WASHINGTON — As the tax-filing deadline fast approaches, the Internal Revenue Service is reminding taxpayers who have yet to file their tax returns that there are a variety of options to help them.
IRS tax help is available 24 hours a day on IRS.gov. Whether filing a tax return, requesting an extension or making a payment, the IRS website can help last-minute filers on just about everything related to taxes.
The IRS encourages taxpayers to file electronically. Doing so, whether through e-file or IRS Free File, vastly reduces tax return errors as the tax software does the calculations, flags common errors and prompts taxpayers for missing information. Free File Fillable Forms means there is a free option for everyone.
Qualifying taxpayers can receive free tax preparation from IRS-certified volunteers who will also electronically file the return for free. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers tax help to individuals who generally make $55,000 or less, persons with disabilities and individuals with limited English proficiency. The Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program also offers free tax help, particularly for taxpayers age 60 and older. To find the nearest VITA or TCE site, taxpayers can use the VITA and TCE locator on IRS.gov, download the IRS2GO app or call 800-906-9887.
Request extra time
Anyone who needs more time to file can get it. The easiest way to do so is through the Free File link on IRS.gov. In a matter of minutes, anyone, regardless of income, can use this free service to electronically request an extension on Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.
Taxpayers are reminded, however, that an extension of time to file is not an extension of time to pay. To get the extension, taxpayers must estimate their tax liability on this form and pay any amount due. Tax payments are generally due by the April filing deadline, and taxpayers should pay as much as they can to avoid possible penalties and interest.
Taxpayers paying all or part of their income taxes, due by the April deadline, using IRS Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS) or a credit or debit card will get an automatic extension of time to file. By selecting “extension” as the reason for the payment, there is no need to separately file a Form 4868. Taxpayers will also receive a confirmation number after they submit their payment. When paying with Direct Pay and EFTPS, taxpayers can sign up for email notifications.
Any payment made with an extension request will reduce or, if the balance is paid in full, eliminate interest and late-payment penalties that apply to payments made after the April tax filing deadline. The interest rate is currently 6 percent per year, compounded daily, and the late-payment penalty is normally 0.5 percent per month.
Alternatively, people can complete a paper copy of Form 4868 and mail it to the IRS. The form must be mailed and postmarked by the filing deadline. Download and print it from IRS.gov/forms.
The safest and fastest way for taxpayers to get their refund is to have it electronically deposited into their bank or other financial account. Taxpayers can use direct deposit to deposit their refund into one, two or even three accounts. Direct deposit is much faster than waiting for a paper check to arrive in the mail.
After filing, use “Where’s My Refund?” on IRS.gov or download the IRS2Go Mobile App to track the status of a refund. It provides the most up-to-date information. It’s updated once per day, usually overnight, so checking more often will not generate new information. Calling the IRS will not yield different results from those available online, unless “Where’s My Refund?” instructs the taxpayer to do so, nor will ordering a tax transcript.
The IRS issues nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days.
Special instructions for paper filers
Math errors and other mistakes are common on paper tax returns, especially those prepared or filed in haste at the last minute. These tips may help paper filers:
- Fill in all requested taxpayer identification numbers, usually Social Security numbers, including for all dependents claimed on the tax return. Check only one filing status and the appropriate exemption boxes.
- When using the tax tables, be sure to use the correct row and column for the filing status claimed and taxable income amount shown.
- Sign and date the return. If filing a joint return, both spouses must sign.
- Attach all required forms and schedules.
- Mail the return to the right address. Check Where to File on IRS.gov.
Penalties and interest
By law, the IRS may assess penalties to taxpayers for both failing to file a tax return and for failing to pay taxes they owe by the deadline. Taxpayers who can’t pay all the taxes they owe can lessen penalty and interest charges by filing on time and paying what they can. That’s because the penalty for filing late is typically 10 times higher than the penalty for paying late. So be sure to file either a tax return or an extension request by the deadline.
The late-filing penalty is generally 5 percent per month and can be as much as 25 percent of the unpaid tax, depending on how late the taxpayer files. For a tax return filed more than 60 days late, the penalty is often at least $215. In contrast, the late-payment penalty is usually just 0.5 percent of the unpaid taxes per month.
Qualified taxpayers can choose to pay any taxes owed over time through an installment agreement. An online payment plan can be set up in a matter of minutes. Those who owe $50,000 or less in combined tax, penalties and interest can use the Online Payment Agreement application to set up a short-term payment plan of 120-days or less, or a monthly agreement for up to 72 months.
Alternatively, taxpayers can request a payment agreement by filing Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request. This form can be downloaded from IRS.gov/forms and should be mailed to the IRS along with a tax return, IRS bill or notice.
Taxpayers who owe taxes can use IRS Direct Pay or any of several other electronic payment options. They are secure and taxpayers receive immediate confirmation when they submit their payment. Or, mail a check or money order payable to the “United States Treasury” along with Form 1040-V, Payment Voucher.
For further help and resources, check out the IRS Services Guide.