You’ll get a few extra days to file your income tax return this year.
The federal tax-filing deadline is Monday, April 18, 2022, because of the April 15 Emancipation Day holiday in Washington, D.C., followed by the weekend. (Taxpayers in Maine and Massachusetts have until April 19 because of the Patriots’ Day holiday in those states.) But you may still have work to do on your return. If you don’t think you can make the deadline, you should request an extension. Otherwise, you could get hit with expensive penalties.
“One important cautionary note for taxpayers is to always get your return filed on time by the original due date of April 18 or the extended date of Oct. 17, even if you must amend the amounts later,” says Bret Scholl, a certified public accountant in Corral de Tierra, California.
There’s no penalty if you miss the deadline and you don’t owe money — but you’ll have to wait longer to receive your refund. But if you do owe money and miss the deadline, you could get hit with two penalties: a late-filing penalty of up to 5% of the unpaid balance each month, up to a maximum of 25%, and a monthly penalty for failure to pay on time, which is 0.5% of the unpaid taxes. The late-filing penalty is 10 times the penalty for failing to pay on time.
“Even if a taxpayer cannot pay, always file a return on time,” says Scholl. “A payment plan can always be worked out, and the penalties may even be able to be reduced in some circumstances.”
[READ: When Will My Tax Refund Arrive?]
How to File for an Extension
It’s easy to request an extension, which will push your deadline to file your tax return to Oct. 17.
You don’t have to explain to the IRS why you’re asking for the extension — you just need to file Form 4868 requesting the extension by April 18. “Getting an extension of time to file your federal tax return is truly automatic by just taking a simple step: Let the IRS know you want the extension,” says Scholl.
You can file Form 4868 on your own, through a tax preparer or a software program. People of all income levels can use the IRS FreeFile program to file an extension for free. On Form 4868, you’ll estimate your total tax liability and list any tax payments you’ve already made for 2021. You need to estimate the balance due and how much of that amount you’re paying.
If you owe money in taxes, getting a tax extension doesn’t delay the deadline for paying — that money is still due by April 18. “An extension is for time to file your return, not for more time to pay,” says Steven Hamilton, an enrolled agent in Grayslake, Illinois.
You need to do enough work on your return before the original deadline to estimate how much you may owe and send the money with your extension request.
“Taxpayers are supposed to file the expected amount due with the extension request,” says Mary Kay Foss, a CPA in Walnut Creek, California. “If what they pay in with the extension does not put them within 90% of the final tax liability, the IRS can assess a penalty for failure to pay.”
You can make your payment electronically. “We recommend making your federal and state extension payments online instead of mailing in a check,” says Chelsea Monk, assistant client manager at Hamilton Tax in Grayslake, Illinois. That way, your check won’t end up in a backlog of unopened mail.
Check with your state’s department of revenue to find out if you need to file for an extension of your state income tax return, too.
Why File for an Extension?
Some people file for an extension because they’re slow to get started on their taxes or they’re waiting for paperwork or additional documentation. “The most common reason a taxpayer would want additional time to file their return is to gather information they’ve not yet received or get more organized with complete information,” says Scholl.
It’s not unusual to have to wait to receive Schedule K-1 for partnerships, S corporations or trusts. Try to get an estimate of the income you’ll need to report from these entities, even if you haven’t received the paperwork yet, so you can calculate how much you have to pay in taxes by the deadline.
Scholl says that tax filing may also be complicated this year because of the advance child tax credit payments and the 2021 recovery rebate credit. You may need to take extra time to track down how much you received in child tax credits or stimulus payments during the year, which you report on your 2021 return.
You should have received IRS Letter 6419 2021 Advance Child Tax Credit in January reporting the amount of child credit received so far in 2021. If you received any stimulus payments in 2021, you should have received IRS Letter 6475 Your Third Economic Impact Payment reporting the amount.
“If they are unsure how much was received, they can either call the IRS — be sure to have plenty of time and patience available due to wait times — or go to the IRS website,” says Scholl. Checking online at IRS.gov is the fastest and easiest resource, he says, but you will need to go through a verification process to set up online access to your account.
In some cases, having the extra time to gather more records can help you find more deductions. “For gig workers, business owners, rental property owners or others that are able to deduct expenses, it can make a lot of sense to extend their returns if their recordkeeping is a mess,” says Scholl. “Once they take the time to add up all those small expenses they’ve forgotten about through the year, it suddenly adds up to a material deduction for them.”
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Update 04/08/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.