Topic 301 - When, How and Where to File

When to file

April 15 of each year is the due date for filing your federal individual income tax return if you are a calendar year filer whose tax year ends on December 31. Your return is considered filed timely if the envelope is properly addressed and postmarked no later than April 15. If you use a fiscal year (which is a year ending on the last day of any month other than December), your return is due on or before the 15th day of the fourth month after the close of your fiscal year. If the due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the due date is delayed until the next business day (for example, tax year 2011 was due April 17, 2012).

If you served or are serving in a combat zone, a contingency operation or become hospitalized resulting from an injury received while serving in such an area or operation, after the end of your tax year but before the normal filing due date of your return you may have additional time. You have at least 180 days after you leave the designated combat zone/contingency operation to file and pay taxes. See Publication 3, Armed Forces' Tax Guide. If the Service determines you to be affected by a presidentially declared disaster or a terroristic or military action, you may have up to one year after the due date of your return to file and pay taxes, depending on the deadline specified by the Service. If you are living and working outside the United States and Puerto Rico, please refer to the instructions in Form 4868 (PDF), Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, and to Topic 304.

Extensions to file - If you cannot file by the due date of your return, then you can request an extension of time to file. However, an extension of time to file is not an extension of time to pay. You will owe interest on any past-due tax and you may be subject to a late-payment penalty if the payment of tax is not timely (by your due date). To receive an automatic 6-month extension of time to file your return, you can file Form 4868 (PDF) by the due date of your return. See Topic 304 for more information.

How to file

You may want to file electronically. When you file electronically, you usually receive your refund within 3 weeks after the IRS receives your return, even faster if you elect to have it directly deposited into your checking or savings account. Many professional tax return preparers offer electronic filing of tax returns in addition to their return preparation services. Your provider may charge a fee to file your return electronically. In addition, if you prepare your return yourself using tax-preparation software (such as TurboTax) you may have to pay a fee to file your return electronically. For more information on electronic filing, visit us at IRS.gov and select the e-file logo on our home page.

If you are filing a paper Form 1040 (PDF), attach all related schedules and forms behind your return in order of the sequence number located in the upper right hand corner of the schedule or form. Be sure to attach a copy of Forms W-2 (PDF) and Form 2439 (PDF), Notice to Shareholder of Undistributed Long-Term Capital Gains, to the front of Form 1040. If you received a Form W-2c (PDF) (a corrected Form W-2), attach a copy of your original Forms W-2 and any Forms W-2c. Also, attach Form W-2G (PDF) and Form 1099-R (PDF) if there was federal income tax withheld.

Signing the return - If you are preparing your return by yourself using e-file software, see Topic 255 and How do I sign my tax return when I e-file using online filing software? on IRS.gov.

When filing a paper tax return:

  • If you file a joint return, both spouses must sign the return. If your spouse cannot sign because of a medical condition and requests that you sign the return, sign your spouse's name in the proper place followed by the word "by" (your signature), followed by the word "husband" or "wife." Be sure to also sign in the space provided for your signature. In addition, you must attach a statement that includes the form number of the return you are filing, the tax year, the reason your spouse cannot sign the return, and that your spouse has agreed to your signing for him or her. If you are the guardian for your spouse who is mentally incompetent, you may sign the return for your spouse as guardian.
  • If your spouse cannot sign the return for any other reason, you may sign it only if you have a valid power of attorney. You should attach the document granting you power of attorney to the return. You may use Form 2848 (PDF), Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative, for this purpose.
  • If you are filing a return for a minor child who cannot sign the return, sign the child's name followed by the word "by," your signature, and your relationship, such as "parent" or "guardian for minor child."

For information on filing and signing a return for a decedent, refer to Topic 356.

Where to file

When you e-file a return, since it is electronically transmitted, you don't need to worry about sending it to the right area. When filing a paper return, send it to the address indicated in the instructions for the form you are filing. See Where to File Paper Tax Returns - With or Without a Payment on IRS.gov.

When you owe a balance - If you owe tax, you may pay via Direct Pay or enclose a check or money order with your paper return or if you filed electronically, with the 2014 Form 1040-V (PDF), Payment Voucher:

  • Made payable to the United States Treasury
  • On the front of your payment include your name, address, taxpayer identification number (SSN, ITIN, EIN), daytime phone number, the tax year and type of form you are filing (for example, 2014 Form 1040).
  • Enclose your payment loosely with your return, do not staple or otherwise attach your payment or Form 1040-V to your return.
  • Do not mail cash with your return.

If you prepare your return using tax-preparation software, consult your software’s instructions to determine how to make payment through the software. For detailed information on paying your taxes by credit or debit card, or other electronic payment, visit our Electronic Payment Options Home Page, or call us at 800-829-1040. For more information on paying your taxes, refer to your form instructions and to Topic 158.

If you cannot pay your balance - If you cannot pay all of the tax due on your return, the IRS may be able to assist you with arranging payments. For additional information on what to do if you cannot pay your income tax, refer to Topic 202.

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Page Last Reviewed or Updated: May 19, 2015