You Missed the Tax Extension Deadline. What Now?

If you’re reading this, it’s too late.

The tax deadline has come and gone—again. This time around, October 15 was the designated date for taxpayers to file their income taxes after filing for an extension back in April. You’re not alone: hundreds of thousands of taxpayers file late each year for a handful of reasons: missing or inaccurate information, scheduling conflicts, or an inability to pay.

Filing for an extension has its benefits, but only if you get your taxes in within that six-month extension period. And unfortunately for some Americans, they don’t. If you didn’t file your taxes by Oct. 15, it’s time to get moving. Some fees and penalties have already kicked in, so you want to avoid exacerbating your situation any further.

So what happens if you missed the tax extension deadline?

Let’s cover the three possible scenarios you might be in when you’ve missed the tax extension deadline.

Situation 1: You Owe the IRS

If you missed the tax extension deadline, you’re going to want to get moving—because you’ve already racked up penalties.

The first penalty is a failure-to-file for late filing. Typically, this is 5 percent of the unpaid taxes for each month. The second penalty, the failure-to-pay penalty for paying late, is usually 0.5 percent per month of your unpaid taxes. There are some other details you should know about penalties, which the IRS spells out on their website.

Example: Michel works as a part-time freelancer on top of a nine-to-five job. She has her fair share of deductions, but she owes about $300 in taxes. She wanted a bit extra time to save up that $300, so she filed for an extension, but she missed the deadline. Sorry, Michel! You’ve earned some penalties. They aren’t too expensive now, so file right away and pay as soon as possible so they don’t add up.

Situation 2: You Don’t Owe the IRS

Paying or filing late has consequences. But if you don’t owe the IRS money, you may not actually be in hot water. Since most of the penalties and fees the IRS assesses are based off the total you owe, if you don’t owe the IRS any money, you won’t owe a penalty.

Example: Mary works a steady nine-to-five job and made small gains on some investments. She also paid interest on student loans. She isn’t expecting a refund, but as it turns out, she doesn’t owe anything to the IRS, either. Congratulations, Mary! You’re in the clear, because the late filing penalty equals $0. You should still file right away!

Situation 3: The IRS Owes You a Refund

But what if, like most Americans, you’re expecting some money back from Uncle Sam this year? Well, for the most part, you won’t owe fees—but you are delaying your refund. With that said, you shouldn’t kick up your feet, because the will only hold onto your refund for three years from your filing deadline.

Example: Brendan is a full-time student who works a part-time job to help make ends meet. He withheld correctly, but he also spent a lot of money on tuition, textbooks, and student loan interest. Brendan filed an extension so he could study in April, but he just missed the October 15 deadline. No worries, Brendan! You won’t have any penalties for tardiness. You should file soon, though, because that $600 refund can buy a lot of ramen.

What to Do Next

Regardless which of these scenarios sounds most like yours, you should file right away. At best, you’ll have started the tax refund process sooner! And at worst, you’ll have put a cap on your total penalties for filing late. In either case, you may not realize what you actually owe—or are owed—until you file!

Next, you should figure out what penalties you do owe, and if you can, pay them right away. They’ll only accrue over time, so nip them in the bud if you can. It can be scary to deal with penalties, which is why it’s often useful to work with a professional who can guide you through the late filing and late payment processes so you don’t run the risk of underpaying.

Exceptions for Reasonable Causes

Things happen, and the IRS understands that.

If you have a valid reason for missing the deadline, the IRS may make an exception. Most circumstances they consider are pretty dire: natural disaster, fire, death or serious illness, or an inability to obtain the proper records. They may require court records or a physician’s note, but it’s definitely worth it if life genuinely got in the way.

Missing the Tax Extension Deadline

If you’ve missed the tax extension deadline, the road ahead can be rocky. But everything will be all right! Now that you understand how filing and paying late can impact your taxes, you can navigate the next few months comfortably.

With care, you can ensure your tax debt and penalties don’t spin out of control—and we’re always here to help.

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