By Kelly Phillips Erb
With a week to go until Tax Day, if you haven't yet filed your tax return, all is not lost. You can:
Call and hope to get a last-minute tax appointment with a tax preparer;
Download tax prep software and figure you'll squeeze in the time to file while binge-watching The Good Place;
Rock back and forth quietly under your desk while promising to be more prepared next year; or
You can join the millions of taxpayers (like me) who are expected to file for an extension.
Of those choices, you're probably best off filing for an extension (and even if you do get that appointment, your tax preparer will likely also advise that you file for an extension).
It just takes a few minutes, there are no special hoops to jump through, and there's no fee payable to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). And contrary to popular belief - and what some are suggesting this time of year - filing for an extension isn't an audit trigger. In fact, according to the IRS website:
The IRS recommends that taxpayers file for an extension if they need one.
Mistakes can happen at any time, but especially when taxpayers feel rushed or are trying to sort through new tax forms (more on the new form 1040 here) or new rules that may be unfamiliar (like Section 199A).
The IRS understands that there are legitimate reasons why taxpayers may need more time to file. The great thing about filing for an extension early on is that you don’t need to tell anyone - not your mother, not your best friend and not even the IRS - why you're making the request since the extension is granted automatically if you follow the rules.
To file for an extension, you can:
File for an extension online for free using FreeFile on IRS.gov (you can use FreeFile to e-file an extension for free even if you don't otherwise qualify to use the software);
File for an extension electronically using fillable forms (you'll find the instructions here);
Ask your tax preparer to file an extension for you;
Use a service like File Later to file for an extension;
File using tax prep software; or
Complete and mail a federal form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return (downloads as a pdf).