The Last Minute Scramble: What You Need To Know About Filing Your Return On Tax Day

If you plan to file your federal income tax return today, you’re not late—yet. If your return is in good shape, you still have time to submit it by the deadline.


If you’ve clicked over hoping that I’ll offer you the tax prep equivalent of magic beans, I’ll stop you right now—that doesn’t exist. If you’re not ready to file your return, there’s no need to scramble—simply file for an extension.

Some folks don’t have to file for an extension, as they’re granted automatically:

  • U.S. citizens and resident aliens who live and work outside of the U.S. and Puerto Rico get an automatic two-month extension to file their tax returns. Tax payments are still due on April 18.
  • Members of the military on duty outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico also receive an automatic two-month extension to file. Those serving in combat zones have up to 180 days after they leave the combat zone to file returns and pay any taxes due. Details are available in Pub 3, Armed Forces’ Tax Guide.
  • Taxpayers in some states affected by natural disasters also have extra time to file. You can find details on the IRS Tax Relief in Disaster Situations page.

But say it with me—an extension to file is not an extension to pay taxes.

Do You Need To File?

You can figure out whether you need to file by checking out this chart. If your gross income is above the threshold for your age and filing status, you should file a federal income tax return. This means that most individual taxpayers with income of less than $12,950 ($25,900 for a married couple filing jointly) are not required to file a federal tax return.

However, even if you don’t need to file, you may wish to file a return to claim certain tax credits—like the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Filing By Paper

If you plan on filing a paper return, you’ll want to put your return in first-class mail before midnight on April 18. That means you’ve filed your return on time. There’s just one problem—you won’t have proof of mailing. The better idea is to send it by certified or registered mail. That meets the requirements under section 7502—and you’ll have proof of mailing. Keep that in mind when you’re standing in line or clicking through the USPS website.

Don’t forget to use the correct address—that’s also a timely filing requirement. To do that, use the IRS chart:

If you live outside of the 50 states, use this address:

If you need to take a trip to the post office, use the Post Office locator to find a convenient site—and their hours—near you.

You can use a private delivery service if you want to rely on something other than the post office. A list of private delivery services designated by the IRS to meet the “timely mailing as timely filing/paying” rule for tax returns and payments can be found here.

No matter how you get a paper return to the IRS, be prepared to wait. The IRS advises processing your paper return can take up to 6 months.


You can avoid the hassle of mailing your return by e-filing by the deadline. The IRS encourages taxpayers to e-file since it saves time—you should receive your refund within three weeks after the IRS receives your tax return. You could get your refund sooner if you have it directly deposited to your checking or savings account.

If you’re still looking for tax software—and you made less than $73,000 last year—you can file for free at

Assistive Technology

If you need accessible products like screen reading software, refreshable Braille displays, and screen magnifying software, check out the online Alternative Media Center. These products include tax forms, instructions, and publications.

If you need to order tax forms, instructions, or publications in Braille or large print, call 1-800-829-3676.


If English isn’t your first language, the IRS offers Form 1040(SP) in Spanish.

If you’re looking for assistance in other languages, the IRS has translated some materials into 20 languages.

Making A Payment

If you owe taxes, pay as much as possible—ideally your entire tax bill—by the deadline to avoid penalties and interest.

You can pay today from your bank account, debit or credit card, or with your digital wallet.

If you can’t pay today, be sure to file on time to keep the penalties low. The interest rate for unpaid taxes is currently 7%, compounded daily. The late-filing penalty is generally 5% per month, and the late-payment penalty is normally 0.5% per month, both of which max out at 25%.


If you have last-minute questions, check out the IRS website. There are several options to help you out, including Where’s My Refund? and the Interactive Tax Assistant (ITA). The ITA can help you find answers to questions specific to your circumstances like whether you have to file a tax return, your filing status, whether you can claim a dependent, if you have taxable income, or if you’re eligible to claim certain credits.


Tax Day can be a real source of stress for taxpayers—and tax professionals. But don’t let it overwhelm you. Do the best you can and follow-up, if necessary. It’s just one day. Breathe.

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