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How to file an extension

Do you need more time?
Image: Elaine Scholtz
Elaine Scholtz waves at cars in front of Liberty Tax Service in Laconia, N.H., on Wednesday. The deadline for filing taxes is Thursday.Jim Cole / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Do you need more time?

Whether you've procrastinated or you have a complicated tax return that's taking longer to prepare than expected, you still have a deadline to meet on Thursday.

Applications for extensions are due the same due date as tax returns. It's easy to file, and everyone gets one automatic six-month extension, no questions asked.

If you need an extension, you won't be alone. Through early April, 2.3 million fewer returns were filed with the IRS than last year, indicating there are a lot of taxpayers behind schedule.

File Form 4868
The extension form is available on the Internal Revenue Service Web site, ; through most tax preparation software; or at public libraries and post offices. The application for an automatic extension is just a half-page long. But it may still cause some head-scratching. That's because while you can get an extension for filing your return, you don't get to delay paying taxes you owe.

Estimate what you owe
If your earnings were roughly the same in 2009 as in 2008, the easiest way to estimate what you owe is to add in slightly more than you owed last year. If you overpay, you'll get a refund after you file your return. If you underpay, you'll have to pay a penalty and interest on the difference.

Pay up or the bill will rise
The late payment penalty is one-half of 1 percent of any tax not paid by April 15. That translates to a $25 penalty if you owe $5,000. It is charged each month or part of a month the tax goes unpaid, up to 25 percent, or $1,250 on that $5,000.

The interest, currently 4 percent, is compounded daily. Don't try to calculate what you might owe in penalties and interest, the IRS will send a bill if you underpay.

Choose a payment method
If you have to send in money, you can mail a check, pay online or by phone using a credit or debit card. Don't send cash. More details on making payments are available on the IRS Web site.

If you can't pay
If you don't have the money to pay your taxes, you will have the opportunity to work out a payment plan with the IRS. But you'll still want to file your return, or an extension form, so that you can avoid the late filing penalty.