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How to file a tax extension

Key takeaways

  • Taxes on income earned in 2023 are due April 15, 2024 (April 17, 2024 for Maine and Massachusetts residents).
  • If you can't file a tax return by this deadline, you can request an extension until October 15, 2024.
  • This extension is only for your tax return. Your tax bill is still due by the April deadline and will begin to accrue penalties and interest if that deadline is missed.

Anyone who has filed federal taxes knows how easily the annual tax deadline can creep up on you. But if you aren't careful, showers won't be the only thing April brings: Failing to file and/or pay your taxes could lead to penalties and interest payments.

Luckily, it's easy to file for a tax extension. Here's how to get started.

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Filing a tax extension

Keep in mind that a tax extension is only for federal tax returns; any federal taxes owed still must be paid by the unextended tax deadline. (Hint: In 2024, Tax Day is Monday, April 15, or Wednesday, April 17 if you live in Maine or Massachusetts.) In addition, state and local tax extension processes vary, so check with the relevant agencies to make sure your requests will be approved.

1. Determine if you need to file taxes

Whether you have to file a federal tax return depends on your responses to these questions:

  • Are a citizen or legal resident of the US?
  • What is your filing status (e.g., as a single person, couple, head of household, qualified widower)?
  • How old are you?
  • Is someone else claiming you as a dependent?
  • What is your gross income? (That's all the taxable money you earned this year without accounting for any deductions you may be eligible for.)

Once you know the answers to the above, look up the IRS's online tool or check out the chart below to see if you may need to file a tax return. Those who are not citizens or legal residents of the US, as well as those who are claimed as dependents and who earn below the dependent income thresholds, generally don't need to file tax returns.

If your filing status is… AND at the end of 2023 you were… THEN file a return if your gross income was at least…
single under 65 $13,850
65 or older $15,700
head of household under 65 $20,800
65 or older $22,650
married filing jointly under 65 (both spouses) $27,700
65 or older (one spouse) $29,200
65 or older (both spouses) $30,700
married filing separately any age $5
qualifying surviving spouse under 65 $27,700
65 or older $29,200
Source: IRS, 2023 Filing Requirements Chart for Most Taxpayers (Publication 501)

Even if you aren't required to file a tax return, you may still choose to do so, so you can receive any refund you are owed. And you should file a tax return if you can get money back through credits too. You may also want to make sure the IRS has an accurate record of your income as this is used for certain benefits such as financial aid eligibility and future Social Security income.

2. Complete the appropriate tax extension request form

To file for a tax extension, you can submit tax extension Form 4868 to the IRS electronically or through the mail by the due date of your return. When filling out Form 4868, you will need to estimate your tax liability so you know how much you should pay by the unextended tax deadline.

You can also get a filing extension simply by paying your estimated income tax through Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, or with a debit or credit card by the original due date of your return and indicating you'd like an extension at the time of payment.

What is the tax extension deadline?

The federal tax extension deadline is 6 months after the original deadline and typically falls on October 15. This deadline is moved if it aligns with a weekend or holiday.

Those filing from abroad may get an approval for a 2-month extension to both file and pay their taxes.

What if you miss the tax extension deadline?

What happens if you miss the tax extension deadline depends on if you still owe taxes. Remember, the deadline to pay didn't change from the original, unextended tax deadline in April. If you have a tax bill, missing the extension deadline may trigger a failure-to-file penalty on top of the failure-to-pay penalty that may have been assessed earlier in the year. The failure-to-file penalty is equal to 5% of your unpaid balance per month it goes unpaid, up until it reaches 25% of your total unpaid tax balance. If you fail to file within 60 days of the deadline, your minimum penalty becomes the lower of $485 or 100% of the taxes you owe.

When both penalties are applied, the failure-to-file penalty is reduced by the amount of the failure-to-pay penalty so the combined penalties total 5% for each month the return is late. If after 5 months you still haven't paid, the failure-to-file penalty will max out, but the failure-to-pay penalty continues until the tax is paid, up to its maximum of 25% of the unpaid tax as of the due date. Unpaid penalties may be charged interest in addition to interest that balances accrue.

If you don't respond to IRS notices about your overdue taxes by paying your debt or filling out other forms to request payment plans or approved delays, the IRS may raise penalty rates and resort to tax liens, or asset and property seizure.

If don't owe taxes and instead are entitled to a refund for the calendar year for which you haven't filed a return, the IRS can withhold your refund until it receives the relevant paperwork. Refunds for returns filed more than 3 years late may not be honored.

What if I can't pay my taxes?

If you owe money to the federal government but can't pay on time, you can apply for a short-term or long-term payment plan using the IRS's website. This may help you reduce penalties.

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This information is intended to be educational and is not tailored to the investment needs of any specific investor.

Fidelity does not provide legal or tax advice. The information herein is general and educational in nature and should not be considered legal or tax advice. Tax laws and regulations are complex and subject to change, which can materially impact investment results. Fidelity cannot guarantee that the information herein is accurate, complete, or timely. Fidelity makes no warranties with regard to such information or results obtained by its use, and disclaims any liability arising out of your use of, or any tax position taken in reliance on, such information. Consult an attorney or tax professional regarding your specific situation.

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