Topic 301 - When, Where, and How to File

April 15 of each year is the due date for filing your federal individual income tax return if your 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 (i.e., tax year 2011 was due April 17, 2012).

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 timely payment is not made. To receive an automatic 6-month extension of time to file your return, you can file Form 4868 (PDF), Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, by the due date of your return. For more information, refer to the Form 4868 instructions.

If you are a United States citizen or resident alien, who is either: (1) living outside of the United States and Puerto Rico and your main place of business or post of duty is outside of the United States and Puerto Rico; or (2) in military or naval services on duty outside of the United States and Puerto Rico on the due date of your return, you are allowed an automatic 2-month extension until June 15 to file your return and pay any tax due. For additional information, refer to Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad. If you use this automatic 2-month extension, you must attach a statement to your return explaining which of the two situations qualify you for the extension. For additional information on extensions, refer to Topic 304.

If you are serving in a combat zone or in a contingency operation (or are hospitalized as a result of 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 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 you are determined by the Service to be affected by a presidentially declared disaster or a terroristic or military action, then 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 a joint return is filed, 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 are given a valid power of attorney. The document granting you power of attorney should be attached to the return when it is filed. Form 2848 (PDF), Power of Attorney and Declaration of Representative, may be used 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.

If you are filing 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 Forms W-2G and 1099-R if tax was withheld.

If you owe tax, you may pay by check or money order payable to the "United States Treasury." On the front of your check or money order, please include your name, address, taxpayer identification number, daytime phone number, the tax year and type of form you are filing (for example, "2013 Form 1040"). Enclose your payment with your return. Do not mail cash with your return.

For detailed information on paying your taxes by credit or debit card, or other electronic payment, go to http://www.irs.gov/uac/Electronic-Payment-Options-Home-Page, or call the IRS at 800-829-1040. For more information on paying your taxes, refer to your form instructions and to Topic 158.

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.

You may want to file electronically! When you file electronically, you usually receive your refund within 3 weeks after the IRS has received your return, even faster if you 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. A fee may be charged by the provider to file your return electronically. For more information on electronic filing, visit the IRS website at www.irs.gov and click on the e-file logo on our home page.

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Page Last Reviewed or Updated: January 22, 2014