Procrastinators Listen Up: How to Get an Extension on Your Taxes

A rundown on penalties, interest, and exceptions.

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With the big deadline just a week away, anyone falling behind on their taxes--especially those slackers in the top five cities for tax procrastination--may want to review the rules for filing an extension:

First, you have three options that will buy you an extra six months:

1. You can file Form 4868 electronically using IRS e-file.

2. You can file a paper Form 4868 (get the form here.)
3. You can pay all or part of your estimate of income tax due using a credit card (not recommended). You may get special tax treatment if:

You're out of the country on the regular due date of your return. In this case, you'll have two extra months to file your return without requesting an extension. But you can't just be on holiday in Mexico. "Out of the country" means your main job is outside the U.S., or if you're in military service outside the U.S., according to the IRS.

Keep in mind:

Interest: You'll owe it until you pay up. Says the IRS, "Even if you had a good reason for not paying on time, you will still owe interest." You'll typically be charged 1/2 percent to 1 percent each month (or part of the month) that the tax goes unpaid. The max penalty is 25 percent.

Late Penalty: If you wait until after April 15 to file anything, you'll be penalized, usually 5 percent of what's due each month your return is late. The max here is also 25 percent. If you wait more than 60 days late to file, you'll pay a minimum of $135 or the balance of your tax due (whichever is smaller). If you have a reasonable explanation for filing late, you may not owe--but you'll have to send an explanation along with the bill, or call the IRS at 800–829–1040.