How to File for a Federal Tax Extension

As a taxpayer, you likely know what a federal tax extension is. However, if you don’t know, a federal tax extension is an extended deadline to file your federal tax return. Note that an extension is for filing the paperwork only, not for paying any taxes that may be due. If you owe taxes, you need to pay those taxes by the due date (generally April 15th), unless that day is a weekend or holiday, then the payment is due the next business day. You can also make payment arrangements with the IRS prior to the tax deadline filing date. If you don’t do either by the tax filing deadline date, you will get hit with a failure to file and a failure to pay penalty.

Even though it might be your intentions to file your tax return by the due date, there are times when life gets in the way and you may not be able to do that. If that should be the case, no worries, you have the option to request an extension of time to file your tax return (again, the extension applies to the paperwork only). You can request the extension online or via mail. The tax extension form number will differ depending upon whether you file as an individual or you are filing for a business. Let’s first go over the general steps for filing an extension.

General Steps for Filing an Extension

  • Download the applicable extension form, which will either be the Form 4898 used for individuals, or single member LLCs, or the Form 7004 used for S-Corporations, partnerships, or C-Corporations. Note that Form 7004 extension request is used for other types of returns as well.
  • Complete all applicable information on the form.
  • Mail or electronically file the extension request form with the IRS. Once the form is received by the IRS, you will have an additional 6 months from the tax deadline date, which for individuals is usually April 15th to file your tax return. The extension deadline date is usually October 15th for individuals.
  • Tax deadline dates differ for corporate entities. It is important for you to know what the tax filing deadline date is for your business entity. Extension requests must be postmarked no later than the tax return deadline filing date.

For the extension request to be honored, it must be postmarked no later than April 15th for individuals, and single member LLCs, or the applicable deadline date for corporate returns. If you don’t want to mail the extension request in, there are websites that you can use to electronically file the extension request. Keep in mind that if you are one day past the tax filing deadline date, the extension request will not be honored.

Currently the IRS does not provide copies of extension requests, therefore, if you request the extension by mail, be sure to keep a copy of it for your records. If you have someone submit the request for you, it is a good idea to ask that person to provide you with a copy of the extension request and the date that it was mailed or electronically filed. More times than not, taxpayers who have others handling this matter for them think that an extension has been filed, when it wasn’t. Be proactive, even if someone else filed the extension for you, stay on top of it and make sure that it was done.

For certain taxpayers, there are times when an extension request does not have to be filed, it is automatically granted for a 2-month period. However, if you still require additional time, you can file the Form 4868 for an additional 4 months, for a total of 6 months. The situations when the automatic 2-month extension apply are as follows:

U.S. citizen/resident alien/active duty military

You may be allowed an automatic 2-month extension to file your tax return if on the regular due date of your tax return:

  • You are residing outside of the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and your main place of business, or post of duty is outside of the United States and Puerto Rico;
  • You are on active duty in the military or naval service outside of the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

To use the automatic 2-month extension, it is required that you attach a statement to your tax return indicating which of the following reasons listed above is applicable to your situation. If your filing status is married filing jointly, either you or your spouse can qualify for the automatic 2-month extension. If your filing status is married filing separately, the 2-month extension will only apply to the spouse that qualifies. For active duty military serving in a combat zone, your deadline for filing your return, paying your tax, claiming refunds, or taking other actions with the IRS is extended in 2 steps.

First, your deadline date is extended for 180 days (6 months) after the later of the following:

  • The last day you are in a combat zone, have qualifying service outside of the combat zone, or serve in a contingency operation (or the last day the area qualifies as a combat zone or the operation qualifies as a contingency operation).
  • The last day of any continuous qualified hospitalization for injury from service in the combat zone or contingency operation or while performing qualifying service outside of the combat zone.

Refer to IRS Publication 3 for step 2 and additional information relating to extensions while actively serving in a combat zone and other general information regarding the automatic 2-month extension for other taxpayers who qualify.

Link to IRS Publication 3:–2017.pdf

If you are not a fan of paper and simply don’t want to be bothered with mailing the extension request in, no need to worry. If you are self-preparing the extension, you can e-file it using the tax software that you are using to prep the return, you can ask the tax professional who is prepping your return to e-file the extension for you, you can use the IRS e-file program, and there are other third- party websites that allows you to e-file the Form 4868 as well. Some third-party websites generally require a fee for this service.

To recap, if it is necessary for you to file an extension, you can do it electronically or via mail. For individual taxpayers and single member LLC’s, the Form 4868 is used. For S-Corps (Form 1120S), C-Corps (Form 1120), and partnerships (Form 1065), the Form 7004 is used. If you do not qualify for an automatic extension, the extension request must be postmarked or received by the deadline date. Knowing is half the battle.