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Tax deadline is weeks away. Here's how to file a tax extension if you need more time

With Tax Day less than a month away, you may be thinking about filing a tax extension with the IRS. We'll explain how to do it.

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You can file an extension on your taxes if you don't think you'll meet the due date, but there are details to know.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Time is running out to get your taxes filed before the deadline is here -- that's May 17 now. Filing now could potentially bring you extra money this year if you're expecting a tax refund or if you're missing stimulus money from any of the stimulus checks. But if you're still preparing your tax forms, you may be thinking about filing an extension this year.

However, since the only way to get any missing stimulus money is by claiming it on your tax return, what happens if you file a tax extension if you're also expecting a plus-up payment for the third stimulus check? We'll explain below, but calculate how much you should get here.

We'll let you in on what happens to your missing stimulus money if you request a tax extension this year. Once you do file, here's how to track your combined refund and stimulus payment. We also have details about the new child tax credit payments, including how to find out how much you'll get, and which families qualify (including dependents). This story was recently updated.

What to know about filing for a tax extension

If you file for an extension with the IRS, that would change your due date for filing your tax return to Oct. 15. If you decide to extend your tax filing to a later date, you'll need to file the extension no later than May 17, the tax deadline. Note that you'll still have to pay the estimated taxes you owe by the tax due date. Otherwise, you accrue interest on what you owe, which you'll eventually have to pay -- plus other possible penalties -- on top of your income taxes.


Don't miss the deadline for filing a tax extension.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What happens if you're waiting on a plus-up payment?

If you received your third stimulus payment based on your 2019 taxes, but you could qualify for more based on your 2020 taxes, you may be waiting on a plus-up payment to arrive. However, until you file a tax return, the IRS won't have your new income or dependent information on file. If you file a tax extension, it will further delay you from getting your full payment.

Can you claim my missing stimulus money from 2020 if you file a tax extension?

Yes. But you should know the only way you'll get your missing stimulus money is by claiming a Recovery Rebate Credit on your tax form -- even if you're not usually required to file taxes. So the longer you wait to file, the longer it'll take to get your tax refund, which will include your missing stimulus payment.

When will you get your tax refund?

The timeline for getting your tax refund -- or your refund plus outstanding stimulus check money --  depends on when you file. While you have until Oct. 15 to submit your return if you've filed an extension, it doesn't mean you have to wait that long to file. 

For example, if you file by May. 17 -- that's the last day to submit your tax return without filing an extension -- you could receive your money as soon as May 24. However, if you wait until Oct. 15, the earliest you would get the money is Oct. 22. 

See our chart below for more details on when you can expect your tax refund, which will include your missing stimulus payment.

When to expect your tax refund

If you file on this date This is the soonest This is the latest
March 1 March 8 March 22
April 1 April 8 April 22
April 15 April 22 May 6
May 17 (last day to file) May 24 June 7
Oct. 15 (last day with extension) Oct. 22 Nov. 5

You've got 3 options for filing a tax extension in 2021

There are three ways the IRS says you can file a tax extension:

Option 1: Pay all or part of your estimated income tax due and note the payment is for an extension using Direct Pay, the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System, or using a credit or debit card. 

Option 2: File Form 4868 electronically by accessing IRS e-file using your tax software or by working with a tax professional who uses e-file. Make sure you have a copy of your 2019 tax return.

If you need to find a tax software service to use, and you make $72,000 or less, you can use the IRS Free File Online tool to find the best free filing system. You'll need to gather the following information: income statements (W2s or 1099s), any adjustments to your income, your current filing status (single, married, filing jointly) and dependent information. If you make more than $72,000, you can use the Free File Fillable form.

Once you enter all your information, the IRS will help determine which option is best for you -- for example, it could be IRS Free File Program by TurboTax or TaxSlayer.

Option 3: File a paper Form 4868 and enclose payment of your estimate of tax due. Make sure it's postmarked on or before May 17.

For more tax information, we spell out the difference between a tax refund and a tax return, how tax season is different in 2021 and three reasons to sign up for direct deposit when you file your taxes.