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What If I Can't File My Taxes on Time?

In 2011, we have a few extra days to get our tax returns in to the IRS. Tax Day is officially April 18, 2011, instead of April 15, thanks to Emancipation Day.

If you're just worried about getting your return to the post office on time, there are a few other delivery options to consider, including private delivery service and e-file. But if it's not a trip to the post office that's holding you up, but rather missing tax documentation -- or if you just haven't had time to get things together -- you may need to request an extension.An extension needs to be filed in a timely manner to properly extend the time to file. That means it should be filed by the due date for your return. For most taxpayers, that means you need to get your return postmarked (or filed online) by April 18, 2011. You have three options for filing an extension:
  1. File a paper extension: Most taxpayers are eligible for an automatic six-month extension. To get the extension, you must file Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Income Tax Return by April 18, 2011. Assuming you file on time, you'll be extended through Oct. 15. A longer extension may be granted if you're living out of the country.
  2. File online: You can apply for an extension by filing Form 4868 online through a software preparation service like TurboTax, a company that focuses on tax extensions such as FileLater.com, or by hiring a tax professional who uses e-file. If you want to make a payment with your online filing, you can pay by electronic funds withdrawal or send a check to the IRS. As with a paper return, the extension must be filed before the end of day on April 18, 2011.
  3. Pay by credit card. You can also apply for an extension by paying part or all of your estimate of 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 (contact information can be found here). Convenience fees may apply; note that those charges are issued by the provider and not by the IRS.
To get started with any of the three options, 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 2009 tax return.
  • A list of estimated tax payments made, or refunds applied, in 2010 (if any).
No matter which option you choose, here's the most important thing to remember: Filing an extension extends the time to file, but not the time to pay. If you believe that you're going to owe, pay as much as possible with an extension to avoid interest and penalties when you file your return a little later in the year.

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