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Topic 301 - When, How, and Where to File

When to file

If you're a calendar year filer and your tax year ends on December 31, the due date for filing your federal individual income tax return is generally April 15 of each year. If you use a fiscal year (tax 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 your due date falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the due date is delayed until the next business day. For example, April 15, 2017 is on a Saturday; Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia is Sunday, April 16, 2017, and is observed on Monday, April 17, 2017. So even if you don't live in the District of Columbia, tax year 2016 returns are due Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Your return is considered filed on time if the envelope is properly addressed, postmarked, and deposited in the mail by the due date.

If you served or are serving in the Armed Forces in a combat zone or 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 to file and pay taxes. You generally 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're 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.

Extensions to file - If you cannot file by the due date of your return, you should request an extension of time to file. To receive an automatic 6-month extension of time to file your return, you can file Form 4868. File your extension request by the due date of your return. An extension of time to file is not an extension of time to pay so you'll owe interest if the tax you owe isn't paid by the original due date of your return. You may also be subject to a late-payment penalty on any tax not paid by the original due date of your return. For more information about extensions, see Extension of Time to File, What Is the Due Date of My Federal Tax Return or Am I Eligible to Request an Extension? and Topic 304.

How to file

You may want to file your return electronically. You'll usually receive your refund within 3 weeks of the date when the IRS receives your return, even faster if you elect to have it directly deposited into your checking or savings account. Most professional tax return preparers offer electronic filing of tax returns with their return preparation services and may charge a fee to file your return electronically. Also, when you prepare your return yourself using tax-preparation software (such as TurboTax) you may have to pay a fee to file your return electronically. However, you may qualify for free electronic filing through Free File. For more information on electronic filing in general, select the e-file logo on our home page.

If you mail a paper Form 1040 (PDF), it can take six to eight weeks to process. Be sure to attach:

  • A copy of Forms W-2 and any other applicable forms (for example, Form 2439 (PDF), Notice to Shareholder of Undistributed Long-Term Capital Gains) to the front of your return.
  • Related schedules and forms behind your return in the order of the sequence number located in the upper right-hand corner of the schedule or form.
  • Form W-2c (PDF) (a corrected Form W-2) if received; attach a copy of both your original Forms W-2 and any Forms W-2c.
  • Form W-2G (PDF) and Form 1099-R (PDF) if there was federal income tax withheld.

Signing the return - For signing an electronic return see Topic 255 and How do I sign my tax return when I e-file?

For signing 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" then your signature, followed by the word "husband" or "wife." Be sure to also sign in the regular space provided for your signature. Attach a statement that includes the form number of the return you're 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're 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 only sign it 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're 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's electronically transmitted, you don't need to worry about sending it to the right area. However, when filing a paper return, send it to the address indicated in the instructions for the form you're filing. See Where to File Paper Tax Returns - With or Without a Payment.

When you owe a balance - You may pay any balance you owe via IRS Direct Pay. Alternatively, you may enclose a check or money order with your paper return or, if you filed electronically, with the 2016 Form 1040-V (PDF), Payment Voucher:

  • Make the check or money order 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're filing (for example, 2016 Form 1040).
  • Enclose your payment loosely with your return; don't staple or otherwise attach your payment or Form 1040-V to your return.
  • Don't 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, other electronic payment, or cash, visit our Payments page. 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 a payment arrangement. 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: February 17, 2017