Life comes at you fast, and sometimes it's all you can do just to accomplish the task that is right in front of you. It can be easy for a deadline, such as the April 15 tax filing date, to sneak up on you. There are significant tax penalties for missing that deadline — but you can avoid them if you request a tax filing extension. Whether you and your husband both need to file for an extension depends on which filing status you use.
Married Filing Jointly
If you and your husband plan on filing a joint tax return, and you discover you need more time to prepare your return, you can request an automatic six-month extension. To qualify for the extension, you have to submit a completed Form 4868 to the Internal Revenue Service by the original filing due date, which is typically April 15, unless that date falls on a weekend or holiday, in which case the filing date is pushed back to the next business day. Since you're filing a joint return, you don't have to file separate requests for extension. Form 4868 has a space for both of your Social Security numbers.
Married Filing Separately
As a married couple, you have the option of filing jointly or separately. If you file separately, you will only be responsible for your own taxes, but you will also be responsible for filing your own tax return. If your husband files for an extension, but you are able to file by the due date, there is no need for you to also file for an extension. If you need additional time to prepare your return, you must submit your own request for filing extension, regardless of whether your husband requests an extension or not.
In certain circumstances, the IRS will consider you to be unmarried for tax filing status purposes, even though you are still married according to the laws of the state where you reside. To be considered unmarried, your husband cannot have lived in your home during the last six months of the tax year, you must have paid more than half the cost of maintaining your home, and your home must be the main home for your child. If you meet the qualifications, you can file your return using the head-of-household filing status, which is more advantageous than filing as single or married filing separately. If you file as head of household and you need additional time to prepare your return, you'll need to file your own request for extension.
You might be hesitant to file your federal income tax return because you still owe tax money that you're unable to pay. But not filing your tax return on time is a bad idea. It will subject you to a tax penalty of 5 percent of the taxes due per month for up to five months for a total tax penalty of up to 25 percent, plus interest. The penalty for failure to pay is only 1/2 percent per month. You are much better off filing your return, even if you can't pay your taxes in full. Filing for an extension won't give you more time to pay your taxes, but it will keep you from incurring the late filing penalty.
- Internal Revenue Service: Extension of Time To File Your Tax Return
- Internal Revenue Service: Form 4868
- File Later: Personal Income Tax Extension (Form 4868) Questions
- Internal Revenue Service: Filing Late and/or Paying Late
- Internal Revenue Service: Eight Facts on Late Filing and Late Payment Penalties
- Internal Revenue Service: Publication 501, Considered Unmarried
Mike Parker is a full-time writer, publisher and independent businessman. His background includes a career as an investments broker with such NYSE member firms as Edward Jones & Company, AG Edwards & Sons and Dean Witter. He helped launch DiscoverCard as one of the company's first merchant sales reps.