The Pros and Cons of Filing a Tax Extension

When You Need More Time to Finish Your Tax Return

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Filing a tax extension request using IRS Form 4868 asks the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to give you additional time to file your personal tax return. A major pro is that an extension moves the filing deadline ahead six months, from April to October. However, a major con is that it doesn't give you extra time to pay taxes you might owe on that return.

Key Takeaways

  • You can reduce your late-filing penalties by filing for an extension.
  • Filing an extension can give you extra time to prepare your return accurately and fund certain retirement accounts if you're self-employed.
  • You can't use an extension to give yourself more time to fund a traditional or Roth IRA.
  • You risk confusing the IRS if you file an extension without following up with a tax return.
  • An extension gives you more time to file, but it does not give you more time to pay.

Approval Is Usually Automatic

Most extension requests will be honored automatically. You don't have to explain to the IRS why you need the extension; simply file the form.

Be sure to file it correctly. Double-check your Social Security number and other data. Erroneous information can trigger a rare rejection.

Certain people—such as members of the military serving abroad—receive an automatic extension without having to apply or File Form 4868.


Taxpayers in various parts of the U.S. were granted extensions as part of IRS tax relief in the wake of storms in Alabama, California, Georgia, and elsewhere. You can consult IRS disaster relief announcements to determine your eligibility.

Pros and Cons of Filing an Extension

You might not have a choice under some circumstances. Having extra time to finish your return is often necessary if you're still waiting for tax documents to arrive in the mail or if you need additional time to organize your deductions. However, there are both pros and cons involved with filing for an extension.

  • Reduce late penalties

  • Preserve your tax refund

  • Fund a self-employed retirement plan

  • Take extra time to make elections

  • Improve the accuracy of your return

  • Reduce your tax preparation fees

  • You won't gain extra time to fund an IRA

  • You can't switch from married filing jointly to separately after the deadline

  • The mark-to-market election for professional traders doesn't advance

  • You might confuse the IRS

Pros Explained

Reduce Late Penalties

The IRS imposes two types of late penalties: 5% on any tax due for each month or fraction of a month that a tax return is filed late without an extension request, plus a late payment penalty of 0.5% a month, up to a maximum of 25%.

You'll only have to deal with one of these if you ask for an extension, and even then only if your return indicates that taxes are due, and you don't pay at the time you file Form 4868.


You'll avoid the 5% per month late-filing penalty if you file for an extension, then file your return by the extended deadline, which is Oct. 16, 2023, for 2022 tax returns. The late-filing penalty won't begin until October 16 if you don't file by that time.

Preserve Your Tax Refund

Some people end up filing several years late, and there's a three-year deadline for receiving a refund check from the IRS if it turns out that you're due one. This three-year statute of limitations begins on the original filing deadline for that year. Filing deadlines are usually April 15, unless that date falls on a weekend. For 2023, the filing deadline is April 18.

The refund statute of limitations is also extended by six months when you file for an extension, which can preserve the ability of taxpayers to receive their federal tax refunds, even if they're behind with submitting their tax returns.

Fund a Self-Employed Retirement Plan

Self-employed people might want to fund SEP IRAs, solo 401(k)s, or SIMPLE IRA plans for themselves. Filing for an extension provides these taxpayers with an additional six months to do so.

Solo 401(k) and SIMPLE plans must be set up during the tax year, but actually funding the plan can occur as late as the extended deadline for the previous tax year.

If you're an independent contractor or otherwise self-employed, you can open and fund a SEP-IRA for the previous year by the extended deadline as long as you've filed an extension.

Take Extra Time to Make Elections

A wide variety of decisions must be made when you're preparing your tax return. It can take some work and maybe a consultation with a professional to determine whether you're actually qualified to take certain deductions and credits—and whether it's really in your best interest.

Filing an extension gives you extra time to mull it over or to seek help.

Improve the Accuracy of Your Return

There's an inevitable rush to get tax returns finished by the April deadline, and taxpayers and accountants alike can make tax filing mistakes when they're hurried and under pressure.

An extension gives you or your accountant extra time to go over your return to make sure everything is complete and accurate before you send it in.


Extensions also provide extra time to file your gift tax return if you've been particularly generous during the year.

Reduce Your Tax Preparation Fees

Some accountants and even tax preparation software are free to raise their fees in the weeks leading up to the April deadline, only to drop them again during the slow spring and summer months.

Price-sensitive taxpayers can save money on tax prep by shifting tax preparation to a time when their accountant is less busy and charging a lower fee.

Cons Explained

An extension won't address all your tax dilemmas. Some deadlines remain carved in stone, regardless of when you file your return.

You Won't Gain Extra Time To Fund an IRA

Contributions to a traditional IRA and Roth IRA are still due by the original tax deadline (usually April 15) unless you are contributing to a SEP-IRA.

You Can't Switch From Married Filing Jointly to Separately After the Deadline

Married taxpayers who file jointly before the April deadline still only have until April 15 (unless you are subject to a disaster relief exception) to amend their tax returns to switch to the married-filing-separately status.

The Mark-to-Market Election for Professional Traders Does Not Advance 

You must make this election by the original April due date (unless you are subject to a disaster relief exception).

You Might Confuse the IRS

The IRS will most likely think you have to file a tax return if you ask for an extension. The agency might ask you to file a return anyway, because you filed an extension to ask for additional time, then ended up not filing—perhaps because you realized that you don't meet the income requirements.


You might want to file a tax return even if you don't have to. If you qualify for the earned income tax credit (EITC), which is a refundable credit, the IRS will send you the money even if you don't owe any taxes—but only if you file a return to claim it.

How To File an Extension

Extensions can easily be filed online. You'll receive a confirmation code from the IRS notifying you that your extension was received if you submit Form 4868 electronically.

Most reputable tax preparation software is set up to file an extension for you as well. Otherwise, you can just mail Form 4868 to the IRS.

Make sure it's postmarked by the tax deadline. You can't file an extension after that date.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is there a penalty for filing for an extension on taxes?

There isn't a penalty for filing for an extension on taxes, but you are expected to pay any taxes due by tax day. If you don't pay taxes on time, you will incur late penalties, but you can avoid these penalties by setting up a payment plan with the IRS.

How do I know whether my tax extension was accepted?

As long as you filed the extension correctly, it will be accepted. The easiest way to confirm that this process goes smoothly is to use a tax software service that confirms your extension once it goes through. If you file on your own, you can call the IRS customer service line (800-829-1040) to confirm that you filed correctly.

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