When an extension is filed, it is just an extension on the time to file; it is not an extension on the time to pay. If a taxpayer owes $1,000 on a personal return and files an extension, he or she has until October 15 to file the return. But, if the $1,000 is still owed on April 15, interest and penalties start to accrue.
To avoid paying a penalty, make as accurate an estimate of your tax liability as possible, based on the information you have. If it appears you will have a balance due, make a payment before April 15. If your information changes between the extension and the actual filing of your return, at least you will have minimized your penalty.
"If filing your return by April 15 of this year just isn't going to happen, there are actually several ways you can request an automatic extension of time to file an individual return," says Betsey Buckingham, EA, an enrolled agent with David C. Murray and Company, Inc. of Troy, Ohio, and president of the National Association of Enrolled Agents.
"You can e-file the 'Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Tax Return,' which can be found on the IRS website (Form 4868), or you can print that application out and mail it to the IRS," she says. "All or part of your estimate of the income tax due can be paid with a credit or debit card, or by using the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System."
You can find a list of service providers on Form 4868 through which you can pay your tax debt by phone or Internet. Just make sure to hang onto the confirmation number, in case the IRS comes calling later.
If the IRS does come calling this year, get in touch with a licensed tax professional. Only enrolled agents (EAs), CPAs and attorneys have unlimited rights to represent you before the IRS. The term "enrolled agent" reflects that an EA can act as your agent before administrative levels of the IRS -- meaning he or she can talk to or meet with IRS in your stead.
To find an enrolled agent in your area, visit the searchable "Find an EA" directory at www.naea.org.