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Bankrate's 2010 Tax Guide
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Need more time to file taxes? Just ask

TAX TIP No. 69

The tax-filing clock is ticking. You can't turn it back, but there is a way to change your filing deadline to months instead of days and hours.

Just ask the Internal Revenue Service for more time to file your return. You should have plenty of company. Around 10 million filers request extensions each year.

Regardless of how many filers seek extensions, they'll all find that the IRS has streamlined the process, making it easy to get extra filing time. All you have to do is file, either electronically or by snail mail, Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File and you've automatically got six more months, until Oct. 15, to fulfill your tax-filing duties.

Even better, if you're a dillydallying taxpayer, you don't have to give Uncle Sam a reason for wanting more tax-filing time. Just submit the form by April 15.

But keep in mind that an extension to file is not an extension to pay. If you are going to owe taxes when you finally get your return done, you need to come up with the money, or a close estimate of it, when you ask for the filing extension.

One form, six more months

Longtime taxpayers might remember when the extension process was a bit more complicated. A few years ago, Form 4868 would have given you only four months, until Aug. 15, to file. To get the additional extension into October, you then had to file another form and justify the need for two more months.

In this tax tip:
  • One form, six months.
  • Electronic requests.
  • Plastic payments.
  • Calculate carefully.
But the IRS decided that the dual process was cumbersome for taxpayers and costly to the federal government. So now procrastinators simply have to mail Form 4868 by the April tax deadline.

This half-page form asks for your name, address and Social Security number. It's that simple, although taxpayers who must file gift tax returns have a few more questions to answer. You don't even need an excuse to ask for more time.

One thing hasn't changed, though. Remember, if you owe, you do still need to pay the amount of taxes you owe, or a close approximation of it, when you file Form 4868. Don't just make up an amount here. The IRS warns that if it finds your estimate "not reasonable," it could invalidate your extension request, subjecting you to nonfiling penalties.

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"With an extension, you can get more time for filing, but you will owe interest on any underpayment, starting on the original date. If you underpay by more than 10 percent, you may be subject to a penalty," says Mark Luscombe, attorney and CCH principal federal tax analyst.

If you find your expected tax bill is much more than you're able to pay, you should try to pay at least something. This will help keep down those accruing penalty and interest charges.

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