Man doing his taxes
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When you have trouble getting your tax return completed on time, you can file an income tax extension.

What’s the purpose of a tax extension?

A tax extension gives you more time to fill out your required paperwork. For individual taxes, an extension gives you an additional six months to submit your completed tax return. In the case of businesses, it varies from five to six months, depending on the business structure. The extra few months gives you time to find old receipts, make copies, fill out forms or contact a tax accountant for help.

Sometimes people must deal with an emergency. An unexpected illness or hospital visit makes it hard to concentrate. Less-than-positive news at work might cause delays. With an extension, you have a full six months to deal with those issues and not worry about paying a late-filing penalty. This amounts to 5 percent of the amount you owe, added to your tax balance for each month you don’t file.

How to file a tax extension for yourself

The process is very simple. Here’s what to do.

  • Get IRS Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S Individual Income Tax Return.
  • Fill in your personal information, including your Social Security number and that of your spouse if filing jointly.
  • Calculate and write down your estimated tax liability. An easy way to do this is to look at the amount you paid the previous year, and pay at least 90 percent of that amount. If you make more than $150,000, then pay 110 percent of the previous year’s taxes to be on the safe side.
  • Indicate any taxes you’ve already paid through withholding or estimated quarterly payments.
  • Submit the form either by mail or electronically.

The IRS offers several ways to pay your tax bill, including with a credit card.

Tax extensions for businesses

Businesses follow roughly the same process to fill out a tax extension application but use a different form: IRS Form 7004, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File Certain Business Income Tax, Information, and Other Returns. Business owners need to include the business name, address and other pertinent details, including the Employer Identification Number, or EIN. Verify the number is correct; a mistake usually means a rejected application.

Business extensions are automatic. However it should be noted that certain businesses, such as sole proprietorships and independent contractors, actually need to file Form 4868.

Remember that you still have to pay

Some people believe that a tax extension means they don’t have to pay taxes until October. But a tax extension only gives you extra time to organize your documents and submit your tax return. Payment is still due on your normal tax date. If you don’t pay, you’re liable for customary late-payment penalties. How much is that? It’s 0.5 percent of the taxes you owe per month — up to a maximum of 25 percent — until the debt is payed.

Avoid late-payment penalties by paying your tax bill with a low-interest credit card.

Extra relief for some

Some people receive an extension automatically. If you fall into one of these categories, breathe an extra sigh of relief.

  • Military personnel overseas. When serving abroad, you receive a two-month extension. For more time, you can request an extension electronically.
  • Military personnel deployed in a combat zone. In this case you have at least six months from the end of your deployment to worry about submitting your return, in addition to other benefits.
  • S. citizens and residents out of the country. If you reside abroad, you automatically receive a two-month extension to your filing date. For more time, you need to fill out a form requesting an extension.
  • Paying electronically. When paying all your taxes through the IRS’ Electronic Federal Tax Payment System or Direct Pay, any necessary extensions are automatically processed without having to file Form 4868.

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