Tax Planning

How to Use Form 4868 to File for a Free Extension on Your Taxes

Is tax day fast approaching, but you’re still waiting for your employer to send you some crucial paperwork? Or maybe you’re dealing with a medical emergency which would make it hard for you to file your taxes. Whatever your reason, there’s a solution. When tax season comes too soon, there’s no need to default on your taxes — just use IRS Form 4868 to request an extension.

Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 4868 lets you apply for an automatic extension to file U.S. Individual Income Tax Returns (Forms 1040, 1040NR, 1040NR, EZ, 1040-PR, and 1040-SS). However, note that this extension applies to the paperwork alone. Even if you file Form 4868, you’ll still have to make estimated tax payments by the original due date, lest you incur interest and potential penalties.

Who should file Form 4868?

You should file Form 4868 if you are either of the following:

  1. A U.S. citizen or resident living in the country who wants to automatically extend your tax due date by up to six months.
  2. A U.S. citizen or resident who is out of the country on the day taxes are due and wants up to four extra months to file. Note that those who are out of the country are automatically given two extra months to file, even without Form 4868.

In most cases, the IRS can’t extend a tax return due date beyond six months. However, some exceptions are made for U.S. citizens living abroad.

What is the deadline to file Form 4868?

The deadline to file Form 4868 varies based on your circumstances. Here are the deadlines for the following situations:

Standard tax filings for residents and citizens in the U.S.

Form 4868 must be filed by April 15th, unless you live in Maine or Massachusetts, where you have until April 17th.

Standard tax filings for residents and citizens outside of the country

If you are out of the country, you have until June 17th to file this form.

Fiscal year taxpayers

If you are a fiscal year taxpayer, you should file the form by the original date of the fiscal year return.

How to qualify for an extension

To qualify for an extension on your tax return due date, you must:

  • File Form 4868 by the date that your regular tax return is due.
  • Accurately estimate your tax liability for the year.
  • Provide your total tax liability on the form (line 4).

You shouldn’t file this form if you are under a court order to file your taxes on time, or if you want the IRS to figure your tax for you.

Form 4868

How to file Form 4868 for an automatic extension

There are two ways to file Form 4868.

1. Paper form

Download the paper Form 4868, fill it out, enclose payment of your estimated taxes, and send it to the IRS.

2. Electronic form

Use IRS E-file to file the form electronically from your home computer. To learn more, refer to your tax preparer or tax preparation software.

A third way to get an extension without filing Form 4868 is to make an electronic payment to the IRS using Direct Pay, a credit card, or a debit card. Once you do so, the IRS automatically extends your time to file, even if you didn’t pay your dues in full.

What information is required on Form 4868?

Form 4868 is very short and only contains 9 lines to fill out.

First, provide your identification information, including your:

  • Full name.
  • Full address.
  • Social security number.
  • Spouse’s social security number (if applicable).

Next, provide your individual income tax information, including your:

  • Total tax liability for the tax year.
  • Total of payments for the tax year.
  • Balance due.
  • The amount you are paying.

Do your best to ensure that your estimates are as accurate as possible. The IRS can deem your extension null and void if they later decide your estimate wasn’t reasonable.

Lastly, disclose whether you are out of the country, and let the IRS know if you are filing form 1040NR or 1040NR-EZ but didn’t receive employee wages subject to U.S. income tax withholding.

That’s it!

Should you file a tax extension?

Filing an extension with Form 4868 only extends your time to file tax paperwork. It does not allow you to postpone tax liabilities. You will still have to pay what you owe by the original tax due date.

Being so, you should only file a tax extension if you’re missing important information, or if you don’t have the bandwidth to fill out your tax return on time. If you can’t afford to pay your taxes, filing for an extension won’t help you. Instead, consider reaching out to a tax relief professional to help you navigate the situation.

What if you can’t pay your taxes?

On Form 4868, you will total your tax liability and subtract from it the estimate of total payments to find out what you owe. If you can’t pay the full amount, pay as much as you can. Doing so will lessen the interest and penalties that your unpaid taxes incur.

If you need help with the amount due, you can look to the IRS payment plan and tax relief options. For complicated situations, it may be best to recruit a tax relief specialist who can guide you in the best direction. The good news is, there are many programs in place to help taxpayers in need.

Review and compare tax relief companies below.