Personal Finance

The extended May 17 tax filing deadline is here. What to know if you can’t file or pay

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Key Points
  • The extended tax filing deadline for 2020 returns is May 17.
  • There’s still time to file an extension, which pushes the deadline to Oct. 15.
  • However, unpaid tax balances may start accruing penalties after the filing deadline.
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The May 17 extended tax filing deadline has arrived. Those who still aren't ready may feel panicked, yet experts say there are options for people who aren't prepared to file or pay.

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There are ways for last-minute filers to ask for a tax extension, said Jeremiah Barlow, head of family wealth services at Mercer Advisors in Santa Barbara, California. Filing for an extension pushes the deadline to Oct. 15.

They can submit Form 4868 through filing software, which may help estimate their tax balance.

Filers may also request more time through Free File, the IRS tax software for those with an adjusted gross income below $72,000. 

However, filing an extension won't prolong the deadline to pay.

"We tell our clients that they need to pay as much as they can, even if it's not much," Barlow said.

Penalties for tax balances will start to accrue after May 17. The failure-to-pay penalty is 0.5% of the unpaid taxes per month, with a cap of 25%.

Those who can't afford to pay now may apply for a payment plan online, by phone or in person. Depending on the plan, filers may owe a set-up fee, along with accrued penalties.

However, the IRS may be willing to offer penalty relief in some cases.

Filers may consider adjusting their withholdings to avoid trouble next year, Barlow suggests, and with changing tax laws, it may be smart to work with a professional.  

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IRS extends federal tax filing deadline but states may differ

So far, the IRS has received more than 126 million individual tax returns and has processed nearly 116 million, according to reporting through May 7. The agency has doled out almost 85 million tax refunds, with an average payment of $2,863.

While the May 17 tax deadline applies to federal returns, state filing cutoffs may vary. The IRS urges filers to check with state tax agencies for deadlines and the rules for filing an extension.