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Do I need an extension? Can I not file?

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If you’re just starting to think about your taxes this weekend, congratulations for officially waiting until the last minute. The deadline to file a return for 2021—aka Tax Day—is this Monday, April 18.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, all hope is not lost if you’re among the estimated 15 million taxpayers who are not quite ready to button up their accordion folders and call it a year. Here are a few things to know.

Do I need to file an extension by Monday?

If you’re not ready to file, the short answer is yes. However, there are a few exceptions. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has already granted an automatic extension for taxpayers who live in certain regions of Arkansas, Colorado, Kentucky, and Tennessee that were deemed disaster areas this year. People who live in those areas don’t have to file until May 16, and they don’t have to make tax payments until then, either. People who live in parts of Puerto Rico get even longer—until June 16. You can learn more specifics on the dedicated “around the nation” page on the IRS website.

Fine, I’ll get an extension. How do I that?

The IRS actually makes this pretty easy. It has a list of partner companies that let you request an extension through its Free File program. If you already use a tax-preparer service, such as TurboTax, you can request an extension that way, too. It only takes a few minutes.

Great, now I don’t have to pay taxes until October?

Wrong. If you owe on your taxes this year, you still have to pay by Monday if you want to avoid a penalty. The IRS suggests you estimate how much you owe and then just make a payment via your tax account.

I never got a stimulus check last year. Can I claim that?

Maybe, but you have to make sure you actually qualified to receive one. The easiest way to do that is to sign into your online tax account and view the “payments” section. This will list payments the IRS has made to you, including stimulus checks. If you see a check there, but you truly never received it—or you only received part of it—you can claim it as a Recovery Rebate Credit on your tax return. Separately, the IRS should have sent you a letter informing you of your eligibility.

However, and this is the important part, you have to make sure you calculate the correct amount. If you mess it up, the IRS will have to adjust your return, and that could delay your refund. Take it from the millions of taxpayers whose refunds from 2021 and 2020 are still being processed. You don’t want to end up in Manual Review Hell.

The IRS knows this whole business of stimulus checks and rebate credits is far more complicated than it should be, so it recently updated its FAQ page on the topic. It’s recommended reading if you’re planning to claim the credit.

This is all too much. Can I just not file my taxes at all?

You’re in good company if you feel that way this year, especially given the aforementioned processing backlogs that have delayed so many refunds. However, you are opening yourself up to a world of headache and heartbreak in the form of penalties and interest if you throw up your hands and quit, including a failure-to-file penalty. According to the IRS, you won’t be hit with a failure-to-file penalty if you’re owed a refund, but if you wait too long, you might lose that refund forever. Bottom line: It’s just better to file and get it over with.

All that said, not everyone is required to file a tax return every year, including people who make under the income threshold. The IRS has a handy tool to help you decide if you’re one of them. Find it here.





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