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Taxes

The tax deadline is quickly approaching: Here's how to file an extension

The May 17 tax deadline is almost here. Here's what you should know about filing an extension.

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The Apr. 18 tax filing deadline is fast approaching. If you haven't filed your taxes for the 2021 tax year yet and aren't sure you'll be able to complete them in time, you still have time to file an extension.

People file tax extensions for many reasons. Whether you're missing the right tax documents, are grappling with a family emergency or simply lost track of time, anyone can file an extension until Oct. 15, 2021.

However, filing an extension is a process. If your tax documents are sitting there, waiting to be filed, the easiest thing to do may still be to bite the bullet and file. Tax prep programs such as TurboTax and H&R Block offer live chat and phone support that can help you address any lingering, last-minute questions that are causing your taxes to loom large and fill you with dread.

But if knocking out your taxes before the deadline isn't possible, Select details what you need to know about filing a tax extension with the IRS.

How to file a tax extension 

If you're filing an extension, you'll need to submit IRS Form 4868 electronically by the tax deadline. You can use Free File to electronically request an automatic tax-filing extension or print the form and mail it to the IRS address for your state, making sure it's postmarked with adequate postage by Apr. 18.

Using the Form 4868, taxpayers filing an extension must estimate their tax liability, or the amount of taxes they owe on their 2021 income. On Part II of the form, you'll enter your expected tax liability, rounding to the nearest dollar, using the tax rate category you're expected to fall under.

Remember that everyone must pay the taxes they owe by Apr. 18, even if they are filing an extension. Failure to do so will likely result in interest fees and/or late payment penalties, which can make this whole tax season even more expensive.

Filing an extension electronically through one of the major online tax filing programs, such as TurboTax Extension, can help you better estimate your tax liability and avoid surprise fees from the IRS.

Can I file a state extension?

The rules vary from state to state. Since each state has its own tax-filing extension rules, check your state's tax agency website before assuming you're in the clear.

The best tax filing programs

If you haven't filed your 2021 taxes yet, consider using an online tax prep service to take advantage of expert tax assistance. This year is full of questions for most taxpayers, from the unemployment tax waiver to the child tax credit advance to how student loan deferment affects taxes. Choosing the right tax software can make a confusing process much more manageable.

Here are Select's top picks for best tax filing software:

TurboTax

On TurboTax's secure site
  • Cost

    Costs may vary depending on the plan selected - see breakdown by plan in the description below

  • Free version

    For simple tax returns only. See if you qualify.

  • Mobile app

    Yes

  • Live support

    Yes, costs extra

  • Better Business Bureau rating

    A+

Terms apply, see below for our methodology.

Pros

  • Step-by-step guidance with a Q&A format that is easy to follow
  • TurboTax Live provides on-demand advice and a final review from a tax expert
  • Live Full Service has a tax expert prepare, sign, and file your return
  • Accuracy and maximum refund guaranteed*
  • Audit support, which provides free assistance if you get an IRS or other tax notice

Cons

  • More costly than other software programs
  • Live expert assistance plans have additional costs

Cost breakdown by plan:

  • Free (For simple tax returns only. See if you qualify): $0 federal, $0 per state
  • Deluxe (helps you maximize credits and deductions): $39* federal, $39* per state
  • Premier (includes returns with investments and expenses): $69* federal, $39* per state
  • Self-employed (for personal and business income and expenses): $89* federal, $39* per state
  • Live Basic (includes help from tax experts): for a limited time, $0* federal, state included - simple tax returns only; must file by 3/31
  • Live Deluxe (includes help from tax experts): $119* federal, $49* per state
  • Live Premier (includes help from tax experts): $169* federal, $49* per state
  • Live self-employed (includes help from tax experts): $199* federal, $49* per state
  • Full Service Live Basic (includes help from tax experts): for a limited time, $0* federal, state included - simple tax returns only; must file by 2/15
  • Full Service Live Deluxe (includes help from tax experts): $249* federal, $49* per state
  • Full Service Live Premier (includes help from tax experts): $359* federal, $49* per state
  • Full Service Live self-employed (includes help from tax experts): $389* federal, $49* per state

*Click here for TurboTax offer details and disclosures

**A simple tax return is Form 1040 only.

TaxAct

On TaxAct's secure site
  • Cost

    $0 to $160.96 federal, $39.95 to $54.95 per state (see breakdown by plan below)

  • Free version

    Yes

  • Mobile app

    Yes

  • Tax expert support

    Yes, costs extra

  • Better Business Bureau rating

    A+

Terms apply, see below for our methodology.

Pros

  • Up to $100,000 accuracy guarantee, which reimburses you for IRS/state penalty or interest if the TaxAct software causes a calculation error in your return
  • More affordable than other paid software
  • One-on-one support from real tax experts (costs extra)
  • Maximum refund and 100% accuracy guarantee, or TaxAct will refund the plan fees you paid and pay any difference in the refund or tax liability, plus cover any legal or audit costs up to $100,000

Cons

  • Free plan charges per state return
  • Xpert help plans cost at least $35 more for federal

Cost breakdown by plan:

  • Free (only covers simple returns): $0 federal, $39.95 per state
  • Deluxe (helps you maximize credits and deductions): $38.36 federal, $54.95 per state
  • Premier (includes returns with investments and expenses): $57.56 federal, $54.95 per state
  • Self-employed (for personal and business income and expenses): $75.96 federal, $54.95 per state
  • Xpert Help Free (includes help from tax experts): $70.00 federal, $39.95 per state
  • Xpert Help Deluxe (includes help from tax experts): $93.36 federal, $54.95 per state
  • Xpert Help Premier (includes help from tax experts): $127.56 federal, $54.95 per state
  • Xpert Help Self-employed (includes help from tax experts): $160.96 federal, $54.95 per state

H&R Block

On H&R Block's secure site
  • Cost

    Costs may vary depending on the plan selected - see breakdown by plan in the description below

  • Free version

    Yes (for simple returns only)

  • Mobile app

    Yes

  • Live support

    Yes, costs extra

  • Better Business Bureau rating

    A+

Terms apply, see below for our methodology.

Pros

  • Simple step-by-step guidance that's easy to follow
  • Unlimited on-demand chat or video support with Online Assist plans
  • Ability to speak to a tax expert who has an average of 10 years experience (costs extra)
  • Over 11,000 physical locations so you can meet with a tax expert in-person
  • Maximum refund guarantee, or H&R Block will refund the plan fees you paid
  • Audit support guarantee, which provides free assistance if you get an IRS or other tax notice
  • 100% accuracy, or H&R Block will reimburse you for any penalties or interest up to $10,000

Cons

  • Plans that include speaking with a live tax expert start at $69.99 for federal, plus additional state fee
  • One of the more costly software programs

Cost breakdown by plan:

20% off DIY online tax filing - offer ends April 18, 2022

  • Free (for simple returns): $0 federal, $0 per state
  • Deluxe (helps you maximize credits and deductions): $43.99 federal, $44.99 per state
  • Premium (includes returns with investments and expenses): $59.99 federal, $44.99 per state
  • Self-employed (for personal and business income and expenses): $91.99 federal, $44.99 per state
  • Online Assist Basic (includes help from tax experts): $69.99 federal, $0 per state
  • Online Assist Deluxe (includes help from tax experts): $109.99 federal, $44.99 per state
  • Online Assist Premium (includes help from tax experts): $159.99 federal, $44.99 per state
  • Online Assist Self-employed (includes help from tax experts): $194.99 federal, $44.99 per state
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.