Last-Minute Tax Tips: How to File for a Tax Extension

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Tax extensionUpdated April 8, 2013

Ideally, you've already completed your tax return, since late filers tend to pay more to get their taxes done. Or -- even if you've left it till the last minute -- you're on track to finish by April 15.

This is life, however -- untidy, contingent, opaque -- and some of us will wind up having to request an extension, whether because of a misplaced receipt or a late-arriving tax form. If you require such a reprieve, here's what you need to know.
To get started, you'll need the following information:
  • Your personal details, including your Social Security number, address, and the name and taxpayer ID number of your spouse
  • A copy of your 2011 tax return
  • A list of tax payments made in 2011
If your tax situation hasn't changed much since last year, you can use your 2011 tax return to estimate your tax liability for purposes of filing an extension. You'll find your total tax liability from 2011 on Line 61 of Form 1040, Line 37 of Form 1040A, or line 11 of Form 1040EZ. Subtract any payments you've made throughout the year and report your balance due on Line 6 of the extension form. Ideally, if that indicates that you'll owe money to the IRS, you should pay at least that much along with your extension to avoid a potential penalty.

To prepare and file the extension for your federal income tax return, you'll need to select a method:
  • File a paper form: Most taxpayers are eligible for an automatic six-month extension. To get it, you must file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Income Tax Return, by April 15, 2013. Assuming you file on time, you tax deadline will be extended through Oct. 15. A longer extension may be granted if you're living out of the country.
  • File online: You can apply for an extension by filing Form 4868 online through a software tax prep service like TurboTax or by hiring a tax professional who uses e-file. If you want to make a payment with your online filing, you can send a check to the IRS or pay by electronic funds withdrawal. (To use the latter option, you'll have to enroll first in EFTPS.) As with a paper return, the extension must be filed before the end of day on April 15, 2013.
  • Pay by credit card: You can also apply for an extension by paying part or all of your estimated income tax due by using a credit or debit card. To pay by credit or debit card, call toll-free or visit the website of one of the following service providers approved by the IRS:
Link2Gov Corporation
(888) PAY-1040 [(888) 729-1040]
(888) 658-5465 (Customer Service)
www.PAY1040.com

Official Payments Corporation
(888) UPAY-TAX [(888) 872-9829]
(877) 754-4413 (Customer Service)
www.officialpayments.com/fed

WorldPay US
(888) 9PAY-TAX [(888) 972-9829]
(877) 517-4881 (Customer Service)
www.payUSAtax.com
Each service provider will charge a convenience fee based on the amount of the tax payment. (However, as DailyFinance recently reported, this isn't the only reason you're probably better off not paying your taxes using a credit card.) At the completion of the transaction, you'll receive a confirmation number for your records.
No matter which option you choose, remember that an extension must be filed in a timely manner. More importantly, filing an extension extends the time to file, but not the time to pay. As with the form, payments should be made by April 15, 2013.

If you run into difficulty or need more information, the IRS can help. You can call (800) 829-1040 for assistance, Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. your local time. (Alaska and Hawaii follow Pacific Time).
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