Here’s how to get a tax extension from the IRS in 2024

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IRS commissioner on taxes ahead of deadline

IRS commissioner talks taxes ahead of April 15 deadline 04:28

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who have procrastinated filing their taxes ahead of the April 15 deadline, there is a way to get some breathing room: File for an extension. 

The step gives taxpayers until October 15 to file their federal tax returns, and the process is fairly quick — and also free. About 90 million people have filed their 1040s with the IRS as of March 29, the tax agency says. But as it expects about 128.7 million tax returns this year, that means almost 40 million people have pushed off filing until the last two weeks of the regular tax season.

Almost half of Americans delay working on their taxes, a new survey from tax prep company TaxAct found. Many are stressed by the task, but more than 1 in 4 is worried about owing money to the IRS, the study found.

“Some people don’t want to pay the balance due, and say, ‘I’ll let the government come after me,'” Mark Jaeger, vice president of Tax Operations, at TaxAct, told CBS MoneyWatch. 

But other taxpayers may have had a major life event, like the birth of a child, that prompted them to put off their taxes, he noted. Sometimes an individual’s tax forms can be delayed, which then causes the taxpayer to scramble, once the forms arrive, to get their 1040s filed by April 15. 

The good news is that getting an extension “is actually pretty simple,” Jaeger said.

How to request an extension

The IRS will give taxpayers an automatic extension if they file Form 4868. This one-page document asks for basic information such as your name, address and Social Security number. 

There’s another way to request an extension that’s even easier, Jaeger said. 

“The simplest way is to go through a do-it-yourself tax software or go to the IRS website and make a payment,” he said. “Simply by making a payment, you are filing an extension.”

Indeed, the IRS says it automatically counts payments made by the April 15 deadline as an extension, and by taking that step, you won’t even need to file a separate Form 4868. 

You can make a payment via the IRS’ Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System or with a credit or debit card or digital wallet

If I get an extension, can I delay paying the IRS? 

Nope. That’s because receiving an extension to file isn’t an extension to pay what you owe the IRS. 

“Taxpayers who owe should pay their entire obligation, or as much as they can, by the April 15 deadline to avoid penalties and interest,” the IRS said on Thursday.

Knowing how much to pay the IRS can be tricky for people who haven’t yet filed their taxes, but Jaeger recommends looking at your federal tax payment in the prior year. If you paid, for example, $5,000 in the prior tax year, but have only paid $4,000 in the 2023 tax year, you should send the IRS a payment for the $1,000 difference, he noted.

What is the penalty for failing to pay?

The IRS charges a penalty if you don’t pay what you owe the government, the amount if which is based on the percentage of the taxes you didn’t pay. 

For instance, if you file an extension and owe the IRS but don’t pay by April 15, you’ll face the penalty. The IRS charges 0.5% of the unpaid taxes for each month, with a cap of 25% of the unpaid taxes. 

What is the fine for failing to file?

The IRS also levies a fine if you don’t file or ask for an extension by April 15.

The failure-to-file penalty is 5% of unpaid taxes for each month or part of the month that the tax return is late. The fine is capped at 25% of your unpaid taxes. 

People who both neglect to file and fail to pay what they owe won’t have to pay both fines, however. The IRS said it reduces the failure-to-file penalty by the amount of the failure-to-pay penalty for that month, so that the taxpayer will face a combined total penalty of 5% for each month their return is late. 

What if I can’t pay what I owe the IRS?

The IRS will set up a payment plan with taxpayers who can’t afford to pay the full amount they owe the tax agency. 

Aimee Picchi

Aimee Picchi is the associate managing editor for CBS MoneyWatch, where she covers business and personal finance. She previously worked at Bloomberg News and has written for national news outlets including USA Today and Consumer Reports.

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