This post is not meant to be a comprehensive explanation of requesting extensions to file a tax return, and is definitely not legal advice. In the interest of time, I am posting this without my usually editing process, because you need this info NOW. Please message me with questions or edits.
If you don't have time to file your tax return by the deadline, (April 15 or June 15 for individuals outside the US in April) you can file IRS Form 4868 Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. The will get you an extension to file until October 15.
The extension to file is NOT an extension to pay. Interest and penalties may apply if you owe money - see below.
There is NO stigma or red flag associated with filing an extension.
Most people living abroad need an extension because accountants aren't getting most of the info we need before May. We can't prepare all our clients' tax returns between May and June.
Reasons you probably should file an extension:
You had a baby in 2017 or earlier and have not received the Social Security number yet. (See SSN post for details.)
You had income. (See thresholds here... I'll get these updated soon.)
You haven't filed a tax return and your accountant didn't file an extension for you already.
Reasons you may need to think twice before filing an extension:
You are very behind in your taxes (more than 3 years) - speak to an attorney or accountant experienced in back filing before filing your own extension.
You owe money - It's best to estimate your tax and pay with the extension.
How to file the extension:
If you have an accountant, check with them. They have probably filed for you by now unless you have been ignoring their emails.
(If you live outside the US and don't have a professional US CPA, find one ASAP!)
If you do NOT owe money, or you expect a refund, filing the extension on paper is usually fastest. There are free e-filing options, however, they require registration. If you live outside the US, you may want to ask a trusted friend or relative in the US to mail it for you. Fill out the first page here, print, and mail (see instructions.) Form 4868 PDF
It must be postmarked by USPS or picked up by an approved private delivery service (FedEx, DHL) by the original due date.
If you MIGHT owe money. The easiest way to file and extension is by making a payment online. Under most circumstances, if you overestimate your tax, you will receive a refund or you can apply the over-payment to the next tax year. Click here to pay the IRS by credit or debit card.
Choose your payment method, "4868 Extension", personal, and make sure you select that you are "Outside the US" if you are.
Will I owe money?
Most people living outside the US in a country that withholds tax, don't owe anything, or they get a refund if they have children. The following income sources may result in tax due:
Self employment/Freelance/small business income
Significant investment income without taxes withheld, such as a US brokerage account
Please feel free to message me if you have questions. However, this is an unusually busy time of year and I may not respond quickly. firstname.lastname@example.org