is not done, or the estimation is incorrect, tax penalties will be assessed. If one needs to pay estimated taxes owed with a credit card, it will typically be necessary to call the IRS and make the payment over the phone. State tax extensions may vary from state to state, so it will be necessary to research this separately. Procedures also differ for people who are living outside of the country, but who need to file a United States tax return.

Some are concerned that applying for an extension will cause one to become audited. The IRS does not share its process for determining who will get audited and who won't, but experts generally believe that filing for an extension does not change the odds one way or the other. Any questions about a filing extension or a specific tax situation should be directed to an accountant, or it is possible to call the IRS directly or search on the website for answers to many questions.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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