Postponing the Inevitable

If you need more time to wrestle with your taxes, ask for an extension. It's easy

Now that the income tax deadline is bearing down, you may be tempted to do what 8 million other taxpayers are expected to do this year -- ask for more time. A four-month extension on the Apr. 16 filing deadline, which is automatically yours for the asking, is now available by phone and computer, as well as by paper on Form 4868.

The Internal Revenue Service's toll-free phone line for extension requests is 888 796-1074. Before you call, fill out Form 4868 and have a copy of your 1999 tax return handy. You'll be asked questions about that return in order to prove your identity.

Any taxpayer or professional preparer with tax-preparation software can request an extension via computer. You'll be asked to provide gross income and total tax from your 1999 return as proof of identity. Some states allow extensions of the income tax filing deadline as well. The timetable and forms required vary, depending upon the state.

Before you decide whether to take the extension detour, here are some things to consider:

--Whether asking for an extension by phone, computer, or paper, the taxpayer must first estimate his tax bill based on available information. If the IRS later decides the estimate is out of the ballpark, the extension will be voided.

--Even though the IRS grants an extension for filing the return and related paperwork, the estimated taxes are due Apr. 16. Any tax not paid by the deadline will accrue interest charges (currently 8% per year). If the estimated tax paid by the deadline is less than 90% of the actual tax due once the return is filed, the taxpayer may be assessed a late-payment penalty of 0.5% per month.

--If you decide to take the extension route, you can get Form 4868 at the IRS Web site. It's also is available via fax: Call IRS TaxFax at 703 368-9694 and ask for Item #13141 by return fax.

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Because the usual tax-filing deadline of Apr. 15 is a Sunday, this year's deadline is the 16th, with this exception: Residents of New England and the part of New York State north of Westchester and Rockland counties have an Apr. 17 deadline. That's because the IRS center that processes their returns is in Massachusetts, where Apr. 16 is Patriots Day, a legal holiday.

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