How to Apply for & Get a Federal Tax Extension
If you’re running out of time to file your taxes, then you may want to consider filing for an IRS tax extension, which allows you to take more time before your official taxes paperwork has to be filed.
Keep in mind that even if your tax extension application is approved, it won’t give you any additional time to actually pay your taxes, you’ll still owe the full amount due to the IRS at the same time (postmarked by April 15th). All an extension does is push back the due date for when your tax paperwork itself needs to be filed.
While an extension is a good thing, the key point here is that even if you do get a tax filing extension, but don’t pay your taxes on time, then your tax payments will still end up being late, and you’ll end up needing to figure out how to deal with Filing & Paying IRS Back Taxes.
That extension will definitely save you money on late filing fees, but you’ll still need to take into account and plan for paying all the late fees, fines, penalties and other terrible things that the IRS levies against people who don’t pay their tax debt by the official deadline.
This Guide goes through tax filing extensions in detail, talking about who qualifies for them, how to apply for them, which forms to use, and how they’ll impact your filing status and debt.
Who Qualifies for a Tax Extension?
Everyone qualifies for tax extensions, basically by default.
It doesn’t matter how much you made, how much you owe, whether you’ve used an extension in the past, or anything else along those lines, we’re all eligible for an IRS extension simply because that’s how the system has been set up.
As long as you’re a United States Taxpayer, you can and most likely will qualify for a tax extension, and all you have to do is ask for one.
Just remember, getting that extension doesn’t mean you can delay actually paying your taxes, because it doesn’t push back the due date for your IRS bill, and the minute you haven’t paid on time, you’re going to end up owing back taxes, getting charged fines, fees, etc.
How Long do IRS Tax Extensions Last?
If you’re approval for a tax extension, the good news is that you’ll have an extra six months to put together and file all your paperwork, which means that instead of having your taxes due on (or around) April 15th, they’ll be due instead on (or around) October 15th.
Remember, the due date is slightly different each year, based on Holidays, Weekends, etc. so you need to pay close attention to the due date each year that you’re looking at filing for an extension and trying to push back your due date.
For 2020, the tax due date is Monday, April 15th, right on time since the 15th isn’t a Weekend or Holiday.
The nice thing about tax extension requests is that they’re almost always approved by the IRS. Why does the IRS, an agency so well-known for being sticklers to rules and deadlines offer extensions so easily?
Because the IRS doesn’t care all that much when you file your paperwork; what matters to them is when they get paid!
What If I Don’t Plan on Paying in Time?
First, let me remind you that this is not a good idea, as one of the worst things you can with IRS debt is let it go delinquent, since that ends up generating late fees, fines, penalties and all manner of other expensive problems from the IRS.
But, the reality is that it’s hard to come up with the cash the IRS wants on time, for any number of reasons, and that the IRS won’t be mad that you’re paying them late, you won’t get in trouble as long as you prove that you intend to actually pay them, and that they may even actually be happy you missed your deadline because it allows them to collect more money from you!
With that said, if you are planning on racking up late fees, I would suggest that you prepare for dealing with them in advance, and I would highly recommend that you take a look at my guides on what will happen after missing your tax payment deadline, including Guides I’ve developed for the IRS Debt Collection Process, IRS Fines, Fees & Penalties, IRS Tax Penalty Abatements, and Filing & Paying IRS Back Taxes.
If you’re already in, or are planning on being in serious trouble with the IRS, then I’ve also got excellent Guides on Using the IRS Fresh Start Program, Applying for IRS Tax Debt Forgiveness, Reaching an IRS Tax Debt Settlement and Stopping an IRS Wage Garnishment.
Finally, if all you want to do is pay someone else to help you get out of trouble, take a look at my Guide to IRS Tax Resolution Services, which will teach you how to shop for a high-quality debt settlement agency.
Now, let’s get back to extensions…
How Much Does it Cost to Get a Tax Extension?
Nothing! Tax extensions are entirely free!
Also, please don’t feel like you need to pay a Tax Relief Agency, Lawyer, CPA or any other sort of tax preparation specialist or financial advisor to help you put the extension paperwork together, because it’s actually quit simple.
The hardest part of the process is making sure that you’re using the right form to request your extension, as the IRS has different processes for individuals, businesses, Citizens and Non-Citizens, military personnel serving in combat zones or hazardous duty areas, etc., and as usual, there’s a different form for each of these situations.
In the rest of this post, I’ll go through all the details of filing an extension request, including the process for each different type of person, business or situation, to make sure that you fully understand what you need to do in order to get an extension of your own.
If I Can’t Pay, Should I Just File Late Then?
Even though the extension doesn’t allow you any additional time for the due date of your payments, you will definitely still want to file for an extension even if you can’t anything to the IRS by the due date.
Why? Because the IRS charges fines, fees and penalties for basically anything you do wrong, including being late on payments, but also being late on filing your taxes! And, in fact, the IRS charges for not filing a return or an extension on time is TEN TIMES LARGER than the penalty for not paying your taxes on time!
That means that even if you can’t afford to pay what the IRS wants, you’ve still got to file your return, and if you can’t get the paperwork together by the due date, you’d better get that extension filed, or you’re going to be in for some huge fees.
Sure, it’s possible to contact the IRS after the fact and request a Penalty Abatement, but those are only approved if you have a dang good reason for being late with your tax filing, and in this case, it’s much easier to ask for permission than it is to get forgiveness, so don’t neglect this opportunity to prevent yourself a major hassle.
Even if you can’t pay your taxes, make sure to request that extension before the due date in order to minimize your penalty charges. Trust me, you’ll thank me later!
Things That Disqualify People From Tax Extensions
There are a couple cases in which you won’t qualify for an extension, no matter how badly you may need or want one.
Two specific instances the IRS says make you ineligible for an extension are:
- If you want the IRS to figure your tax liabilities for you
- If you are under a court order to file by the regular due date (this usually only happens when you’ve already had IRS problems in the past)
So, keep in mind that you won’t be able to get an extension if either of those variables apply to you, and make sure that you plan on filing on time in order to avoid the fines, fees and penalties that would otherwise accumulate.
How to Request an E File Extension
First, let’s cover filing an extension for the most common form of tax filing, which is the e-filing process.
The IRS recently partnered with a batch of tax software and preparation companies to offer a service called “Free File”, which allows taxpayers to e-file their IRS tax extension request for free… if and only if you use one of the following software companies to do it!
There’s no age or residency requirement to use one of these “Free File” companies, so don’t worry about “qualifying” for them or anything like that.
2020 Free File Companies Include:
- FreeTaxUSA® Totally Free
- Online Taxes at OLT.com
- Free TaxACT® Free File – Processing Extensions for Foreign Filers Only
Next, keep in mind that you can do the Free File extension with these companies, but you can also file your IRS tax return via the same process, again, for free.
There is, however, a restriction on using these companies to file your Free File return, and that is that your adjusted gross income can’t come out to more than $66,000.
If your adjusted gross income turns out to be $66,000.01, then you won’t be able to Free File with these guys, and will need to look elsewhere for filing your actual IRS tax return.
If you’re not going to use one of the Free File companies to request your extension, then here are your other options!
Requesting an Extension as an Individual
Anyone who counts as an “individual” and who is looking to file for an extension should use the IRS Form 4868, officially called the “Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return”.
You can find this form here.
Requesting an Extension if You’re in a Combat Zone or Hazardous Duty Area
If you are serving in a combat zone or hazardous duty area, then you will be eligible to apply for a tax filing extension under these conditions.
How does this work?
Special rules apply to people serving int he Armed Forces in a combat zone or contingency operation, or who become hospitalized form an injury received in a combat zone or contingency operation.
Typically, these extensions offer an additional 180 days after you’ve left the designated combat zone or contingency operation, giving you a full 6 months from the point that you return to get your paperwork together.
If your Service Branch determined that you were impacted by a presidentially declared disaster, a terroristic or military action, then you may get up to a full year after the due date of your return to file and pay taxes, but this depends on the deadline specific by your Service.
For additional details on how this works, the IRS has a super thorough and extremely helpful guide to extensions of deadlines for people in combat zones, which you can find here.
US Citizens Who Don’t Live in the United States
If your’e a US Citizen, but you don’t live in the United States, then you have additional variety in terms of your different extension options, including an automatic 2 month extension, an automatic 6 month extension, an additional 2 month discretionary extension for taxpayers out of the country, or an extension of time to meet tests (proving that you deserve an extension).
There’s also a specific process for people in a combat zone or qualified hazardous duty area, which I’ll discuss after I go through the extensions I just mentioned above.
The 2 Month Automatic Extension
This again, is for US Citizens who aren’t in the country at the time their taxes are due, who may qualify for an automatic 2 month extension by meeting either of the following conditions on April 15th:
- If you are living outside of the US and Puerto Rico, and your main place of business or post of duty is outside the US and Puerto Rico; OR
- If you are in the military or naval service on duty outside of the US and Puerto Rico
Keep in mind that just like the standard 6 month extension, your taxes are still technically due on the due date, so if you don’t pay them on time, you will be hit with interest charges, but your paperwork can be filed later thanks to the 2 month extension.
If you’re planning on filing a joint return, then either yourself or your spouse meeting the conditions above can qualify you for the automatic 2 month extension.
If you or your spouse file separate returns, however, then only the person who qualifies for it based on the rules above will get the extension.
How to Get the 2 Month Extension
To use the automatic 2 month extension, all you need to do is attach a statement to your tax return (when you file it) explaining which of the two situations listed above you qualified under.
As long as you can prove that you truly deserved the 2 month extension, you’ll be all set!
The 6 Month Automatic Extension
Just like people within the US, anyone outside the US can also qualify for a 6 month extension, using either IRS Form 4868 or the electronic filing process I outlined above.
I’m honestly not sure why this one is called an “Automatic” extension, considering it requires filing an IRS form to go through, but that’s what the IRS calls it, and we can’t argue with them about terminology.
When you file the 6 month extension form, one thing to keep in mind is that your form must show your properly estimated tax liability based on the details you know. You can’t leave that blank, or get it way wrong, and doing so could lead to additional fines, fees and penalties.
Can I Layer the 2 Month & 6 Month Period Together for a Full 8 Months Extension?
Unfortunately, no, but you can use the 2 month extension first, then request a 6 month extension before that deadline comes, which will give you an additional 4 months to file.
Why wouldn’t you get another 6 full months to file? Because the IRS says so! Per their rules, each extension starts on the date your taxes were due. That’s the rules, and we have to abide by them, no matter how strange they may seem.
The Additional 2 Month Discretionary Extension
The IRS makes everything confusing, but there is actually a way to qualify for 2 additional months of extension (in addition to the total 6 from the two extensions outlined above), again, only for US taxpayers living out of the country at the time their taxes are due.
Unlike the automatic extension, this one needs to be requested, however, by sending the IRS a letter explaining why you need 2 more months to get your paperwork together.
You have to send this letter by the extended due date for your taxes, which would be October 15th if you’ve already used the previous 6 months worth of extensions, and you need to mail it to the IRS at:
- Department of the Treasury
- Internal Revenue Service
- Austin, TX 73301-0045
That’s all the IRS explains about this letter, so I’m not sure what all exactly needs to go into it, but I’d be as crystal clear as possible about explaining how being out of the country is preventing you from assembling certain paperwork required to file your taxes, keeping it short, simple, and getting straight to the point.
Apparently, if you do receive an extension, you won’t hear anything back from the IRS, as they state that they’ll only respond if your extension request is denied. What a system, right?
Now, keep in mind that this additional 2 month discretionary extension is NOT available to anyone who already has an approved extension of time to file from Form 2350.
The Form 2350 Extension – “Extension of Time to Meet Tests” Extension
This extension is a second option for getting over 6 months worth of extended time to file your taxes, but this one requires some very specific situations, and you can only qualify for this extension if you meet all three of the following conditions:
- You must be a U.S. Citizen or Resident Alien
- You expect to meet either the bona fide residence test or the physical presence test, but not until after your tax return is due
- Your tax home is in a foreign country (or several countries) throughout your period of bona fide residence or physical presence
If you qualify for this kind of extension, the typical extension range is 30 days beyond the date on which you can reasonably expect to qualify for an exclusion or deduction under either of the tests.
However, if you have moving expenses that are for services performed in 2 years, then you may also be granted an extension until after the end of the second year.
How to File for The Form 2350 Extension
To file for this extension, you need to file IRS Form 2350 by getting it to a local IRS representative in your country, or by sending it via mail to:
- Department of the Treasury
- Internal Revenue Service
- Austin, TX 73301-0045
Now, let’s unpack how those two tests mentioned above work.
What is the bona fide residence test? And what is the physical presence test?
These are tests you must pass in order to claim a foreign income exclusion when you prepare and file your taxes, used to determine your residence status in a foreign country during the applicable tax year.
The Bona Fide Residence Test
To pass the bona fide residence test, you’ve got to prove that you were a resident of a foreign country (or several countries) for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year, running from January 1st to December 31st.
You must also be able to prove that you’ve established a residence in a foreign country. If you can do that, then you can qualify for an IRS Foreign Income Exclusion and deduction, in addition to the additional 2 month tax filing extension we’re talking about here.
To pass the bona fide test, you must be either a U.S. Citizen OR a U.S. Resident Alien who is a citizen or national of a country that the US has an income tax treaty with.
One trick about the bona fide test is that your bona fide residence may NOT be the same as your domicile, which is your “personal home” or the place to which you always return or intend to return.
The IRS runs the bona fide test on a case by case basis, and will ask you questions to see if you pass the test, based on factors like your intention for living abroad, or the purpose of your trip, the nature and the length of your stay, etc.
If you have earned foreign income during your trip, then you’ll need to complete Part II of Form 2555 (“Taxpayers Qualifying Under Bona Fide Resident Test) to prove that you’ve been a bona fide resident of the foreign country for the whole tax year.
Get the rest of the details on this test by visiting my page on the Bona Fide Resident Test & IRS Form 2555, Part II.
The Physical Presence Test
To pass the physical presence test, you need to prove that you were present in a foreign country (or several countries) for at least 330 full days during a consecutive period of 12 months.
The 330 qualifying days don’t have to be consecutive, but the 12 months do. Fortunately, this one may be a little easier for international business people or jet setters to pass, as you’re allowed to count any days you spent abroad for any reason, including employment, vacations, etc.
There are tax benefits to meeting this test, and for the purposes of this post, it also allows you to qualify for that additional 2 month tax extension we’re discussing presently.
You will fail to meet the physical presence test if any of this criteria applies to you:
- If you weren’t present in a foreign country for less than the required 330 qualifying days, for any reason, including illnesses, vacations, employer’s orders, family problems, etc.
- If you were present in a foreign country in violation of US law
In this test’s case, it doesn’t matter why you were in the foreign country, what your purpose was there, what you intended to do there, or anything else of that sort, which would apply to the bona fide test, all that counts is how long you were abroad, and whether you made that 330 days threshold.
However, when using the physical present test to determine your tax home, your intentions with regard to the purpose and nature of your stay abroad will be relevant, so keep that in mind if you’re trying to get approval for establishing a tax home abroad.
Get the rest of the details on this test by visiting my page on the Physical Presence Test and Form 2555, Part III.
Requesting an Extension as a Business or Corporation
The IRS has different rules for individuals and businesses or corporations, but businesses and corporations also have avenues for requesting tax filing extensions.
Requesting an Extension as a Business
If you need to request an extension as a Business, then you should look into IRS Form 7004, officially called the “Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File Certain Business Income Tax, Information, and Other Returns”.
There’s a whole complicated process on using Form 7004, and I outline in my Guide to Getting an IRS Extension as a Business.
Requesting an Extension as a Corporation
If you want to request an extension as a Corporation, you’ll use a different form than Individuals or Businesses, but it sounds like Corporations can only request extensions if they’re expected a net operating loss on the year, because of the way that the IRS explains this process.
To request an extension as a Corporation, you’d use IRS Form 1138, officially called the “Extension of Time for Payment of Taxes by a Corporation Expecting a Net Operating Loss Carryback”.
Again, this is a complicated process, and I explain it in my Guide to Getting an IRS Extension as a Corporation.
Other IRS Extension Request Forms
There’s a variety of other situations a taxpayer may face when filing their taxes, and as usual, the IRS has created a whole host of additional forms, with one for each specific situation.
Below you’ll find the full suite of additional tax extension forms:
Form 2350, Application for Extension of Time to File U.S. Income Tax Return (For U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad Who Expect To Qualify for Special Tax Treatment)
Form 4768, Application for Extension of Time to File a Return and/or Pay U.S. Estate (and Generation-Skipping Transfer) Taxes
Form 5558, Application for Extension of Time to File Certain Employee Plan Returns
Form 8809, Application for Extension of Time to File Information Returns
Form 8868, Application for Extension of Time To File an Exempt Organization Return.
Form 8892, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File Form 709 and/or Payment of Gift/Generation-Skipping Transfer Tax
Hopefully you’ve been able to find the form you need and can carry on with your tax filing preparation at this point!
If You Owe Estimated Tax & Need an Extension
If you owe estimated taxes and need an extension to file, or to make the full payment, then you should request an IRS tax extension by paying whatever you can pay now, then asking that the leftover amount be applied to an extension.
You can make payments via a variety of options, like Direct Pay, using a Credit or Debit Card, or via the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS).
For Questions & Help with Other IRS Tax Problems
If you still have questions about the extension request process, then please feel free to post them in the Comments section below.
I review comments regularly and will do my best to get you a quick response!
Alternatively, consider looking at the other Guides I’ve developed on this site, which offer assistance for all sorts of other tax-related issues, including:
- Filing & Paying IRS Back Taxes
- IRS Tax Penalties, Fines & Fees
- IRS Tax Penalty Abatement
- IRS Tax Debt Forgiveness Programs
- IRS Tax Debt Settlement Programs
- Stopping IRS Wage Garnishments
- The IRS Collections Process
- IRS Tax Resolution Services
- The IRS Fresh Start Program
- The IRS Offer in Compromise Program
- Avoiding IRS Phone Call Scams
Please feel free to look through the Guides listed above, where you’ll find access to all sorts of detailed information about each step of the process for dealing with tax-related problems.
I use information from all around the web to help me produce these Guides, but primarily, from the IRS’s official website, which is a treasure trove of excellent advice, Q&As, How To Guides and more.
Here are some specific sources I used to construct the material of this Guide:
- When to File – https://www.irs.gov/filing/individuals/when-to-file
- Extension of Time to File Your Tax Return – https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/extension-of-time-to-file-your-tax-return
- Need an Extension of Time to File Taxes? – https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/need-an-extension-of-time-to-file-taxes
- The Pros & Cons of Filing a Tax Extension – https://www.thebalance.com/tax-extension-pros-cons-3193185
- Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad – https://www.irs.gov/publications/p54
- Extension of Deadlines – Combat Zone Service – https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/extension-of-deadlines-combat-zone-service
- What is the Difference Between IRS Forms 2350 and 4868? – https://ttlc.intuit.com/questions/3848009-question-on-filing-an-extension-what-is-the-difference-between-forms-2350-and-4868-if-i-am-going-to-file-foreign-earned-income-why-can-i-not-use-a-simple-4868-thx
- Form 7004, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File Certian Business Income Tax, Information, and Other Returns – https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-form-7004
- About Form 1138, Exxtension of Time for Payment of Taxes by a Corporation Expecting a Net Operating Loss Carryback – https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/about-form-1138
- Using EFTPS: The Electronic Federal Tax Payment System – https://www.irs.gov/payments/eftps-the-electronic-federal-tax-payment-system
These are just a few of the links that were useful in creating this Guide. For additional details, either click through them to see the IRS’s official position on each part of the process, or try Googling for any other questions that you might have.
Please Help Me Out!
I’m not a huge corporation, but a single guy who works tirelessly to help people figure out how to approach dealing with debt, whether that’s Getting Rid of Student Loan Debt, or Getting Help with IRS Tax Problems, and I spend hours and hours of my own time developing these Guides for people just like you!
If you found the information on my website to be useful, please, share a link to it on your Social Media sites, or show it to friends, family and colleagues who you think could use assistance themselves.
The more people who visit my site, the more time I can dedicate toward building useful content like this, and making it easier for everyone to deal with their debt.
Thank you for visiting, and please come back soon!
Disclaimer: Information obtained from Forget Tax Debt is for educational purposes only. You should consult a licensed financial professional before making any financial decisions. This site receives some compensation through affiliate relationships. This site is not endorsed or affiliated with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the IRS or any other Government Organization.