Can't make the May 17 tax-filing deadline and need more time to file your tax return? You can get an automatic six-month extension of time to file from the IRS. Here are important things you need to know about filing an extension:

Avoid major penalties. If you owe the IRS, you must pay your tax in full by May 17. If you do not pay your tax bill in full, the IRS will calculate penalties and interest on your outstanding balance. The penalty for not filing is 5 percent per month, up to a maximum penalty of 25 percent of the balance due. By contrast, the failure-to-pay penalty is one-half (0.5) percent per month, plus interest. The bottom line? If you think you owe, file an extension as a way to avoid the late-filing penalty.

Extra time to file. An extension will give you extra time to get your paperwork to the IRS, but it does not extend the time you have to pay any tax due. You will owe interest on any amount not paid by the May 17 deadline, plus you may owe tax penalties.

Fund retirement plan. Self-employed persons may want to fund a SEP-IRA plan for themselves. Filing an extension provides these taxpayers with an extra six months to fund this retirement plan.

Form to file. Request an extension by submitting Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, to the IRS by May 17. The IRS does not require taxpayers to explain or give reasons for their tax-extension requests. Almost all rejected extensions are the result of submitting incorrect information, such as a name or Social Security number that does not match IRS records. The new extended due date for the tax return is Oct. 15. Many states have their own required tax-extension forms. Check with your state's department of revenue/taxation for information about filing for a tax extension.

E-file extension. The IRS doesn't care why you are asking for an extension. You can e-file an extension request using tax-preparation software with your own computer or by going to a tax-preparer that has the software. The IRS will acknowledge receipt of the extension request if you file by computer. This will serve as proof of filing similar to certified mail, receipt requested.

Electronic-funds withdrawal. If you ask for an extension via computer, you can also choose to pay any expected balance due by authorizing an electronic-funds withdrawal from a checking or savings account. You will need the appropriate bank-routing and account numbers.

Special extensions. While the IRS is strict about giving additional tax extensions, special rules may apply to taxpayers living outside the country or serving active military duty. In those cases, you may be given two additional months to file, which makes your return due Dec.15.

Tax Refund. You do not have to file for a tax extension if you are due a tax refund. There is no penalty for filing past the May 17 deadline unless you owe money to the IRS. If you can file your taxes on time, you should. The longer you wait to file, the longer it will take to get your tax refund.

Use these tips as motivators to help you get your taxes done before it's too late. Additional information on tax extensions is available in IRS Publication 54.

Barry Lisak is an IRS Enrolled Agent, meaning that he has passed special U.S. Treasury Department exams that qualify him to represent clients dealing with audits or tax-resolution cases. Any questions can be directed to him at (516) TAX-SAVE, or

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