Get a simple, free tax extension to get more time to file your federal tax return.
The deadline to file your federal income tax returns is Tuesday, 18 April 2017. Each year, more than 10 million Americans aren’t ready to submit their returns on that date, and file for an automatic extension of the tax filing deadline. By filing for the automatic tax extension, you will have until 16 October 2017 to file your federal income tax return. Best of all, there’s no cost to file for an extension.
Additionally, certain military families get an extension automatically, if one spouse is deployed to a Combat Zone Tax Exempt location or if they are living overseas.
Figure Out Whether You Owe Money
An extension of the time to file your tax return is not an extension of time to pay. You’ll need to do at least some math to see if you anticipate owing additional tax beyond the amount you had withheld from your paychecks throughout the year. You want to estimate a little high to avoid an underpayment, which could result in interest and/or penalties.
File For An Extension – with Payment
The Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return is IRS Form 4686. There are three ways to apply for the automatic tax extension:
Make A Payment
If you owe, I think the easiest way to file for a tax extension is to make your payment electronically at www.irs.gov/payments. Confusingly, just making that payment acts as an application for the automatic extension. However, that makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and they’d like to fill out the form, too. In that case, you’ll have to go to option two or option three:
To file electronically, and get a confirmation, you will have to use an online tax provider. You can use the free H&R Block program available through Military OneSource, or one of the FreeFile providers available through the IRS website. Using an online tax provider to process your application for extension does not mean you have to use that provider for your actual tax return filing.
You do not need to pay an online provider to file for an extension. If a provider wants to charge you to file for an extension, run the other direction!!
File By Mail
Print out the paper form. Complete the questions, and follow the detailed mailing instructions. If you need to make a payment, include it in the same envelope.
Automatic Tax Extensions for Taxpayers Living Abroad
U.S. taxpayers who are permanently living abroad, or are posted abroad with the U.S. military, are granted an automatic two month extension of time to file and time to pay. No form is required for this extension. While you will not be penalized for not paying your taxes by the April deadline, you may owe interest on the amount you have to pay. If you anticipate a large payment, you may want to go ahead and make the payment before the April regular deadline in order to reduce or eliminate interest payments.
If you get to the end of the two months, you can then file for the same automatic extension using instructions above. Your extension will be for four months, instead of six, so the final tax deadline is the same for all taxpayers (except those in a combat zone, as discussed below.)
Automatic Tax Extensions for Taxpayers in a Combat Zone
If you can’t, or don’t want to, file your tax return due to service in a Combat Zone Tax Exempt area, you’re in luck. You have an automatic extension, with no forms to fill out. The length of the extension is roughly 180 days from leaving the combat zone area, with a little bit of tricky figuring involved. This extension applies to both the service member and their spouse, if they file their federal income tax returns using the married filing jointly status.
To calculate the deadline for returns delayed by service in a combat zone, you start with the day you left the combat zone. Add 180 days.
Then, add the number of days there were between the day you entered the combat zone and the original due date of the tax return. For example, if you entered the combat zone on 2 March, and your tax return was due on 15 April, you add an additional 45 days.
Example: Sgt. Jones enters a combat zone on 15 March 2016. He leaves the combat zone on 15 September 2016. Starting with 15 September 2016, count 180 days to 12 March 2017, then add the 31 days he had left in the previous filing cycle, to get a 13 April 2017 filing deadline for the return that was originally due on 15 April 2016.
This is also explained thoroughly in IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces Tax Guide.
You can verify if your location qualifies for the extension by checking this list: Combat Zones Approved For Tax Benefits.
Tax Extension for State Income Tax Returns
Don’t forget that individual states have different rules for extensions of time to file, and different tax filing deadlines. Do not assume that your federal extension means that you’ll be good with the state(s) in which you file. Read the instructions for your state in this article: Tax Extension Rules By State.
IRS Publication 3, The Armed Forces Tax Guide is a great resource for answering many of your tax questions. For more obscure questions, I’ve had good luck with the search function on the IRS website, www.irs.gov.
Filing for a tax extension is becoming more common, and it’s simple and free as long as you make the necessary tax payments on time. Don’t make yourself crazy!
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