For most people, the deadline for filing Form 1040 is Tuesday, April 15. Miss the deadline and you could get slapped with a substantial, nondeductible penalty. Generally, the penalty is 5 percent of the balance due (the amount that remains unpaid after subtractions for taxes previously paid through withholdings from wages during 2007 and payments of estimated payments) for each month, or portion of a month, that a 1040 is late.
The maximum penalty is 25 percent of the balance due — a truly steep charge. On a balance due of, say, $10,000, that works out to $500 a month. The penalty can reach as much as $2,500 when more than four months elapse before your return reaches the Internal Revenue Service.
Sometimes, the Internal Revenue will forget about a late-filing penalty. To get the agency to waive the penalty, you have to convince it that the delay was “due to reasonable cause and not due to willful neglect.” For example, you are unable to complete the return by the deadline because your residence, place of business or records are destroyed due to a fire, flood, other casualty or civil disturbance, or burglary. Another acceptable excuse is the death or acute illness of an immediate family member, or your own serious illness.
What if you do not have sufficient cash on hand to pay the balance due at filing time? Even if you are able to prove it, that is not reasonable cause that will relieve you of the penalty.
No problem if you need extra time to complete your return or just to avoid the late-filing penalty. It’s easy to obtain a six-month automatic filing extension, moving the deadline back to Wednesday, Oct 15. By April 15, submit simple-to-complete Form 4868 (Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return), available at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4868.pdf, or file it by phone (call toll-free 1-888-796-1074), using computer tax preparation software, or through a tax professional.
Be aware that Form 4868 extends only the time to turn in Form 1040, not the time to pay any taxes owed. While the Revenue service does not require payment by April 15 of the tax you estimate as due, failing to do so means you will owe nondeductible interest, which runs until payment of the tax. It makes no difference that you had a good reason for not paying on time; you will still owe interest. Moreover, you might be assessed a nondeductible late-payment penalty on the unpaid tax. When you finally file your return, be sure to enter any extension-related payment on Line 69 of Form 1040 as "amount paid with request for extension to file."
The IRS relaxes the rules for those who are unable to fully pay the balance due by April 15. Usually, it is easy to arrange for partial payments in installments by submission of Form 9465 (Installment Agreement Request), found at www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f9465.pdf. It allows you to request a monthly payment plan and specify the amounts you can pay each month and the monthly due date.
STATE TAX RETURNS. Some states accept Form 4868 for extending their due date; some require their own extension forms. Check the rules of the state in which you have to file returns, including the penalties for any underpayments of taxes.