Many Military Members Can Get an Extension on Filing and Paying Their Taxes

Learn how to do your taxes

Did you know that many military members and their families can get an extension on the deadline for filing their income taxes? In many cases, the extension is granted automatically, and some people may also receive an extension on paying any money they owe Uncle Sam as well.

Automatic Six-Month Extension

All taxpayers living inside the United States can receive an automatic six-month extension for filing their tax returns just by filling out IRS Form 4868. Taxpayers can file the form electronically or via hard copy. See the form for more information.

Taxpayers requesting this extension must pay any taxes they owe by the normal filing deadline of April 15 to avoid any interest or penalties on the unpaid amount.

Extensions for Those Outside the U.S.

There are three extensions available to taxpayers who are outside the United States and Puerto Rico on April 15. Military members stationed, mobilized or aboard ship, as well as civilians, are eligible for these extensions. Military families filing jointly are also eligible; those who file separate returns are not.

  1. Automatic two-month extension. Taxpayers outside the U.S. qualify for an automatic two-month extension without filing any paperwork. They must notify the IRS of their status in writing when filing their return. Interest will be charged on any tax liability not paid by the normal due date.
  2. Additional automatic four-month extension (Form 4868). Those outside the U.S. can request an additional four-month extension by filing Form 4868 by June 15. When completing the form, taxpayers should check the box on line 8 to receive the automatic extension until Oct. 15. As always, unpaid taxes are subject to interest and penalties.
  3. Additional discretionary two-month extension. In addition to the six-month extension (the automatic two-month and additional automatic four-month extensions), taxpayers can request a discretionary two-month additional extension to file their return to Dec. 15. Taxpayers must send the IRS a letter, explaining the reasons why they need the additional two months.

Combat Zone Extension

Those serving in combat zones or in support of a combat operation may be eligible for an automatic six-month extension on filing their taxes; this applies to military members as well as civilian personnel.

The deadline is extended for 180 days after you leave the eligible area, after that area is no longer designated a combat zone or after your operation is no longer considered a contingency operation. You can also receive an extension if you are hospitalized outside the U.S. because of injuries sustained in a combat zone or hazardous duty area.

This extension also allows taxpayers to delay payment of any outstanding taxes without a penalty or interest.

While the IRS works with the Department of Defense to automatically determine who is eligible for the combat zone extension, civilians serving in support of a combat operation need to notify the IRS of their status to receive the extension. (It doesn't hurt for active-duty members to do the same.)

Extension on Paying Taxes

As you can see, the IRS will let you delay filing your taxes, but in most cases even though you can delay filing your return, you must still pay any taxes you owe by the due date in April to avoid paying interest on the amount due, and possibly penalties. The only exclusion to this rule applies to those serving in a combat zone. However, there is one other exception to this rule: Military members may qualify for an extension to pay their tax if their ability to pay their taxes has been "materially affected by their military service."

Service members must request this extension in writing from the IRS. If granted, the extension will allow them to delay payment of any taxes due by up to 180 days after leaving the military. National Guard or Reserve duty must be federally ordered; state duty does not qualify.

Remember, these extensions only apply to federal taxes. While most states follow the federal rules, it is best to check your specific state to avoid any penalties later on. Check out our State Tax Information page for details.

For most people, especially those expecting a refund, filing their taxes by the due date is still the simplest and best option. Military OneSource offers free online tax preparation and filing with software specifically designed for military members. Also, there are many commercial tax software providers that offer free filing options, including the ability to file online in minutes with your mobile device.

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