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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 May 17 tax filing deadline is fast approaching. If you haven't filed your 2020 taxes yet and are unable to complete them this weekend, 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 in and of itself. 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 this weekend isn't possible, here's what you need to know about filing an 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 filing deadline on May 17. 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 May 17.

Using the Form 4868, taxpayers filing an extension must estimate their tax liability, or the amount of taxes they owe on their 2020 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 (here's a handy tax bracket calculator to help you out).

Remember that everyone must pay the taxes they owe by May 17, 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. (Learn more about IRS payment plans and fees.)

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 2020 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:

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.