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Tax day might be circled in red on your calendar, but circumstances may keep you from filing on time. Fortunately, you can request extra time to file by asking for an extension.

Extensions are available for individual returns, returns from citizens living abroad, military personnel on duty outside the United States, businesses, and tax-exempt organizations.

Remember, extending the time to file your tax return generally doesn't extend the time to pay any taxes due. Interest and penalties will generally start to accrue immediately after the due date. You should estimate what you think you might owe and send that amount with your extension. This may save you from being penalized for not paying timely. If you can’t pay, you should still file an extension and then review your payment options.

If you believe you’re due to receive a refund, you aren't required to make a payment.

Extensions for individual returns  

There are several ways to request an automatic extension of time to file your return.

  • Electronically file or mail an IRS Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. You’ll receive an acknowledgment or confirmation number for your records. 
  • If you pay all or part of your estimated tax by using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS), or a credit or debit card, your extension will be automatically filed. You’ll receive a confirmation number for your records once the transaction is complete.

U.S. citizens abroad

If you're a U.S. citizen or resident alien abroad, you’re allowed an automatic two-month extension of time to file and pay. Penalties and interest are assessed from the two-month extension date (generally June 15, not April 15), if you don’t pay in full by that date.

If you qualify, you must attach a statement to your return explaining which of the following applies to you.

You're a U.S. citizen or resident alien AND on the due date of your return:

  • You're living outside of the United States and Puerto Rico, and your main place of business or post of duty is outside of the United States and Puerto Rico; or
  • You're in the military service on duty outside of the United States and Puerto Rico.

If you still can’t file your tax return by the end of this two-month period, you can get another four months by filing IRS Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. The extension doesn't extend the time to pay any tax due.

Service in a combat zone

If you or your spouse served in a combat zone or in a contingency operation (or are hospitalized as a result of an injury received while serving in such an area or operation), please see Extension of Deadlines in IRS Publication 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide.

Extensions for business and other types of returns

Businesses can also request an automatic extension using IRS Form 7004, Application for Automatic Extension to File. The form lists the returns that can apply for automatic extensions. The IRS grants an automatic five-month extension to some businesses (such as partnerships and trusts) and a six-month extension for many more, including corporations and S corporations.  

You can file an IRS Form 7004 electronically for most returns. See the IRS Form 7004 instructions  for a list of the exceptions.

If you’re self-employed and report your business on an IRS Form 1040 return, you’d follow the extension instructions for individuals (see above). 

If you’re involved with a tax-exempt organization and need an extension, see IRS Form 8868, Application for Extension of Time to File an Exempt Organization Return for more information about applying for an automatic three-month extension.

The IRS will send you a letter as soon as possible if it doesn't approve your extension request.


The IRS can assess a failure to file penalty for filing late. Filing for an extension may help you avoid this penalty. Generally, though, if you don’t also send a payment of your estimated tax, you'll be assessed a failure to pay penalty. If you want to appeal the penalty, follow the directions on the notice, or use IRS.gov's Appeals Online Self-Help Tools.

I filed an extension but the IRS sent me a notice saying I didn’t

If the IRS sends you a notice assessing the failure to file penalty, you'll need to respond with the information you have and ask it to remove the penalty. Depending on how you requested the extension, you should have documentation, such as the confirmation receipt for an electronically filed extension, or proof of mailing (a certified receipt).

If you didn’t file an extension in time, but something happened that you believe amounts to reasonable cause for not filing, you can ask the IRS to abate (remove) the penalty. You’ll need to write a statement describing what kept you from filing on time.

If your IRS problem is causing you financial hardship, you've tried repeatedly and aren't receiving a response from the IRS, or you feel your taxpayer rights aren't being respected, consider contacting the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS).

Browse common tax issues and situations at Get Help.

You may be eligible for representation from an attorney, Certified Public Accountant (CPA), or Enrolled Agent (EA) associated with a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) for little or no cost. Low Income Taxpayer Clinics also provide information about taxpayer rights and responsibilities in different languages for individuals who speak English as a second language.

Last modified May 27, 2020