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Need more time on your taxes? Here’s how to file for an extension

Jeanie Ahn
Senior Producer/Reporter

We’re barrelling toward the April 15 tax filing deadline, and if you’re rushing to meet it but don’t think you can get your taxes done in time, you can relax a bit -- and still hit the snooze button.

Getting an individual extension is pretty simple -- and free! I’ve done it twice myself, and the good news is that you don’t even need a good reason for the IRS to grant you one.

Don’t delay what you pay

To get an extension, go to the IRS site and grab form 4868, which is the application for an automatic extension. If you send this form in by April 15, it buys you six months of extra time to file -- your new deadline will be Oct. 15. You generally can’t get more time than that, so make it count.

Anyone can request one, and the IRS doesn’t need to know why. The bad news? You still have to pay what you owe in taxes on time -- meaning by April 15.

The first time I filed for an extension, I didn’t realize this, and I had to shell out hundreds of dollars in additional penalties and interest. So don’t make my mistake.

If you can’t file or pay right way, you’re not completely out of luck. The only way to get out of those late payment penalties is if you have a really good excuse, and the IRS is pretty picky about those. The most commonly accepted reasons are health-related, and you’ll have to explain yours in writing.

How to know what you’ll owe

The easiest way to get the extension and avoid those penalties is to estimate what you owe in taxes and pay that electronically on the IRS payment site. As you’re doing that, mark it as an extension payment and you’ll get the extension automatically without having to file form 4868 separately.

But how can you figure out how much to pay if you haven’t finished your taxes yet? If you’re using tax software, try to get as far as you can and make an educated guess. If you’re not using tax software to e-file, you can also estimate your payments using the tax tables for 2016 provided for by the IRS or an online tax calculator.

It’s OK if you overpay because that money will be refunded to you once you file your return. And if you can’t afford to pay right now, let the IRS know. There are both short- and long-term payment plans for anyone who can’t pay in full by April 15.

The federal is only half of it

And don’t forget about filing for a state extension, too. It depends where you live, but many states will simply give you more time once you’ve filed for the federal extension. Those include Arizona, California, Wyoming and Alabama. Several states will give you an automatic extension so long as at least 90% of your tax liability is already paid.

Check your state’s rules, though, because some states -- like Massachusetts and New York -- do require you to fill out a separate form. Extension times can vary. Delaware, for instance, will only give you a five-and-a-half-month extension instead of the full six months, while Indiana will give you seven extra months.

My last piece of advice is, if you think you need an extension, get on it sooner rather than later, as the IRS gets busier as the season goes on.

And that’s it, fellow procrastinators! You now have until Oct. 15 of this year to file.

Do you have tax-related questions you need answered? Let us know at moneyquestions@yahoo.com.

Follow Jeanie Ahn on Twitter.

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