If you haven’t completed your tax return yet, the filing clock is ticking.
This year’s tax filing deadline is Tuesday, April 17. That’s two days later than usual, because of a local holiday in Washington, D.C. So procrastinators have an extra 48 hours.
“The deadline is coming quickly,” said Melissa Labant, director of tax policy and advocacy for the American Institute of CPAs. But, she said, “if you have all of your information, there’s still time to file.”
You can ostensibly file your return electronically until 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday to beat the deadline, but it’s advisable to give yourself some breathing room and avoid waiting until the last possible moment, said Lisa Greene-Lewis, a certified public accountant and tax expert with the tax-filing software provider TurboTax. “They should try to go online and get it done as soon as possible,” she said.
Electronic filing generally means you’ll get a quicker refund, if you’re due one. The Internal Revenue Service says it processes most refunds for electronically filed returns in 21 days or less.
As of April 6, the IRS said, it had processed 79 million total refunds, averaging about $2,900.
If you’re seeking a professional to do your return, “it’s late in the game,” said Laurie Ziegler, an enrolled agent in Saukville, Wis. (Enrolled agents are federally licensed tax specialists.) Filers should understand that tax preparers are in crunch mode, and may charge an extra fee to prepare a timely return at this point, she said.
There’s still time to make a contribution to a traditional Individual Retirement Account and take a deduction, if you qualify, to reduce your taxable income. More than a third of IRA contributions at Fidelity Investments are made in the last three weeks before the tax deadline, said Maura Cassidy, vice president of retirement at Fidelity. So if you haven’t made your contribution yet, she said, “you’re not alone.”
IRA contributions for the tax year 2017 can be made until the April 17 deadline. The tax-deductible limit for a traditional IRA for 2017 is $5,500 for an individual — $6,500 for those age 50 and older. (Your deduction may be limited, depending on whether you are covered by a retirement plan at work, and how high your income is.)
Self-employed people and freelancers can put even more money away by making contributions to a Simplified Employee Pension plan, known as a SEP IRA. The contribution limit for a SEP IRA is 25 percent of income, up to $54,000. (If taxpayers get an extension to file their return, which gives them six more months to file, they also have until the extended tax filing deadline — Oct. 15 — to contribute to their SEP IRA.)
If making an IRA contribution by check, Cassidy said, be sure to note what tax year the contribution is for so the contribution is properly credited.
Another step that can save you money is to make a contribution to a health savings account. If you have a specific type of high-deductible health insurance plan, you have until April 17 to contribute to an HSA for 2017 and take a deduction from your taxes. You needn’t itemize on your tax return to claim it.
You can make an extra HSA contribution even if you already contributed some money in 2017 via payroll deduction at work, as long as you don’t exceed the maximum, said Chris Byrd, executive vice president of WEX Health, which provides technology that helps employers and workers manage HSAs and other health benefits. For 2017, the contribution limit is $3,400 for an individual and $6,750 for families. If you’re unsure if your health insurance plan qualifies for an HSA, check with your employer or your health plan administrator.
For those with last-minute questions about their return, the IRS offers answers on its site.
Once your taxes are filed, reward yourself: Many businesses offer freebies on Tax Day. Participating locations of Great American Cookies, for one, will offer free cookies on Tuesday.
Here are some questions and answers about the tax filing deadline:
What if I mail my tax return?
Mailed tax returns must be postmarked by April 17. Some post offices stay open late on Tax Day, although that’s less common now that more people file electronically. It’s best to check with your local post office for details. (You can use the post office finder tool online.) The United States Postal Service says at least one office in New York City will be open until midnight on Tuesday: the James A. Farley Post Office at 421 Eighth Avenue.
How do I obtain an extension to file my tax return?
If you can’t get your return done by Tuesday, “there’s no need to panic,” Labant said. You can obtain an automatic six-month extension by submitting IRS Form 4868 by the filing date.
All taxpayers can file the extension form electronically via the IRS’s Free File program, even if their income doesn’t qualify them to use the program to prepare their tax return, said Eric L. Smith, spokesman for the IRS.
If you’re owed a refund, there’s not much to worry about if you file a bit late, Smith said. Late-filing penalties are based on the amount of tax owed, so you won’t be dinged (unless you’ve miscalculated, and end up owing money). You can’t get your refund until you file, though, so it makes sense to get the return in as soon as you can.
Unfortunately, an extension to file doesn’t give you an extension of time to pay if you owe taxes to the government. So you should estimate what you’ll owe and pay by April 17, Labant said, to avoid hefty penalties and interest charges. “When in doubt,” she said, “round up.”
If you can’t pay what you owe now, Smith said, file and pay what you can, and apply for an installment plan for the balance. You can do it online. “It’s easier than people realize,” he said.
What if I pay estimated taxes?
If you’re self-employed and make quarterly estimated tax payments, the first quarterly deadline for 2018 is also April 17. So make sure you get that check in on time, too.
Correction: April 15, 2018
An earlier version of this article misstated the contribution limit for a Simplified Employee Pension plan, known as a SEP IRA, in 2017. It is $54,000, not $55.000.