April 15, as every TV news show and most newspapers are working hard to tell you, is the day you MUST file your taxes if you are in the U.S.
Of course, as with most TV reports, that is at best a half truth and one which drives a lot of tax payers more than a bit frantic as the day wears on and they discover they are missing some vital form.
Certainly April 15 is the day you are supposed to PAY your taxes if you owe more than has been deducted or prepaid over 2008, but it certainly isn’t the day you MUST file all those papers.
On this day of panic around the nation with dramatic scenes of lines around the block at post offices, your best friend is IRS Form 4868.
Fill out a few lines, write a check for your estimated tax liability, and you have an instant, no questions asked extension to file the actual paperwork.
You can even get the form online: www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f4868.pdf
With just a few seconds work you can delay actual filing for 6 months until mid October.
There are a few points to remember.
First of all, you MUST make a good faith estimate of what taxes you probably owe and pay them by April 15 along with filing Form 4868.
Second, there is no penalty or extra charge for delaying filing, but there will be interest to pay if you don’t pay enough.
There is the possibility of being assessed a penalty by the IRS if you don’t pay a reasonable estimated amount on April 15.
That can be tricky if you pay $1,000 and owe $20,000 more, but not if you just work for a wage and can come close to paying the right amount or overpaying just a bit to be safe (you get the extra back later when you file the full return.)
If you are short by a small amount you will just get a small bill for the interest.
The tax extension is particularly important for those with complex returns such as online stock traders or others who must fill out page after page of detailed information even though you may know from past experience that you will actually get money back.
Those Post Office lines which we used to see everywhere before electronic filing make for dramatic TV but are more than a bit silly if you know about Form 4868.