Protecting Yourself with a Tax Extension
By Cheri Mersey

For most people, the deadline for filing your 2002 individual income tax return is April 15, 2003. However if you are living outside of the United States, and your main place of business is outside of the United States, then you are entitled to an automatic extension of 2 months with which to file your return and pay any federal income tax that is due.

If you are not able to file your return by June 15th, you can generally get an additional automatic 2-month extension of time to file by filing Form 4868. This half-page form simply asks for your name, address and social security number, the amount of tax you think you will owe for the year and the amount you're paying with the request.

If you qualify for the 4-month automatic extension, and later find that you cannot file by August 15th, you may be able to get up to 4 more months to file your return (or up until December 15th). The form to use for requesting this additional time to file your return is Form 2688 and you can only use it to request for a 2 month extension each time. However, unlike with the 4-month automatic extension (where no excuse is needed) you will need to state your reason for requesting the additional extension.

If the IRS approves your application for this extension, you will be notified (as opposed to the 4-month automatic extension for which the IRS sends no notification). In both cases it is a good idea to send your extension request via registered mail (with return receipt requested) from the post office to prove the date of mailing should the need ever arise (rule of thumb: timely mailing = timely filing).

If you moved from the U.S. to a foreign country during 2002, and you are waiting to meet the bona fide residence test, you will not be able to file your return until after December 31, 2003. In this case you should use Form 2350 to request an extension of to file your return for up to 30 days after you meet the test (i.e. up to January 30, 2004). This extension request can be filed in lieu of Forms 4868 and 2688 (discussed above) or in addition to them.

Please keep in mind that an extension of time to file your tax return is not an extension of time to pay your taxes. And so if you expect that you are going to owe tax when you ultimately file your return, you need to pay this tax when you ask for your filing extension. Interest will start to accrue from April 15, 2003 on any tax not paid by that date and, if you do not pay at least 90% of your total tax liability for the year by June 15th, you will owe a late payment penalty as well (1/2% per month multiplied by the unpaid tax liability which was owing on June 15th).

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